Premier League stars have returned to their clubs after international duty and now we enter perhaps the most intense stretch of the season.

Will your fantasy league players last the distance or are some showing signs of flagging already? Perhaps the World Cup qualifiers gave you an idea of which stars could deliver for their clubs in the race for those top-four places.

Can Timo Werner rally after his awful miss in Germany's defeat to North Macedonia, or should you look elsewhere for Chelsea players after the Blues' stunning start under Thomas Tuchel.

Our Opta-powered fantasy picks should provide some food for thought ahead of the 30th round of games this weekend.

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea, who play West Brom, have shipped just two goals in 10 Premier League games since former Paris Saint-Germain boss Tuchel arrived, with the German boss making the London side come good on the potential they showed fleetingly during Frank Lampard's reign.

Goalkeeper Mendy had already looked a shrewd addition and he owns the best save percentage (77.4 per cent) among Premier League goalkeepers in 2021. Only Manchester City's Ederson has conceded fewer goals per game this year among keepers with a minimum of 300 minutes of action. Mendy has conceded seven in 12 games at an average of 0.58, while Ederson has been beaten eight times in 15 matches for a 0.53 average since the turn of the year.

LUKE SHAW

Impressed by Luke Shaw's return to England favour? Wait until you hear what he's been achieving at club level. Shaw's Manchester United form has been a sensational second coming for the player who first caught the eye as a teenager with club and country, and he will look to impress against Brighton on Sunday.

The former Southampton left-back has been directly involved in more goals (one goal, four assists) in 2021 than any other Premier League defender, with his 36 chances created making Shaw a clear leader in that field too. Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (24 chances created) sits a distant second on the list.

CESAR AZPILICUETA

Already emerging as a favourite of Tuchel, Azpilicueta has played his part in nine clean sheets with Chelsea in 12 Premier League appearances since the start of the year. That is more than any other defender has managed in the competition across that period of time.

The 31-year-old club captain is leading by example and West Brom's attackers will have their work cut out against the former Marseille defender this weekend. Team-mate Antonio Rudiger, who has played 11 league games in 2021, is one of four players in the top flight to have played a part in eight clean sheets this year.

RIYAD MAHREZ

Leicester City know all about Mahrez and his wily ways on the wing, but whether they can stop the Manchester City star on Saturday is perhaps another matter.

The Algerian, who was a Premier League winner with the Foxes, has been involved in 11 goals in his last 13 Premier League starts (eight goals, three assists). Across his last three league games against Leicester, he has managed two goals and two assists.

SADIO MANE

Could the international break prove to be just the interruption that last year's flagging champions Liverpool needed? Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and co will hope to resume on a positive note when Jurgen Klopp's men tackle Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Five of Mane's seven Premier League goals for Liverpool this season have come away from home, with four of those coming in London – this is his only Premier League campaign so far where he has scored more goals away than at home. The Senegalese has also scored seven Premier League goals against Arsenal, only netting more against Crystal Palace (10). Two of those have come away at Arsenal, including one in a 2-1 defeat last July.

HARRY KANE

In need of a fix of guaranteed points? Tough, they don't exist. But Kane would be close to the top of any all-time list of the Premier League's most reliable scorers, and he already has 17 goals and 13 assists for Tottenham in the competition this season.

Across all competitions, Kane has been involved in 43 goals in 40 games this term (27 goals, 16 assists), and in terms of involvements that haul is just two short of his best ever season in his senior career (41 goals and four assists in 2017-18). Tottenham go to Newcastle on Sunday, with Kane looking to add to the three league goals he has previously bagged at St James' Park.

Luke Shaw has spoken of his "massive regrets" over withdrawing from England squads in the past as the in-form left-back attempts to make up for lost time.

Manchester United defender Shaw made his first international appearance since September 2018 in the Three Lions' 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Albania on Sunday, setting up the opening goal for Harry Kane.

Shaw made his debut back in 2014, but won only his ninth cap in Tirana as Gareth Southgate's side made it two Group I victories out of two.

The 25-year-old has struggled with injuries since joining United from Southampton but is making a strong case to be England's first-choice left-back when Euro 2020 gets under way in June.

Shaw thought he may have blown his chances of representing England again and is determined to grasp his opportunity.

