A sense of bemusement must have fallen over Manchester United fans when the official starting XIs were announced for their Premier League clash with Burnley on Saturday. Last week, Jose Mourinho described Luke Shaw as one of the best left-backs in the world after a much-needed run of good form in the Red Devils’ first team, but it was 32-year-old converted winger Ashley Young who started in the 1-0 victory at Turf Moor.
Where that leaves Shaw in the context of his Old Trafford career remains open to interpretation. Mourinho later explained the decision by claiming Young, returning from suspension, was brought back into the side because of the specific dynamics of the tough game away at Burnley. Whether that’s the genuine reason or not though, Mourinho’s decision to reinstate Young was quickly vindicated.
“As I said yesterday, I don’t need to go to the transfer market to get a left-back because I’m really happy with Luke and with the adaptation of Ashley Young so I’m really happy. But I think this match is a very specific one and one that you need the experience of Young and he also projects very well in attack. That’s a decision [you make] when you have two players and a good squad, and you can adapt.”
Indeed, the veteran wideman – who Transfermarkt value at just £4.5million – was amongst United’s best performers against the Clarets, almost finding the net with a piece of ingenious skill and curling shot that nearly sneaked past Nick Pope into the far inside netting.
But that attempt at goal was very much the tip of the ice-berg; Young made the most tackles, the third-most interceptions and the third-most clearances of any Red Devils player, while chipping in offensively with one shot, one created chance, three attempted crosses and two successful dribbles. And perhaps most tellingly of how vital an influence he was at Turf Moor, the 31-cap Englishman had the most touches of the ball, 90, of any player on the pitch.
Some assumed Shaw’s rise in Young’s absence would spell the end for the ad hoc left-back, but his impressive form at No.3 shows no sign of relenting and has made him one of United’s least droppable players. That, however, inevitably leads to an obvious question; who should be United’s first-choice No.3?