Jose Mourinho might not have got exactly what he wanted in the transfer market this summer, but Luke Shaw’s blistering start to the season has been as good as a new addition for unconvincing Manchester United.
Shaw has endured several frustrating years since arriving at Old Trafford from Southampton in the summer of 2014. It seems amazing that four years have passed since he was brought in for £30 million – with much expected of the then hugely talented teenager.
Things haven’t exactly gone to plan in the intervening time – with a horrendous broken leg suffered at the start of his second season in a Champions League game against PSV derailing fine progress in his debut campaign.
Weight and fitness issues, as well as his questionable off the field lifestyle, have stunted his progress ever since, with Shaw often attracting the ire of Mourinho during the Portuguese’s two seasons in charge.
But, the 23-year-old has started the 2018/19 campaign in scintillating style – delivering performances full of zest and tenacity at a time when United have been flawed and flimsy.
He has been the bright spark in an otherwise torturous start to the Red Devils’ campaign and he was again excellent as United relieved the pressure on Mourinho with a comfortable 2-0 win at Burnley on Sunday, despite finishing the game with 10 men following Marcus Rashford’s red card.
Here we take a closer look at Shaw’s start to the campaign and cast a magnifying glass over just how good he has been in these early weeks.
FORM FOR UNITED
Goals: 1 – 3rd
Minutes played: 360 – joint 1st
Shots (per game): 2 – 5th
Pass accuracy: 83.3 – 13th
Aerials won: 1.8 – 7th
Tackles: 1.8 – 4th
Interceptions: 1.5 – 8th
Clearances: 3.5 – 5th
Dribbled past: 0.3
Blocks: 0.3 – 5th
Key passes: 1.3 – 6th
Dribbles: 1.5 – 2nd
Unskilled touches: 0.8
Average passes: 56.8 – 4th
Crosses: 0.5 – 5th
PREMIER LEAGUE POSITION
Tackles – 80th
Key passes – 57th
Dribbles – 32nd
Dispossessed – 92nd
Unskilled touches – 143rd
Average passes – 34th
Touches 344 – 12th (leads United)
Pretty impressive, huh? But after several seasons spent in the wilderness at Old Trafford, foraging for both form and confidence, how does Shaw compare to the elite at his position?
For a comparison, we’re saying Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson is the Premier League’s best left-back overall. And here is how Shaw stands up to the Scot:
Appearances 4 4
Goals 1 0
Assists 0 2
Shots 8 1
On target 4 0
Chances created 0 3
Passes 227 257
Pass completion 83.26 87.16
Passes forward 77 66
Passes backwards 38 46
Touches 344 326
Crosses 9 8
Dispossessed 4 2
Blocks 1 0
Interceptions 6 4
Tackles 7 12
Tackles won 2 10
Clearances 14 3
Aerials won 7 1
Put away those torches and pitchforks for now because it was Manchester United‘s performance backed by a 2-0 win at Turf Moor that will have seen Jose Mourinho’s stock enjoy a much needed spike.
In a must-win game for the visitors for a variety of reasons, Romelu Lukaku’s brace sealed the points for a 10-man United after substitute Marcus Rashford was sent off.
Joe Hart denied Paul Pogba from the spot earlier but Mourinho’s side were able to pull together and see out a precious victory.
Any general in crisis mode turns to his most trusted lieutenant and whether United fans like it or not, Marouane Fellaini is just that for Mourinho.
The under-fire Portuguese coach started Fellaini ahead of summer signing Fred in midfield, alongside Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. His thinking behind the move quickly became evident.
Burnley’s best route to goal is their aerial assault, be that from set-pieces or dangerous deliveries into the box from wide areas, with Chris Wood providing a big target up front.
Fellaini naturally helps guard against set-pieces with his imposing physical presence but it’s his positioning from open play that is intriguing. As soon as the hosts got the ball wide, the Belgian would immediately sprint into his own box, placing himself among the centre-backs, ready to deal with the ball in. It’s no surprise that Fellaini won more headers than anyone else at Turf Moor (7).
Meanwhile, he was also excellent at covering the space in behind Antonio Valencia when the right-back joined the attack with Matic doing a similar job to cover for Luke Shaw on the opposite side.