He said: "My family [and I] had a few discussions and thought that maybe I won’t be able to get back into it [the England squad].

"But deep down I always believed that I could and I worked hard, and gladly Gareth's given me another chance. Hopefully I can just impress him and stake my claim to be in the squad.

"I had a few massive regrets. I couldn't stop thinking of the mistakes I'd made in the past, especially with England. I pulled out of a lot of camps around that time. I was maybe not in the best sort of condition.

"I think over the last two years I've thought about it so much that that was my biggest regret, and yeah of course letting Gareth down.

"I tried to keep in touch with him to just to let him know that things have changed. He said he's picked me on merit and how I've been performing. The past is the past and hopefully we've forgotten about that now and can just focus on the future and I want to keep impressing him."

Luke Shaw has thanked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for "managing me right" after earning an England recall.

Shaw has been one of United's standout performers this term and is back in the international fold for the first time in two years, as Gareth Southgate's squad prepare for World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

Those matches will be the Three Lions' last before Southgate names his squad for the rescheduled Euro 2020, with former Southampton youngster Shaw looking set to contest a starting berth with Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell.

It is a far cry from the 25-year-old's time under Jose Mourinho at OId Trafford, where public criticism from his manager appeared to do more harm than good as he struggled for form, fitness and confidence.

"[Solskjaer's] man-management is second to none. The way he conducts himself in terms of how he speaks to the players, it gets the best out of them," Shaw told Sky Sports.

"You can see that. He deals with situations perfectly in terms of what is needed, especially at a big club like Manchester United.

"He takes the pressure off the lads and takes it all himself.

"Sometimes it is not fair because we are the ones on the pitch and we need to take our fair share too.

"For me, especially, from what I had before Ole came in, it is a total difference. It has pushed me to a new level."

Mourinho infamously decried an apparently promising Shaw performance versus Everton in April 2017 as "his body and my brain", telling reporters his constant instructions from the sidelines were a big factor in the defender impressing.

"I had no confidence at that time. I was losing my belief," Shaw said.

"I think that is what changed with Ole. He managed me right and I got my confidence back and I am really enjoying it at the moment."

Confidence is certainly not an issue for Shaw right now, as he contributes for United in all aspects of the game.

His 52 chances created are the most by any defender in the Premier League this season.

In open play, he has delivered 67 crosses and has five assists this season – crediting the arrival of experienced striker Edinson Cavani at Old Trafford with encouraging him to take a more active role as a creator in the team.

"I never used to cross it as much as I should have done," he said.

"It helps to have Edi and that threat in the box. It means that if you do deliver a ball he will be there to fight for it and give everything he can to win it.

"Since he came in, the lads up front have seen how he works and what he does. They are trying to copy what he does in the box so there is definitely more movement.

"It means that you don't have to hit a man, you just have to hit a space and someone will be in there."

Ben Chilwell believes the competition between himself and Luke Shaw to be England's first choice on the left-hand side of defence can only benefit Gareth Southgate's team.

Southgate named right-back Kieran Tripper at left wing-back earlier this season as Chilwell worked his way back to form following a foot injury.

If that suggested a dearth of options, the pieces now appear to be falling into place ahead of the rescheduled Euro 2020 for the Three Lions.

Chilwell has settled into life at Chelsea and is thriving under Thomas Tuchel, while Shaw has arguably been Manchester United's most consistent performer this term, putting years of injury torment behind him.

"At Chelsea you've got two or three good players in each position and at England you should expect the same thing," said the former Leicester City player.

"Going into the Euros, if me and Luke are battling it out and trying to prove who's having the best club form going into the tournament, that's only a positive.

"That means if everybody in each position's doing that, going into the tournament everyone should be sharp and ready to play and confident.

"Then whoever plays is ready and that's important."

Chilwell believes it could be advantageous for himself and club colleague Reece James if Southgate sticks with the 3-4-3 setup he used during the recent Nations League campaign, given Tuchel has employed the system to fine effect at Stamford Bridge

"We've spoken about that, me and Reece particularly, because it affects us the most," he said ahead of England's triple-header of World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

"If you look at the formation England are playing, the formation we're playing here at the moment gives us the best possible chance to get used to playing in the positions that England want us to play in.

