A 2-1 defeat at the hands of PSV Eindhoven last night was a poor return to Champions League football for Manchester United, but injury to a key player was perhaps the most disappointing part of the evening for Louis van Gaal’s men.
Luke Shaw suffered a sickening leg break in the first half of the clash and is now expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the season, with his participation in Euro 2016 in severe doubt.
The blow comes at a terrible time for the young defender, who had overcome debilitating injuries from his first campaign at Old Trafford to star for club and country in recent weeks.
For United, Shaw’s unavailability will rob the team of a reliable performer and require a defensive rejig.
The historic club may well be third on the Premier League table after five games, but the manner of their performances so far in 2015-16 have failed to get hearts racing.
Despite United’s limitations going forward, the Old Trafford outfit’s positive results have been built on a relatively miserly defence, with Van Gaal’s charges only conceding three Premier League goals so far this season.
Most of this solidarity has been due to the slightly unorthodox centre-back pairing of Chris Smalling and Daley Blind.
The England international has finally started to put consistent performances of note together and looks like a commanding defender with the authority to be a real leader for the side.
Blind’s versatility has been an asset of his play since his Ajax days, but most of his football has been in midfield.
Despite this, the Netherlands international clearly has the trust of his compatriot and manager, with accomplished showings out of position this term.
Shaw’s injury broke-up this partnership at the Philips Stadion, with Marcos Rojo slotting in alongside Smalling and Blind moving to left-back.
Rojo was caught in no man’s land for PSV’s decisive second goal, allowing Luciano Narsingh a free header to compound United’s misery.
The South American defender is most commonly used as a left-back for his country and Van Gaal would be advised to potentially follow this ploy going forward.
Although Blind’s distribution and work-rate make him an excellent option at full-back, the promising and largely steadfast nature of his pairing with Smalling suggests that a continuation of playing him centrally makes much more sense.
Shaw’s injury will also evoke more questions over why Van Gaal did not strengthen his rearguard over the summer.
With Jonny Evans offloaded and Phil Jones not available, another injury at the back would have United down to their bare bones defensively.
The club have been crying out for dominant figures at the heart of their backline since the days of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić.
It appeared that there was potential for this season’s duo to offer a base to build a team around, but Shaw’s injury threatens to offset the balance and damage the best performing area of United’s team so far this season.