It has been an excellent 12 months for Luke Shaw, as he is rebuilding his reputation following a couple of difficult seasons at Manchester United. During the two knockout matches so far, he provided natural width down the left-flank and been a much greater creative force than he was during the group stage. That was particularly evident against Ukraine, as he spent the majority of the match in the opposition half. Gareth Southgate seems to favour an asymmetrical system, with Shaw being given the freedom to get forward. Meanwhile, Kyle Walker is more reserved in his forays forward to ensure there is cover at the back should England lose possession.
This has given a platform for Shaw to show the world his quality as an attacking full-back. During the summer of 2020, there were some Manchester United fans who believed that Shaw wasn’t good enough to be their starting left-back. This was following a difficult period under Jose Mourinho. He suffered with injuries and clearly had a lack of confidence caused by his poor relationship with the manager.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have gotten him back to the form he showed at Southampton as a teenager, as he ended last season with one goal and five assists in the league. The arrival of Alex Telles spurred him on to find greater consistency in both halves of the pitch.
Gareth Southgate is a similar character to Solskjaer and like the Manchester United boss, he has managed to get the best out of Shaw. There may have been concerns following the opening match against Croatia, as Shaw was left out in favour of Kieran Trippier. As the Atletico Madrid man isn’t a natural left-back, many saw this as a lack of confidence from Southgate in Shaw and Ben Chilwell. However, in reflection, it seemed to be a choice for the opening game only and the plan was always to start Shaw in the majority of matches at left-back.
Shaw did well in the final two group matches and played a key role in the solid foundations that England have at the back. However, it wasn’t until the knockout stages that we have seen his attacking quality. He has been given the chance to get forward and he is causing a lot of problems for opposition sides.
Against Germany, he got the assist for the opening goal, with an excellent overlapping run and cross to Raheem Sterling. In previous years, his end product has been mixed, but his decision making and quality of delivery have both improved in the last 12 months. A lot of that has to do with the increased confidence that he has in his own game.
However, it was the Ukraine match that Shaw delivered his best performance of the tournament. It was one of the best delivered by any full-back this summer. His set piece delivery for Harry Maguire’s goal was superb, as he put it on a plate for his club team-mate. It is clear that there is an understanding between the two, as Maguire has been the biggest threat at set pieces for England this summer.
Shaw then followed this up with another great foray forward to get into a crossing position. He then provided the service that Harry Kane has wanted all tournament and got his third assist of the knockout rounds.
In the first half, he could easily have had more assists. Early in the match, he flew to the byline and drilled an appealing cutback through a host of bodies. It was a great delivery, but nobody was there to meet it. He then got in behind the defence to find Jadon Sancho unmarked in the area. His new Manchester United team-mate’s shot was saved and the offside flag was raised. If he had found the back of the net, the goal would have been awarded.
After doubts about his starting place, Shaw is now one of the first names on the team-sheet. He is arguably England’s best creator from open play and set pieces, with his attacking intelligence allowing him to find space in the opposition half. If he continues this form, he has a great chance to finish the tournament as the player with the most assists. He is one behind Switzerland’s Steven Zuber.
Regardless of how this summer finishes, Shaw has emerged as one of the best left-backs in Europe. Considering where he was a few seasons ago, that is a magnificent achievement.