"Hopefully that gives us a good chance going into the summer – that we can be used."

Shaw generally operates as a more conventional full-back at United, even though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has periodically reverted to a back five for big games.

Nevertheless, that has done little to quell his attacking output.

The former Southampton youngster's 52 chances created in the Premier League this season, more than any other defender in England's top flight and far in excess of Chilwell's 21.

Shaw has five assists to Chilwell's four, with his solitary goal in the recent Manchester derby victory set against two for the Chelsea man.

Chilwell (79) has attempted more crosses than Shaw (67) but fewer have been successful – 11 compared to 18.

Shaw has attempted 39 dribbles and his 21 completed are two more than Chilwell has attempted overall.

In terms of tackles and interceptions, they are fairly evenly matched, with Shaw up 36-32 on the former metric, while the latter falls 19-15 in Chilwell's favour.

Luke Shaw felt Manchester United had to overcome an "awful" first half to defeat Milan 1-0 and seal their place in the Europa League quarter-finals. 

The last-16 tie was finely balanced after a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in the first leg, with the hosts looking the more likely scorers in the opening half of the return fixture after United's bright start had quickly fizzled out. 

However, Paul Pogba's introduction for the second half proved decisive, the substitute firing in the only goal of the game in the 48th minute at San Siro. 

Shaw was delighted to see Pogba back in action again after missing 10 games through injury, but acknowledged Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side must improve as they look to secure silverware this season. 

"Obviously very happy we're through, but I'll be honest – and I think the lads and the staff will agree with me – we weren't good at all, especially in the first half when we were awful," Shaw told BT Sport. 

"In the first 10 or 15 minutes we started well, kept control of the ball. But it was like a switch – we turned off and were very sloppy.  

"We kept giving away balls and bringing pressure on ourselves. We were lucky, but then second half it always helps when you have a world-class player like Paul to come on and make a difference.  

"He did that - it's brilliant to have him back. The most important thing tonight was the result and getting through to the next round, no matter how we played.  

"But we know we need to be better than tonight."

United have progressed from each of their last two knockout ties with Milan in European competition, though they needed a fine save from Dean Henderson to deny Zlatan Ibrahimovic an equaliser.

Next up is an FA Cup quarter-final against Leicester City, the Red Devils travelling to the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

"Obviously, Milan are a top side and we knew it would be hard, especially coming here. The result wasn't in our favour [from the first leg], so it's a very good win," Shaw continued.

"The most positive [thing] is we are through and have got players coming back. The squad is looking much better than it did last week, so it’s good times now. 

"Hopefully we can push on, because we've got a big game around the corner at the weekend."

After cup duty at the weekend, Shaw will join up with the England squad. He has been recalled by national team boss Gareth Southgate for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland, just reward for his outstanding form at club level.

"I'm extremely happy – it's a massive honour to get selected for your country," the left-back said.

"Obviously, I’ve been out of the fold for quite a while, I’ve had ambitions to get back into the squad. Luckily I’ve done that, so I just need to keep going."

Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard have been recalled to the England squad for this month's World Cup qualifiers.

There are also first call-ups for Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins and West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, who are the only uncapped players in the group.

Reece James, Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham have all been added after being left out of the Under-21 squad for the European Championship, along with Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka.

Bellingham was chosen despite concerns from Borussia Dortmund that he would be forced to quarantine upon his return to Germany.

Wolves defender Conor Coady keeps his place, as does Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell, despite having recently struggled for game time under Thomas Tuchel.

Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse is selected but there is no place for Leeds United's Patrick Bamford, who had been tipped to earn a spot. Team-mate Kalvin Phillips, who made his debut last September, will be involved.

Gareth Southgate's side face San Marino on March 25 before a game with Albania three days later. They then take on Poland on March 31.

 

England squad:

Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Nick Pope (Burnley); Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolves), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Manchester City); Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jesse Lingard (West Ham), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United), Declan Rice (West Ham), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton); Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa).

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lauded Luke Shaw, labelling the full-back "absolutely incredible" after his performance in the derby win over Manchester City.

Shaw scored as United upstaged runaway Premier League leaders City 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Bruno Fernandes converted a penalty after just 101 seconds before Shaw doubled the lead five minutes into the second half away to City, who had their 21-match winning streak snapped and a run of 28 games unbeaten across all competitions.

