Mitchell, Chiwell & Co – The left-backs Southgate could & probably should have taken to Euro 2024

Shaw not played since Feb 

Mitchell, Chiwell & Co - The left-backs Southgate could & probably should have taken to Euro 2024

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February 18th against Luton for just 45 minutes. The last time England left-back Luke Shaw played competitive football 129 days ago. He had to be taken off at half-time for Manchester United that day due to an injury and hasn’t played since. In fact, in total he played just 12 Premier League games last season, amassing only 963 minutes of league football. Yet he is the only left-back in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2024. Let’s go one step further, he is the only left-footed defender in the Three Lions squad. In both of England’s first two games, Kieran Trippier has looked very uncomfortable at left-back and offered little to no threat going forward.

When he has been on the pitch, there can be little argument that Shaw has been one of the best performers in his position in the Premier League. He’s also delivered for England, enjoying a superb tournament at Euro 2020, culminating in him scoring in the final. Nevertheless, getting him on the pitch has become so infrequent. Before the tournament Southgate suggested that England’s second game against Denmark could be when Shaw returned, but that’s been and gone. The Three Lions were boosted however by hugely positive news this Monday as it was revealed he is finally training with the squad again. Whether he is fully fit remains to be seen. Risking putting him in the squad perhaps makes sense giving the player he can be, but risking him without putting any other left-back as a back up option in the squad seems crazy, and could cost England this summer.

Luke Shaw’s injury record

“Shaw is the best left back in the world, but he has suffered a horrible injury at the start of his career and because of this he will never be able to play 60 games per season.” said Man United manager Erik ten Hag earlier this month. It’s true that the highest number of games Shaw has played in a season is 47 in both the 2020/21 season and the 2022/23 campaign. Injuries have ravaged his career ever since he suffered a double leg break against PSV in the Champions League back in 2015. Speaking about the incident Shaw said, “I was really close to losing my leg but I didn’t know that until about six months later when the doctor told me.”

As you can see in the graphic above, the amount of games Shaw has missed for club and country in in the last nine seasons since that leg break is worryingly high. He missed the entire season which equated to 64 games in that 2015/16 campaign. He has missed over 15 games in six of the nine seasons that followed, and never completed a full campaign, without missing any games through injury. The 2022/23 term looked like Shaw might have finally been able to wrestle his injury issues behind him missing just three matches. However, last season it was another 34 games on the sideline.

Before the Denmark game, Southgate said, “Luke won’t be involved tomorrow. He’s actually on track for where we thought he would be originally. We were hoping a couple of days ago he might accelerate that bit but he needs a bit more volume work.” But the news that emerged this Tuesday of Shaw training with the other 25 players will of course be a huge boost to the Three Lions. Nevertheless, having not played since February, he is very unlikely to be anywhere near match fit. England’s imbalanced start to his Euros, where the left side has been completely ineffective, only heightens the reliance on having a natural left-back fit and available. If only there was another genuine option to play there.

England’s other options at left-back

When looking at options that England could have called up as a back-up left-back to Luke Shaw, the standout candidate is Crystal Palace’s Tyrick Mitchell. He enjoyed another stellar season for the Eagles, missing just one Premier League game, and finished the campaign in great form under Oliver Glasner. The 24-year-old has previously made two caps for the Three Lions and possesses the energy to play a selfless role and get high and wide up the pitch to allow the space for Phil Foden to drift inside. He would be unlikely to keep a fully fit Shaw out the team, but would have been a very sturdy fill-in while the Man United man recovered from his latest injury. 

 It’s true that when looking at other alternatives in that position, England definitely are short. When it comes to Premier League games played last season by English left-backs, Newcastle’s Dan Burn made the most appearances, although he would almost certainly not fit the profile of what the Three Lions would be looking for at that position. Another Magpie, in Lewis Hall, ended the seasons strongly, and began to assert himself in manager Eddie Howe’s plans. At 19 years old, and without a cap to his name, Hall would have lacked experience, but you could argue still would have looked more natural in that position than a very right-footed right-back. Ben Chilwell has had his own injury problems, but was available for selection. He’s made 21 caps for England, and many were surprised he wasn’t included.

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