Tuesday 20 August 2019

'City and Liverpool won't have it as easy this season'

Fresh start: Manchester United defender Luke Shaw says the squad have been working hard on pressing the opposition and keeping possession. Photo: Will Russell/Getty Images
Fresh start: Manchester United defender Luke Shaw says the squad have been working hard on pressing the opposition and keeping possession. Photo: Will Russell/Getty Images

James Ducker

If the way Manchester United's season ended was not disappointing enough - sixth, in relegation form and 32 points adrift of champions and local rivals Manchester City - the sight of four English rivals contesting both European finals rubbed salt into gaping wounds.

Chelsea beat Arsenal in the Europa League final but, worst of all for United, Liverpool defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final to claim a sixth European Cup.

There has been no escaping the gloating since, not even on the other side of the world. One mischievous Liverpool fan took great pleasure in circling above a United training session in Perth, Australia, a fortnight ago in a plane trailing a banner listing his team's European successes.

There have been plenty of bitter pills for United to swallow since Alex Ferguson retired six years ago but Luke Shaw says recent months have perhaps been the hardest to stomach.

"It was really tough for all of us to take and you couldn't really enjoy your holidays," the United defender said.

Especially

"You see the Champions League final and the Europa League final and they're all English teams. It makes you feel even worse, and especially the way the finals went. None of us want that to happen again.

"I think that's why we've all come back again with a different mindset. We had that break to clear our minds but now we're all focused on getting United back to where they belong and not let the likes of the teams we've seen in the finals have it that easy."

That is a message Shaw reinforces and, while many United fans consider talk to be cheap and want to see clear evidence of change and progress, there is genuine optimism in the left-back's voice as he looks ahead to the new campaign.

Some will find that hard to fathom. A squad many had expected to be ripped up remains largely intact and frustration is growing over the lack of signings with less than three weeks left until United face Chelsea in their Premier League opener on August 11.

Shaw gets the concern. "I fully understand the way they're thinking, especially after the season we had," he said.

Yet, for all the scepticism, Shaw believes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his staff are building something. That blueprint will face another examination on Thursday, when United play Tottenham Hotspur in Shanghai, but against Inter Milan, in particular, in Singapore at the weekend there was a conviction, cohesion and intensity to the team's pressing and a confidence to play out from the back.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has made an encouraging start, but it is easy to see why Solskjaer wants to bring in Harry Maguire to play alongside Victor Lindelof in central defence. It is certainly a way of playing - from front to back - that chimes with the squad.

"For sure this season it will be a new United," Shaw said.

"They (City and Liverpool) won't have it as easy as last season. People are probably already doubting us but they can carry on doing that.

"We know what we are capable of doing and we will have a much better season. It will be a new United, especially with the new ideas the manager is bringing in."

Shaw says no one should underestimate the amount of work the players have done on tactics and systems.

"We've worked a lot on tactics, pressing wise - when to go, what sort of moments to," he said.

"The other side of that is to keep the ball more. The manager wants us to play out from the back."

Mason Greenwood has been a highlight of the tour. The 17-year-old has made an impact in the absence of Romelu Lukaku. He is the pick of a promising bunch of academy graduates also comprising Tahith Chong, Axel Tuanzebe and Angel Gomes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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