Solskjaer hailed Shaw – who joined from Southampton in 2014 – following his impressive display as the England international continues to impress at Old Trafford after his rocky start to life in Manchester.

"Absolutely incredible," Solskjaer said of Shaw. "He was a massive doubt until after the warm-up. He needed to do the warm-up to be cleared to play. So Alex [Telles] was ready but Luke's performance [was] top.

"He's aggressive, he's hard to play one against one. When he goes forward on those on runs he's unstoppable.

"He's just improved so much and he's improving all the time and delighted for him."

United have won three consecutive away games in all competitions against City for the first time since a run of four between November 1993 and November 2000.

The Red Devils are also 22 matches unbeaten away from home in the Premier League, though they remain 11 points adrift of City atop the table.

United star Marcus Rashford limped off with 17 minutes remaining against City and he is set to undergo a scan on his ankle.

Rashford's assist for United's second goal was his 10th across all competitions this season – the first time he has reached double figures for assists in a single season in his club career.

"It's something with his ankle. When he sprinted back about 60-70 yards to save a goal. Just shows the attitude of the boy, and his pace and how he sacrificed himself," said Solskjaer, who became the first manager in United's history to win each of his first three away games against City.

"I think, maybe he went over on his ankle or something, but we need to do a scan. I've not had time to sit down and speak to the doctor yet."

Despite United's success against Pep Guardiola's side, Solskjaer is refusing to look beyond Thursday's Europa League last-16 first leg against Milan.

"All we have to think about is Thursday," he added. "Every game, one game at a time and see where we're at. We want to improve. I want the player to improve. We want to learn from this experience. We want to learn from Wednesday's experience against [Crystal] Palace. We need to improve on so many things to get our consistency better.

"Of course, they're 11 points ahead of us if I'm not wrong, with 10 games to go, so that's a long, long way. So we need to focus on ourselves and just be a better Man United and I feel we're a better Man United now than we were 12, 13, 16 months ago."

Manchester City saw their 21-match winning streak come to an end as Manchester United secured a 2-0 derby victory over the runaway Premier League leaders on Sunday. 

Bruno Fernandes converted a penalty after 101 seconds following a clumsy foul by Gabriel Jesus, while Luke Shaw was the unlikely scorer as the visitors doubled their lead in the 50th minute.

The result means Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has once again come out on top against Pep Guardiola, in the process becoming the first United boss to win each of his first three away trips in all competitions at the Etihad Stadium. 

City may still hold an 11-point cushion at the summit but missing out on setting a new club record of 29 games unbeaten will sting, particularly considering the opposition. This is their first setback since a 2-0 reverse at Tottenham on November 21, 2020. 

United had not scored in their three previous outings leading into the contest, yet were gifted the chance to end that barren run when Jesus – retained in the Guardiola's starting XI following a brace in the 4-1 win over Wolves – carelessly clipped Anthony Martial. 

The Brazilian was nearly bailed out by compatriot Ederson, yet the goalkeeper was only able to palm Fernandes' low effort from the spot into the net. 

Initially flustered at falling behind for the first time in 20 league games, City eventually recovered from the early setback to assume control of proceedings. 

Oleksandr Zinchenko tested Dean Henderson – again playing with David de Gea away on paternity leave – while Rodri struck the angle joining crossbar and post with a rising drive early in the second half. 

However, it was United who grabbed the pivotal second goal in the game. Shaw carried the ball from deep and then continued his forward run after giving possession to Marcus Rashford, allowing the left-back to take the return pass and drag a low shot through Rodri's legs and into the far corner. 

City huffed and puffed but were unable to find a way to blow the United defence down, not aided by managing to put just five of their 21 attempts on target. While seemingly destined to finish the campaign on top of the table, they were second best to their rivals here.
 

 

Bruno Fernandes is convinced the signing of Alex Telles is the key component behind Luke Shaw's dramatic improvement at Manchester United after the left-back won the club's Player of the Month award.

It was not so long ago that Shaw's United career appeared to be petering out to an underwhelming conclusion, particularly during Jose Mourinho's ill-fated reign.

