Manchester United’s need to fill their Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand sized-holes has been a well-documented subplot of the transfer market since the departure of the club legends last year.
Blockbuster links with Borussia Dortmund captain Mats Hummels and Paris St. Germain young talent Marquinhos have been among the most heavily touted names to flood the mill. And while Antonio Valencia continues to fill makeshift boots in an unfamiliar right-back position, Southampton's newly-capped Englishman, Nathaniel Clyne, looks to be another defender rumored to be ready to join the Red Devils.
But for however much rebuilding is still needed in United’s defense, they’ve gotone position well covered: left-back.
Although United began the season with a grocery list of injuries, the returns of Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, and Marcos Rojo have been welcomed by Ashley Young. Having a recognized left-back in the squad has unleashed Young further up into his more comfortable left-wing role, where he has been a revelation this season.
While Shaw has taken more time than most to return to first-team fitness, Blind has worked in recent weeks to form a fluid, overlapping partnership with Young along the left flank. The versatile Dutchman, normally suited to the defensive midfield role, has experience in the left-back position and has played his role superbly involving himself and Young in some of United’s best attacking moves this season.
However, the roles were reversed against Chelsea as it was Shaw that had been restored to his left-back position while Blind nursed a knock picked up in the Manchester derby. It was an impressive return, as United fans were almost immediately reminded of the reason Shaw is such an exciting prospect.
His first run, led by an Young through-ball, made easy work of Branislav Ivanovic - a statement seldom used - and led to United’s best chance of the contest. Didier Drogba simply lacked the agility and speed to keep up with Shaw’s rounded sprints down the left and Ivanovic was forced to play most of the match on his heels. Put bluntly Shaw exhibited glimpses of repaying his £30 million fee.
Competition in United’s starting XI has been scarce for most of this year, with multiple players being shuffled into unfamiliar spots. However, the left-back position has seen four different occupants and all four are now available for selection, with the exclusion of Young, who is now deployed on the left wing.
With two players performing particularly well in the role, whomever Louis van Gaal chooses to deploy will be justified; whether Blind for his developing understanding with an in-form Young, or Shaw, whose return to first-team action has seen his pace make an instant impact.
Though signs point to Shaw retaining his place in his natural position, Van Gaal could yet stick with his trusted compatriot should he feel that Wayne Rooney must remain in the central midfield.
United fans, is the left-back slot sewn up now? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.
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