With Manchester United, fans are never sure whether the club will effectively replace a position or not. Gabriel Heinze, Patrice Evra, Dennis Irwin and even Phil Neville, have set the standard of what it means to play left back for the club. Man Utd have struggled to get the best out of their left backs during the recent era.
Luke Shaw joined the Red Devils in the summer of 2014, at the time, an 18-year-old record signing of £34m from Southampton with the expectations landing heavy on him. In the era of wing backs and full backs, the expectation signing Shaw was focused on his ability to defend as well as get forward in attack.
During little bursts over his eight-year career at the club, we have seen glimpses of that potential, but nowhere near consistently to the standard of expectation. However, Luke Shaw for England, is a completely different player.
The question lies around the tactical set up he plays in for both teams. Having been a victim of Jose Mourinho and injuries, Luke Shaw has yet to reach that pinnacle of left back status that historical left backs have. In 213 games across all competitions, Shaw has record 22 assists and to put this into perspective, Evra recorded that many assists in 4 seasons with Utd, playing in a different tactical system.
Shaw’s ability though, is undeniably there. When able to stay fit, he can provide Utd with defensive duties that other left backs such as Alex Telles fail to do.
His best stint of recent times occurred shortly after Telles’ arrival to the club. The threat of competition meant that Shaw had to up his game defensively and going forward, which he did. Nearly 50% of his assists came since Telles’ arrival two years ago, in comparison to the other six years.
Looking to improve multiple positions, Erik ten Hag’s least important position may well be the left back position. With the option of Luke Shaw and Alex Telles as a backup, the manager and coaching staff may try to seek out the best in these players during training, however, if the option of signing a new left back comes, the availability out there exceeds the abilities of the players they currently have.
Having previously been targeted by Ten Hag during his Ajax stint, the 22-year-old has come off an impressive season with Feyenoord, showing the ability to stay fit by producing 47 appearances with 1 goal and 5 assists.
The Dutch international would also cost £20m, with characteristics such as his ability to keep possession, dribbling, passing and getting forward, Utd would not need to break the bank to sign a competent left back that could easily compete for the stating position.
Borna Sosa – the Croatian international from Stuttgart has been the subject of many rumours this summer, being linked to Chelsea, Spurs and Barcelona, with 2 goals and 8 assists this season in 28 games, he would cost around the same amount as Malacia.
The left-footed defender has strong abilities going forward, with the ability to take set pieces, passing, dribbling, and holding onto the ball. This is something Utd currently lack from both the left back and right back position.
In the football world, many big clubs have talented and competent left backs to complement their defensive duties but also assist in their attacking roles. From Andrew Robertson of Liverpool, Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich, Theo Hernandez at Milan, Joao Cancelo at Manchester City and even Ferland Mendy at Real Madrid, Erik ten Hag and Manchester United need to focus on either getting the best out of the crop they currently have or finding better.
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