Can Reece James Be a Back-Up to Luke Shaw at Left-Back for Manchester United?

Scott Rom@@R_o_MFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2014

PASADENA, CA - JULY 23:  Reece James #41 of Manchester United celebrates after the second of his two second half goals against the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl on July 23, 2014 in Pasadena, California. Manchester United won 7-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When Patrice Evra signed his contract extension in May, United fans were delighted. He is a bit of a cult hero at Old Trafford, thanks to his strong feelings for the club, and the idea of him playing the role of mentor to Luke Shaw was very appealing.

However, Italian champions Juventus offered the left-back a two-year-deal, rather than just the year extension United were prepared to give him, which helped swing the situation in favour of a move to Italy. There have also been reports from the Mirror's David Anderson that Evra's wife has been keen to move abroad

That means that United have been left with next to no cover for this position. Tyler Blackett is 20 years old, which might suggest his time has probably been and gone. He may very well have a successful career for a club in the bottom half of the Premier League or in the Championship, but you would imagine he would struggle to establish himself as a competent replacement for Evra. To not even have made your debut by his age goes against him.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 02: Reece James of Manchester United in action during the Barclays U21 Premier League Semi Final match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on May 02, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Image
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Reece James, on the other hand, may very well fancy his chances to be back-up to Luke Shaw in the 2014-15 season.

James replaced Shaw in the second half of United's 7-0 win against the L.A. Galaxy and managed to score two goals. 

His first goal came when he side-footed in a shot from an Ashley Young cross on the edge of the area. His team-mates were clearly delighted for him. 

James scored his second goal after Ander Herrera played through a great ball to Young. His shot was blocked, leaving James to coolly slot home, again from the edge of the area.

The player would have been delighted just to have made Louis van Gaal's pre-season squad, let alone get big chunks of playing time and scoring a few goals. His progress has been fairly rapid.

The defender was initially on Preston North End's books, the club to which United loaned David Beckham, before he made his way to United in 1995. James was loaned out to Carlisle United last season but appears ready to be considered for United's first-team squad.

Manchester United's U21 coach, Warren Joyce, has sung the praises of James, as reported by Steven Sutcliffe for the Manchester Evening News.

He’s done really well, he was great for the Under-21s last season and I thought he was probably our player of the season.

He’s composed, good on the ball and is extremely consistent – you have to hand it to him because he’s made the most of an opportunity – grabbing it with both hands and that’s what you have to do. 

I wasn’t surprised by his performance against LA Galaxy and it’s not a case of him being a flash in the pan - he’s a very good player who has performed consistently for over 12 months.

Louis van Gaal hasn't worked with the youth coaches at United before, so we're yet to see whether he will take their word as fact. But given the praise that James has received from those who have worked with him, it would come as no surprise if Van Gaal seriously considered James as a squad player for next season.

After United's 0-0 draw with Inter Milan, which the Red Devils won on penalties, Van Gaal made it clear that James was his first choice for the game, after questioning Shaw's fitness, as reported by Jamie Jackson in The Guardian.

He was lucky. Normally we would play Reece James but he was injured. So I asked Luke if he would play. He did a very hard training session this morning but he still did very good.

Van Gaal's new tactics, relying on wing-backs in a 3-5-2 formation, is also something that suits James, who enjoys getting forward as well as defending.

Jul 23, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; (Editors note: caption correction) Manchester United midfielder Reece James (41) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the second half at Rose Bowl. Manchester United defeated Los Angeles Ga

"Full-back is my natural position but I like to get forward as much as I can and I think that helps in the wing-back role," he told ManUtd.com. "I also enjoy the defensive duties so, all round, it’s a good position for me."

While Young is also competition for the left wing-back position, it appears as though James is very much a part of Van Gaal's thoughts for the future.


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