Of course, his role was altered once United were reduced to 10 men but he was also economic with the ball at his feet, giving nothing away. He attempted 54 passes with a success rate of 92.6 per cent, only Chris Smalling (41 passes) was more accurate among the United players (95.1 per cent).
Fellaini’s performance laid the foundation for a strong United response after a false start to the season and Mourinho was well aware of the magnitude of his contribution, singling out the midfielder for praise in his post-match interview.
“I would say Fellaini was fundamental to the team. Together with Smalling and Lindelof they made a fantastic group of players,” he said, as heard on beIN SPORTS.
CONTENTIOUS DECISIONS HELP UNITED
Wait, what? Yes, Jonathan Moss didn’t have his finest game as a Premier League official but his decisions against United will only feed the siege mentality Mourinho is famous for creating in his efforts to get the players to pull together as one.
In the heat of battle, the United boss wouldn’t have appreciated some of the calls that went against his side and could so easily have taken the game away from them but as he walked down the tunnel at the final whistle, he might’ve allowed himself a brief smirk. The glaring injustice plays perfectly into his hands.
Mourinho can’t defend Rashford for getting himself sent off, calling him “a naive boy” in his post-match comments. However, Lukaku had a legitimate penalty appeal later on and Ben Mee escaped what should’ve been a clear red card for dragging the ball back with his hand when the striker was going clean through on goal, with only a throw-in awarded in the end.
If United are to challenge this season, they need their best players performing and pulling in one direction. Mourinho is capable of creating a situation like that and this victory, with a man disadvantage and a couple of controversial refereeing decisions will only amplify his battle cry.
BURNLEY IN TROUBLE
While Mourinho approached this game under enormous pressure, the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ isn’t enjoying his best moment as Burnley boss either. Some would say the club over-achieved by securing Europa League football last season and that has proved to be a crutch for them at the start of the current campaign.
Burnley have now taken just one point in their opening four games and were knocked out of the continental competition in midweek. Perhaps their elimination from Europe will spark a domestic revival but they can’t afford to lose too much ground in the mean time.
In light of that, Sean Dyche will be welcoming the international break with open arms as most of his side get a chance to have a breather, regroup and start fresh.
Manager Jose Mourinho tweaked his formation again and made more changes to his starting XI – he has yet to name an unchanged XI this season – and it worked as Romelu Lukaku scored twice in a largely comfortable win.
Paul Pogba started in midfield – though he missed a penalty – and United generally looked much better than they had in their run of two straight losses.
Here’s a closer look at how the Red Devils’ manager steadied the ship.
Goals – 2
Shots – 21
Possession – 54%
Tackles – 6
Dribbles – 6
Mourinho reverted to a 4-3-3 after last week’s experimental 3-3-3-1 line-up, with the revolving door in defence seeing Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof getting the nod as the starting centre-backs, the third different pairing Mourinho has used in three games. There were also starts for Marouane Fellaini and Alexis Sanchez.
He will have been pleased with the way his team responded to last week’s loss, with the defence looking much more solid and United far more clinical in attack, with Lukaku scoring two goals to put doubts about his form to bed – though he should have had a hat-trick, and Pogba missed a penalty.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Two holding midfielders
These days Fellaini rarely starts, and when he does play it’s because United are going to Plan B in attack. But here, he was given a specific role, sitting alongside Nemanja Matic right in front of the back four. Indeed, there were times when Burnley had the ball where the big Belgian was deep enough to double up as a centre-back.
The presence of the midfield duo brought stability to United’s back-line, who looked much less troubled than in previous games this season. It also gave Pogba the license to roam, which made United a much more dangerous proposition.
The Frenchman had his best performance of the season, and the two holding midfielders were vital to that.
This could have been a much more straightforward win had Pogba not missed a penalty, not to mention Lukaku’s botched 1-on-1. And Marcus Rashford’s red card after coming on as a substitute certainly complicated matters.
Overall, however, Mourinho will have enjoyed his side’s performance. He got his tactics right and his team dominated the game, scored two good goals, and were rarely threatened even when Burnley were chasing the game.
Meanwhile, anyone looking for any fault lines in the squad would have been disappointed. Mourinho barely moved from his seat when United scored their first, but celebrated the second much more animatedly. There was a pat on the back for Pogba when the midfielder was substituted late on, as well.
RATING – 8/10