Luke Shaw's injury - the turning point of Manchester United's season?
After a fourth-place finish in Louis van Gaal’s first season at the club, Manchester United are now struggling to make it to the top-four mark for the second time out after a campaign that has been disappointing so far. After beginning well in the league, the Red Devils began to falter as they found it difficult to hit the back of the net, with many supporters calling the style of play boring and tedious.
They now sit fifth on the league table on 41 points in 26 games, closer to ninth place than neighbours Manchester City, who sit fourth on 47 points. Playing in the Champions League after a gap of an year, United were knocked out in the group stages after winning just two games out of six in a group from which they should have easily coasted through.
Now in the Europa League, they face a tough challenge at home after losing 2-1 to Danish champions FC Midtjylland in a dismal first leg.
Injuries have taken a huge toll on United’s season
While many factors have contributed to this season’s troubles, there is one particular moment that stands out. In their first game of the Champions League group phase, United lost 2-1 away to Dutch side PSV Eindhoven in a game that saw Luke Shaw get injured to a horror tackle from Hector Moreno.
The English youngster has not featured since then and his absence is still felt as United been in a state of decline since then and look to miss out on the Champions League for the second time in three years. Shaw’s injury has had the maximum impact as he had been the team’s most consist performer and his was the only position where Louis van Gaal did not have the luxury of a like-for-like backup.
Prior to the game at Arsenal in October, he said, “We lost Luke and that is a big blow. I said that this would be the year of Luke Shaw. His is the only position which we don’t have a double option. So the circumstances are not so good for us.”
Since Shaw’s injury, United have fielded five different players in the left-back slot with Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian, Ashley Young and rookie Cameron Borthwick-Jackson all starting on the left side of the defense in multiple games. Despite this, van Gaal admitted that the club don’t have a good substitute for Luke Shaw with the same qualities.
Blessed with a supreme burst of pace along with solid defensive qualities, he ticked (and still does) each and every box one could want from a young fullback. He typifies what Van Gaal really expects from a left-back in his much-questioned ‘philosophy’ – young, fast, an eye for a cutting pass, sensible on the ball and defensively secure.
He was instrumental in United’s impressive 3-1 win over rivals Liverpool just three days prior to that fateful night at the Philips Stadion.
Decline of Memphis Depay
Another point to note is the decline of Memphis Depay since Shaw’s injury as he is now a shadow of what he was in the Eredivisie last season. As a right-footed winger who loves cutting inside onto his favoured foot, he requires the support of an attacking fullback who can help him put pressure on the opposition defense.
The duo looked impressive in the early stages of the season but after the Englishman’s injury, Memphis has also seen an alarming decline in form and has fallen out of favour in the starting lineup.
With the manager having to shuffle his defenders every week, coupled with some poor attacking displays, speculation is rife about van Gaal’s future at the club and the appointment of his successor.
Many things have gone wrong for the Dutchman this season, but it is safe to say that the injury to Luke Shaw was the turning point of United’s campaign and they haven’t looked the same ever since.