Luke Shaw registered two assists against Ukraine, including a free kick finished off by Maguire

Credit: Eurasia Sport Images

England’s creative spark is again burning bright but, amid a national search for answers following the draw against Scotland only 17 days ago, the fuel has arrived from an unlikely source.

After being involved in both goals against Germany last Tuesday, Luke Shaw was at it again in Saturday’s quarter-final against Ukraine, providing pinpoint crosses for the headers by Harry Maguire and Harry Kane en route to a 4-0 victory.

Shaw has now created twice as many chances during this tournament as any other outfield England player and is second behind only Switzerland winger Steven Zuber for assists at Euro 2020. He has also just equalled David Beckham’s England assist record at a European Championships and has even provided more at the tournament than Zinedine Zidane. 

Add in Shaw’s part in five consecutive clean sheets, and you can begin to see how some good judges have begun mentioning his name among the contenders for player of the tournament. 

Even Jose Mourinho was evidently impressed. 

Speaking on talkSPORT, the former Manchester United manager said: “The back four is really, really solid – and Luke Shaw is playing better and better and better.” Mourinho then referenced Shaw among nine ‘untouchables’ in the England starting XI for Wednesday’s semi-final against Denmark.

Shaw himself repeatedly stressed his pride in England’s collective defensive record, even if it is his attacking threat that now feels critical in keeping the left-back place ahead of Ben Chilwell. 

Luke Shaw has registered three assists so far during Euro 2020 – all in the knockout rounds

Credit: ALBERTO LINGRIA
/AFP

With Raheem Sterling often cutting inside and committing opposition players defensively, Shaw’s willingness to drive forward on the overlap has been frequently rewarded by large pockets of space from which to cross.

His left-footed delivery, says Rio Ferdinand, has then been consistently “exquisite”. That is a particular reward for the long hours spent honing his dead-back technique with James Ward-Prowse during more than a decade together in the same Southampton youth teams.

Above all, though, Shaw’s performances have been an empathic answer to those who questioned whether he had the physical capacity to dominate games on this sort of stage. Shaw had patrolled the left-flank in a similarly complete way for Southampton during his breakthrough season in the Premier League, aged 18 in 2013-14, when he was even voted into the PFA’s team of the year. That was under the management of Mauricio Pochettino, with whom he would share breakfast and dinner at the training ground in an effort to form good habits. Paul Mitchell, who was then the club head of recruitment, and is now AS Monaco’s sporting director following similar roles at Tottenham Hotspur and RB Leipzig, says that there was always a misnomer about Shaw’s physical capabilities.

“Because of Luke’s natural body shape, a stance has been taken that he hasn’t been as fit because he doesn’t look like that long distance runner which most footballer’s do,” says Mitchell.

“I remember Luke at 17 or 18 and he was a phenomenal athlete. He had power, strength, athleticism and was relentless up and down [the pitch]. His output when it was measured was always in the top three and his work in the gym was also always in the top three. 

“We recognised that there was an education piece around diet, nutrition and hydration that Luke needed support with. They recognised that quickly and added that to a really detailed degree. There was that education in a good informal way for his growth and development. He then faced a long arduous process with a serious injury but, after a difficult journey, we are now seeing the realisation of that talent.”