Man Utd’s messiah! Why Luke Shaw’s return could save the Red Devils’ season - and Erik ten Hag’s job

Manchester United have endured plenty of lows in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, but they hit rock-bottom after a 3-0 loss to Newcastle at Old Trafford on November 1. That result saw the Red Devils exit the Carabao Cup at the round of 16, capping a miserable defence of the trophy they had won after a final win over the same opponents in February.

It was also their eighth defeat in their first 15 matches across all competitions in 2023-24. The last time United started a season that badly was way back in 1961, when they were still rebuilding the squad after the tragic Munich air crash of '58.

Erik ten Hag's side have been leaking goals in domestic and European competition, while also looking alarmingly toothless at the other end of the pitch. United have won four of their last five Premier League games, but only by a solitary goal, and they are already seven points behind leaders Manchester City.

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Even another top-four finish looks beyond United right now given their poor level of performance, and they certainly won't be qualifying for next season's Champions League by winning it. Only maximum points from their final two group games against Galatasaray and Bayern Munich will prevent them from falling at the first hurdle.

And yet, all is not lost. There is no denying that bad luck with injuries has played a key role in United's decline. Andre Onana, Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, Amad Diallo and Tyrell Malacia are all currently on the treatment table, while Rasmus Hojlund, Mason Mount and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have also missed a significant portion of games.

Any team would struggle with such a depleted squad, but the absence of Luke Shaw has been the most significant for United. The 28-year-old has been out of action since sustaining a muscle issue in United's 2-0 loss at Tottenham on August 17, and wasn't expected back until December.

However, Shaw made a surprise early return to training this week, and is being tipped to start against Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday. United's first-choice left-back has rarely received the credit he deserves at Old Trafford, but he's the most important player in Ten Hag's ranks - and his reintegration might just spark a rapid turnaround in fortunes.