In two-and-a-half years playing for the Portuguese coach, Shaw only made 33 Premier League appearances. While he did have injury and fitness problems, the manager's attitude seemingly did little to endear himself to the player.

Mourinho criticised Shaw publicly on several occasions, yet the left-back kept his head down and – to the surprise of very few – ultimately outlasted the 'Special One', kicking on brilliantly under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

His five assists this season is already a personal high for a Premier League season, having only managed seven in total in previous campaigns, but that's just the tip of the iceberg – Shaw's chance creation frequency of 2.44 per game is almost double his previous best of 1.3 in 2016-17, and that was from just 11 appearances.

The only defender to lay on goalscoring chances at a better rate than Shaw is Ryan Fredericks (2.45), though his marginally improved record comes from 13 fewer games than Shaw's 23.

Liverpool's Andrew Robertson has previously been held up as something of a standard-bearer for full-backs in the Premier League, yet Shaw's 31 key passes from open play is just one less than his 32 from four fewer outings. Joao Cancelo leads the way (36), though he does count set-piece deliveries as among his strong points – the United man does.

Statistically, this season is an outlier for Shaw in almost every regard and highlights just how much of a step forward he has taken, but Fernandes is convinced there has been one major catalyst for this resurgence.

Speaking to the United website ahead of Sunday's derby clash with Manchester City, Fernandes said: "[Shaw]'s been playing really, really well in the last few months. I think he started a little bit slow like everyone did because at the beginning of the season we didn't start good.

"I think the competition between Alex and Luke has given both of them the chances to be better and to improve. This is really important because you know if you are not performing well you will be out of the team.

"I think Luke started to perform well when he had that pressure from Alex. At the same time, Alex when he plays has played really well because he knows that Luke is on the bench.

"So, the pressure between them is good but the relationship between them is better, I have seen that in the stands. Alex is always pushing to help everyone and I remember when I came off against Real Sociedad it was Luke in the stands and I saw a lot of times Luke pushing to help Alex.

"This is what we're about. You can be fighting for the same place, but you are fighting for the same achievements, you know.

"This has to be like that in every position in the team, we have to understand that whoever is playing it's because the manager thinks he's better for the team in that moment and the most important thing is the team.

"I think everyone is happy for Luke to win this Player of the Month award and I'm happy too because he deserves it, and I hope he can continue this form until the end of the season because he knows Alex is there to take his position."

Sunday's trip to City will see Fernandes go up against some familiar faces in Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Cancelo, all of whom are colleagues of his at international level with Portugal.

All three have enjoyed fine campaigns individually and, as a collective, have helped City embark on a club-record winning streak of 21 games across all competitions.

Avoiding defeat again on Sunday will mean City are unbeaten in 29 matches, another new club record, and Fernandes made no secret of wishing his compatriots were not doing so well as a team.

"I speak with them regularly, we have a good relationship, but the relationships stay out of the game. They know me and they know that on the pitch we are not friends anymore," he said with a grin.

"At the same time I enjoy seeing them play and every one of them is doing well individually and I'm happy for them. As a team I was hoping to see them do a little bit worse than they are doing, but individually I am happy for them because they are good people and they deserve to be in the positions they are and playing in the way they are playing."

Manchester City will be looking to set a new club record for games unbeaten in all competitions when they welcome rivals Manchester United to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola's men have gone 28 matches since last tasting defeat and have won the last 21 of those, including 15 wins from their last 15 in the Premier League.

The Manchester derby undoubtedly headlines this weekend's fixtures in the English top flight, but there are plenty of other intriguing games at both ends of the division.

Players from six different clubs feature among our Opta-fuelled fantasy picks for what could be a defining few days.

EDOUARD MENDY

Mendy was the busier of the two goalkeepers in Chelsea's goalless draw with Manchester United last weekend as he notched another clean sheet.

He now has six shutouts in his first 10 home Premier League starts, which is the most of any goalkeeper after that number of games in the competition since Alisson's seven for Liverpool at Anfield in 2018.

The only Chelsea keeper with a better return after their first 10 league starts at Stamford Bridge is Petr Cech with eight.


JOHN STONES

City may have conceded in three of their last four league games but their defence remains the strongest in the division, largely thanks to the form of a resurgent Stones.

