Luke Shaw has overcome many challenges in his career to get to where he is, and next season he faces a challenge that could finally bring out his brilliant best consistently.
However, one of the positions most people did not see as in need of immediate strengthening was the left back spot, with Luke Shaw a clear starter there.
Thus it came as a shock to many when Ten Hag targeted Tyrell Malacia early on. Even as a depth signing, many thought other positions would be of greater importance to target.
But Ten Hag was adamant he wanted his man, and got him for a £13 million fee. Since signing, Malacia has appeared in all four pre-season games, playing 180 minutes and impressing thoroughly.
The Dutch left back has made it clear: he is not just here to sit on the bench. Whilst Shaw remains the first choice in that spot, Malacia will be pushing him all the way.
Many would probably agree that Shaw needs this, with his biggest issues being fitness and complacency. Malacia offers quality depth if injuries persist for the Englishman, but his competition could bring the very best out of his teammate, as well as himself.
Ten Hag has made it clear he would like his fullbacks to play ‘inverted’ roles, where they move centrally in possession.
So which qualities do both players bring to both this position, and more importantly what does Malacia bring that will push Shaw all the way?
Technical quality, lots of it
The first ability that both players possess that makes them so well suited to Ten Hag’s highly-specific demands is the extremely high level of technical quality they each possess.
Whilst a fairly vague term, both players are remarkably comfortable on the ball at a number of angles. Their touch, control, composure, weight & range of passes, and carrying ability are all excellent.
The inverted fullback must be heavily involved in both of the first two possession phases and both players are extremely comfortable on the ball, whilst providing a lot of value on it.
Whilst this is similar to technical quality, maybe both players’ standout quality is their ability to retain the ball under pressure, and this is key given their heavy involvement in United’s build-up.
Shaw has been absolutely essential to United’s build-up for the last three years, almost having to carry it at times with the lack of a clear structure and absences of players such as Nemanja Matić.
Due to the nature of their role, they must be able to receive under pressure from a number of angles and still be able to retain the ball and move it up the pitch.
Both players use their technical qualities, as well as their body, to guide the ball out of pressure cleanly and comfortably every single time. With either of them in build-up, United have huge assets when playing out against a press.
Shaw’s strength is often not spoken about enough, but he is one of the strongest players in United’s squad. Reece James once referred to him as “a brick” and the strongest player in England’s Euro squad.
His speed is often also underrated because of his naturally bulky appearance, with many weirdly believing he is ‘fat’.
Whilst not exactly a speedster a la Rashford, Shaw has a good burst on him which aids him when taking players on, and he is one of the best progressive carriers in his position as a result of this.
Malacia too has shown himself to be excellent physically, displaying good strength when duelling against opposition wingers so far as well as good recovery pace.
Things Malacia has over Shaw
One thing that Malacia has shown is his comfort with using his right foot, despite being predominantly left footed. The best example of this came for Martial’s goal against Crystal Palace earlier this week.
With the ball at his feet on the left hand side, Malacia came inside and completely unexpectedly switched the ball to Diogo Dalot in the box on his right foot with perfect weighting and precision.
Shaw is much more reliant on his left than Malacia, and whilst the Englishman’s ability to use the outside of his left foot far surpasses most left backs, the willingness of United’s number 12 to use his right can add a different dimension to United’s possession.
One thing Malacia has shown to have over Shaw, which is a particularly key quality in Ten Hag’s intense pressing system, is his intensity when United do not have the ball.
As mentioned previously, one of Shaw’s biggest flaws is his complacency. Sometimes he can become quite lax, and Erik ten Hag will not stand for this.
The intensity and drive Malacia possesses in his game will force Shaw to up his game in these aspects in order to respond to his teammate’s challenge and retain his spot as the number one left back
Another aspect of Shaw’s complacency is that he can sometimes get caught out of position, particularly when defending in transitions.
Malacia so far has displayed excellent positional sense, having a good knack for being in the right place at the right time when United are defending.
Ten Hag’s coaching will certainly improve Shaw in this aspect of his game, and Shaw has gone almost uncoached for most of his United career, but the added motivation of competition from Malacia should push him even further.
In games where United may need to have a more solid defensive structure, Malacia’s greater positional sense could potentially see him start over Shaw with both players fit.
Malacia’s signing already looks to be a smart pickup, with the timeline of him hitting his peak years coinciding with Shaw beginning to enter his later years.
He has shown in pre season, though, that he is good enough to contribute now, and the competition he will provide Luke Shaw will only be a good thing for both players.
Featured Image Credit: Manchester United
- The Reason Why Manchester United MUST Sign Another Midfielder Alongside Frenkie De Jong
- Ethan Laird's 2021/22 Loan Review: Swansea And Bournemouth Stints Could Help Laird Fight For Man United Spot
- Erik Ten Hag Speaks On His Desire To Keep Cristiano Ronaldo At Manchester United
- Paul Pogba At Manchester United: A Legacy Of “If Only…”