Williams started the campaign as a newly promoted permanent member of United’s Under-23 squad. Yet since the end of September he hasn’t been out of the first-team picture and has earned rave reviews in every game that he has started so far.
The 19-year-old made his debut as a substitute against Rochdale in the Carabao Cup just under two months ago. He got his first start in the Europa League soon after, while he made his full Premier League debut last weekend against Brighton after two previous cameo appearances.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has sung Williams’ praise at regular intervals over the last few weeks and his plans for the youngster have perhaps been revealed.
United fans might have considered it a surprise when the youngster was left out in favour of Ashley Young for the Europa League clash with FK Partizan at Old Trafford last week. But it quickly became apparent why when Williams was named in the lineup to face Brighton days later.
Young was suspended for the Brighton game, but Solskjaer also had the versatile Marcos Rojo at his disposal. Instead, he put his faith in Williams and was repaid handsomely.
“He’s really, really impressed me, I have to say. He’s making it hard to leave him out,” Solskjaer remarked after the 3-0 win over the Seagulls, additionally confirming that Williams’ omission from the Partizan game was because he was being saved for Brighton.
With Young available to face Sheffield United after the international break, it would be significant if Williams keeps his place for that one. Given that he was voted the club’s Man of the Match against Brighton, as well as an earlier fixture against Partizan, there is little cause to drop him.
For a player of 19, who will only get better the more he matures and learns, the future looks incredibly bright indeed. The issue that remains is what it means for Luke Shaw.
Shaw, who is still only 24 years of age himself, signed a new long-term contract barely more 12 months ago. He played 40 times in all competitions last season, doubling his best previous tally in a single campaign for United, and was also named Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year.
It had looked as though the former Southampton star might finally be ready to fulfil the potential that once made him worthy of being the most expensive teenager in the world. But this season has been another huge setback for a player who has already had so many.
Having often struggled for fitness throughout his time at Old Trafford, notwithstanding a broken leg in 2015 that threatened his career, Shaw has only played three times in all competitions in 2019/20 and has been ruled out since August because of problematic muscle injuries.
When he is fit enough to return, it might take him several weeks more to get up to speed after missing so much action. Will United ever truly be able to rely on Shaw long-term? The answer, based on the evidence of the last five years, is probably not. Sadly so.
The rapid rise of Williams has made things much worse in that respect, as the youngster’s impressive consistency has further highlighted Shaw’s unfortunate shortcomings. As things stand, it is difficult to see a way back and United could cut their losses and move on.
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