Defensive imbalance the upshot of Shaw injury for Man Utd
The sight of Luke Shaw being taken off the field, seriously injured on a stretcher, was a desperate one for Manchester United and the domino effect is soon to be felt.
Although social media offered a warm hug of support for the stricken left-back, with many a luminary wishing Shaw a speedy recovery from his double leg break, crumbs of comfort will be hard to locate for Louis van Gaal.
It’s like the worst case of déjà vu imaginable for the Iron Tulip whose first season in charge at Old Trafford was characterised by a plethora of defensive injuries, making continuity of selection almost impossible at the back.
Ironically, a couple of injuries to the likes of Phil Jones at the beginning of the new term had forced Van Gaal into selecting a back four containing Daley Blind at centre-back, but his countryman had taken to the role like a duck to water.
With the naturally left-sided and positionally aware Blind dovetailing right-footed Chris Smalling, Shaw and Matteo Darmian on the flanks offered United a previously absent symmetry.
That quartet has already contributed to three clean sheets in the top flight and until the moment PSV defender Hector Moreno lunged into that wild challenge, things had generally been going swimmingly for United.
Although his Champions League evening was cruelly ended early, Shaw’s performance in the 3-1 defeat of bitter rivals Liverpool in the match prior gave another example of the 20-year-old’s rebirth as a vital cog in LVG’s revamped United side early in 2015/16.
Following a high-pressure, big money move as a teenager from Southampton, Shaw had struggled to replicate his St Mary’s form at his new club last season, with niggling injuries playing their part.
However, the Kingston-upon-Thames native’s elevation to England’s first-choice left-back is deserved reward for his brilliant start to the season.
Shaw has returned to the robust defender and able attacker that led United to snapping him up for nearly £30m.
Now Van Gaal must play defensive alchemist again in search of a new solution, which may well replicate his move in the immediate aftermath over in Eindhoven.
Marcos Rojo was brought on, seeing Blind shunted into Shaw’s position and although the versatile Dutchman had a hand in the first goal for Memphis Depay, he’s still not a natural left-back – especially not a raiding type like the former Southampton man.
Other than Rojo, who is a centre-half by trade, LVG would then have to look at deploying a right-footed player at full-back which would seriously harm the balance he’s sought, with Darmian, Ashley Young and even Antonio Valencia potential options.
Blind may well get the gig, but this means Rojo must quickly strike up a rapport with Smalling, something that logically takes time.
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