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How Luke Shaw can redefine his Man Utd career – Micah Richards analysis

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Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw was sensational against Liverpool on Sunday – now it is time for him to show everyone he is here to stay.

By that I don’t mean he has to be amazing every time he puts on the shirt. His normal game will do, but to prove he belongs at United and get back in the England picture he needs consistency.

If Shaw plays against Fulham at Craven Cottage on Wednesday it will be a totally different challenge for him, but he needs to impose himself there the same way he bossed things down his flank at Anfield against Mohamed Salah.

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah and Manchester United defender Luke Shaw
Shaw did not just keep Salah quiet in United’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool on Sunday, he touched the ball more times (69) than any other United player and made more successful passes than any of his team-mates (33) with the greatest accuracy in the opposition half (81.3%)

Performing at the required level week after week is the only way he will fully establish himself at Old Trafford, something he has been trying to do for more than six years now.

That is a long time, and although there are various reasons why it has not happened for him at United yet, this is a great opportunity for him to put things right.

As a former full-back myself, I’ve never doubted Shaw’s ability, but some serious injuries have badly restricted his progress and it has not helped him that United have been a club in transition for much of his time there.

Former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and Luke Shaw
Shaw became one of the world’s most expensive teenagers when he joined United in June 2014, with his first manager at Old Trafford being Louis van Gaal

Things feel different now. United look a settled side under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has played a huge part in Shaw’s resurgence, and there is a much better platform for him to perform.

At 25, I think Shaw is different too. For starters, in defence and attack he is a much better player than he was at 19 when he signed for £27m from Southampton, and I’m backing him to keep showing that over the next few weeks.

If he stays fit and the real Shaw comes out, then England manager Gareth Southgate is going to notice as well. I hope so anyway, because it takes a lot of courage to turn your career around the way he has done.

‘Fat? He was like lightning against Liverpool’

People have been writing Shaw off for years now and one of the criticisms he has faced almost constantly throughout his time at United has been about his fitness levels.

As well as those long-term absences, including the broken leg that meant he missed virtually the entire 2015-16 season, he has suffered a lot of little niggling injuries that have knocked him back.

That lack of continuity affected his form and his fitness – he has often been accused of being overweight.

I always felt that was unfair. Of course there have been occasions when he had just come back from injury and was out of shape, but he seemed to get stick all the time about the way he was built, whether he deserved it or not.

When I was at Manchester City, I had to cope with the same kind of comments about being too big to be a full-back, so I know how much it can hurt, but he has dealt with all of that and seems determined to prove people wrong.

Shaw cannot do much about getting injured, but there are no doubts about his fitness now – there was a point on Sunday where Salah tried to out-run him and he was like lightning with his recovery. I don’t think Liverpool fans were calling him fat after that.

No more scapegoats under Solskjaer

Luke Shaw and Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Shaw has started more games (55) under Solskjaer than any of the other managers during his time at Old Trafford

As I said on this week’s Monday Night Club, Solskjaer deserves a lot of credit for his man management of the whole United squad since he took charge in December 2018.

As a group and individually, their squad looks a lot happier than they were when his predecessor Jose Mourinho was in charge, and Shaw is obviously an excellent example of that – the belief Solskjaer has in him has been key in his recent form.

Mourinho’s approach with Shaw seemed to be to publicly berate him – I remember a game against Everton in 2017 when he said Shaw had “used his body with my brain” – and that kind of treatment can’t have been easy for him to take.

He became something of a scapegoat and, on top of those questions over his fitness, it all seemed to add to the perception that he wasn’t good enough to play for United.

I can understand what Mourinho was trying to do, because Roberto Mancini gave me what I call “tough love” when he was City manager and I responded to it because I was desperate to impress him, but some players need an arm around their shoulders rather than being told where they are going wrong, and Solskjaer has clearly realised that Shaw is one of them.

You can hear that when Solskjaer talks about him, because he is always protecting him and encouraging him. Shaw has responded to that, and is looking to repay the faith his manager has in him.

Staying one step ahead of Salah

Manchester United defender Alex Telles
Telles joined United from Porto for an initial fee of £13.6m

The arrival of Brazil left-back Alex Telles in October is another reason Shaw is playing so well at the moment. He knows he has to maintain his standards to stay in the team.

Genuine competition is a very healthy thing to have at your club – I had the same with Pablo Zabaleta for the right-back spot at City and it was a huge motivation for both of us to have to play for our place.

I know I improved because of that, and Shaw will continue do the same. He is already a far more complete player than he was when he joined United as a superstar teenager in 2014.

Back then he clearly had something about him and I loved the way he marauded forward, but he did not seem to find the right final ball very often.

Now he seems a lot more switched on when he gets into the final third, and the defensive side of his game has got a lot better too.

That’s very important. I know modern-day full-backs need to get forward and create but you have to be able to defend too, and Shaw did both parts brilliantly against Liverpool.

He was United’s best attacking player, and defensively his performance was close to perfect. It looked like he had studied Salah’s movement beforehand, because he was always one step ahead of him, and knew which way he wanted to go.

I don’t know how he prepared for that game, but he needs to keep doing it because he was absolutely superb.

If he can keep repeating it, then those performances will be the ones that define his time at United – not what has happened before.

Micah Richards was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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