A Solution to Our Defensive Woes that Nobody is Talking About?

PARIS, FRANCE-OCTOBER 20: head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United celebrate the victory with Luke Shaw #23 after the UEFA Champions League Group H stage match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Manchester United at Parc des Princes on October 20, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)

Obviously, “Ole in” vs. “Ole out” is one of the hottest debates among our fanbase right now. Personally, I sit somewhere in the middle of that debate. I think that Ole is fantastic for the rebuild. He understands the club and he is supportive of the players which is already a massive improvement from Jose. Unfortunately, I can’t shake the feeling that Ole is a puppet for the ownership. Jose got fired because he refused to be that puppet. However, its no secret that Ole doesn’t have half the tactical acumen Mourinho had. That’s not a huge knock on Ole though, not many people do.

What I did really enjoy about Mourinho’s management style is that our squad was extremely dynamic. Jose was ruthless, and he ruthlessly dropped players, switched formations, and forced players to play outside their comfort zone. I don’t think Ole quite has that sort of confidence just yet. But I think our squad could SIGNIFICANTLY benefit from Ole taking some more risks.

Also, its clear that financial support from ownership during the transfer window is… let’s say “unreliable”. Even the players who we have brought in recently don’t particularly fit what the squad needs, nor what Ole was asking for in the first place. Therefore, Ole really has no choice but to get creative.

A simple change that I think could work like an absolute charm is playing Luke Shaw at center-back. Yeah yeah yeah I know he’s injured right now. But when he’s healthy, I don’t see any reason to not give this a try. Let me tell you why.

We Don’t Need Him Anymore (at Left-Back).

Simply put, Alex Telles is a beast. The guy had 21 goals and 34 assists over the course of his final three seasons at Porto from a full-back position, and has proven in his short time at United that he has the defensive ability to hang with the big boys in the Premier League. I could be wrong, but I don’t see chubby Luke Shaw getting that spot back.

I don’t really see Shaw as the second choice either. Shaky as he may be at times, Brandon Williams is 20 years old now and will have his sights set on being involved in the first-team going forward. The truth is, Brandon Williams fits the mold of Ole’s youth movement and is very promising in his own right. I can’t imagine the club would prefer to keep aging Luke Shaw over Brandon Williams, who would likely look for greener pastures if he continues to struggle to find first-team involvement.

My tone may sound negative on Shaw, but I really don’t think he’s a bad player at all. I think he could continue to be extremely valuable to us for years to come. Just… not at left-back.

We Need a Left-Footed Central Defender

Ole made this abundantly clear. He said it all summer to the press, he said it directly to Nathan Ake on camera, literally the entire world knew Ole wanted a left-footed center-back. He wanted one for good reason too. It’s really good for the flow of the game to have ball-playing center backs on both sides of the field. How many goals have we conceded because our center backs get their feet tangled up?

Luke Shaw has lost a step in recent years. If you want to believe Romelu Lukaku’s slander on twitter as he was being sold from the club, he’s the slowest guy in the whole squad. That may be an issue at a fullback position, but I think he could make it work at center back. There is no question about his on-ball abilities, and he is sound defensively. I just can’t imagine that Luke Shaw would be as prone to coughing up the ball to opposing strikers as our current options.

Defensive Partnership is Key

I’m on team Harry Maguire. Yeah, we definitely overpaid for him. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is easily our best central defender, and arguably one of the best in the league. I’m also on team Lindelof and team Bailly. They are both wonderful players to have in the squad. Unfortunately, both have proven to not be ideal partners for Maguire.

That chemistry between center backs absolutely crucial. It’s something that is difficult to find but when you do, you gotta bottle it and never let it go. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic come to mind. Both were absolutely incredible defenders in their own right, but together they were unbeatable. Whenever one made a mistake the other was right behind to clean up.

United hasn’t had that in years, in fact, not since those two left. It may sound ridiculous, but the only defensive pairing since then that had any sort of chemistry at all was when Mourinho used to pair Phil Jones with Marcos Rojo. Obviously these two are nowhere near the players Rio and Nemanja were, but the chemistry they had made them our best options for quite a while.

United need to find that partner for Maguire who can unlock that type of Chemistry. Will Shaw be that guy? I don’t know. But they have a lot of experience playing with each other, both are English, and our current options aren’t really working. So like… why not give it a try? Maybe he’s the golden ticket, right in front of our eyes, and we just don’t see it.

We’ve Seen Him Do it Before (Sort of)

It seemed like every time we had one of those “absolutely must win or Ole is getting fired” games last season, he fell back on a three-at-the-back type of formation with wing backs. Honestly, to the best of my memory, that formation served us decently well and pulled out some crucial results. Typically that formation involved Harry Maguire playing in the center between Luke Shaw to his left, and either Bailly or Lindelof to the right.

In this position, Shaw was able to settle in to a more defensive role, relying less on his pace and fitness to cover the flank. To me, he looked very comfortable in this position. The younger and pacier guys covered out wide, and he still had Maguire reliably supporting him on the other side. Now, this is not to say that playing in a defensive trio is the same as a center back partnership. That’s very far from the case. But I think it shows the potential of Shaw to make that switch from full-back to center-back.

As always, I could be wrong. Maybe time will tell and this take will get thrown back in my face. But, then again, maybe I’m not. If YOU think i’m wrong, hit me up in the comments below and let’s talk about it!

As Always, GGMU,

– Nate

About Nathan Dickinson 2 Articles
23 year old grad student who spends far more time watching soccer than working towards my degree. Whoops.


  1. Never thought about that. Could be a great solution to our problems pending his ability to stay healthy.

  2. OK, I’ll bite. He was decent in a back three but man oh man that Istanbul game. The one that probably means we won’t qualify.
    I wouldn’t trust him anywhere on the pitch! We’re definitely one CB away from a decent complement of four though. Probably by chequebook because we can’t seem to get an easy win EVER to blood a youngster in the 70th minute.

    • I totally agree by chequebook is the ideal solution! It feels to me like missing out on Ake was one of our big failures this summer. But can we realistically rely on that? The ‘we have no money because of covid’ excuse is only gonna get worse through january and probably leak into next summer too. Luke Shaw would be more like a band-aid than a reconstructive surgery.

  3. Could be worth trying Shaw in a 2 man defence, but there would be a REAL lack of pace with him and Harry.

    Would be more open to a back three and using Wan Bissaka there.

    I think this could be an option, any thoughts?
    De Ge
    James Wan Bissaka McGuire Shaw Telles
    Scotty McTominay
    Bruno Van De Beek/Pogba
    Cavani Rashford

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