The league leaders have conceded just four goals in the 1,440 minutes Stones has been on the field in the Premier League this term - one goal every 360 minutes.

That is the joint-best ratio among defenders with more than 300 minutes of involvement in the competition this season, level with Aston Villa's Kortney Hause (one goal conceded across his 360 minutes on the field).

LUKE SHAW

Left-back Shaw is continuing to enjoy his best season for Manchester United, even if the Red Devils are badly struggling for any sort of consistency.

The England international has four Premier League assists to his name in 2021 - more than any other defender - having set up goals for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and Scott McTominay.

He also leads the way this calendar year for chances created by defenders with 34.

 

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG

Arsenal skipper Aubameyang appears to be returning to his best form after scoring eight goals in his last 10 matches in all competitions.

The Gabon international may have fired a blank as a late substitute against Leicester City last time out, but he will fancy his chances of finding the net in Saturday's trip to Burnley.

That is because Aubameyang has scored seven goals in his six previous Premier League meetings with the Clarets, the most he has netted against any team in the competition.

 

SON HEUNG-MIN

Crystal Palace have recorded back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League, but if they are to extend that run they will need to keep Son quiet in Sunday's showdown with Tottenham.

The South Korea international tends to enjoy playing against the Eagles, having scored five times and assisted once in seven top-flight starts in this head-to-head.

Son's five goals against Palace is bettered only by the eight he has managed against Southampton.

CHE ADAMS

Southampton's slump continued with defeat to Everton last time out and Ralph Hasenhuttl will know the importance of bringing an end to his side's nine-game winless streak in the league.

The stuttering Saints head to bottom side Sheffield United on Saturday and that could mean a return to scoring ways for out-of-form Adams, who has scored three goals in three appearances against his former employers.

The 24-year-old, who spent two full seasons at Bramall Lane earlier in his career, has not scored more than once again any other Premier League opponent.

 

OLLIE WATKINS

Watkins has gone four matches without scoring in the league, but the statistics suggest you should not lose faith in the Aston Villa striker just yet.

He has netted seven times at home in the Premier League this season - Christian Benteke, with 11 in 2012-13, was the last Villa player to score more in a single top-flight campaign.

The last English player to net more times at Villa Park in a Premier League season, meanwhile, was Darius Vassell in 2001-02 with eight goals.

Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw teased Bruno Fernandes as he hailed the Red Devils star's "unbelievable" impact at Old Trafford.

Fernandes has taken United and the Premier League by storm since arriving from Portuguese giants Sporting CP in January last year.

The Portugal international has scored 15 goals and tallied 10 assists for second-placed United this season ahead of Wednesday's Premier League trip to Crystal Palace.

Fernandes has 40 goal involvements in his 40 Premier League appearances so far (23 goals and 17 assists). However, three of the last four matches in which the Portuguese has failed to register a goal or assist have been in London (against Chelsea, Arsenal and Fulham).

Shaw poked fun at team-mate Fernandes – who has netted 34 times in 61 matches across all competitions – telling Adidas: "We do talk a bit, but honestly the guy's numbers are unbelievable, what he's doing and how he's doing it.

"I said to him 'Bruno, I'll be honest, you weren't great [against Real Sociedad in the Europa League last-32 first leg] but you scored two goals. I just don't know how you do it!"

Shaw added: "I think people in football understand the game and how important that player is, who doesn't get many assists or goals, but a lot of the outside world is all about stats.

"It's understandable because they watch it and they want to see those things, but you've just got to deal with it."

United face Palace in London midweek, 15 points adrift of runaway leaders and neighbours Manchester City.

Only four clubs in English top-flight history have had a longer unbeaten away run than United's current 20-match streak (W13 D7).

United have not lost any of their last seven league games in London (W4 D3), last having a longer run without defeat in the capital between December 2011-December 2013 (13 games).

The Red Devils have never lost in 11 Premier League away games against Palace – the most one side has played at another without ever losing in the competition (W8 D3).

Luke Shaw and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will not face action from the Football Assocation for their comments about referee Stuart Attwell after Manchester United's 0-0 draw at Chelsea on Sunday. 

United felt hard done by in the first half at Stamford Bridge when the video assistant referee (VAR) brought to Attwell's attention a possible handball by Callum Hudson-Odoi in his own penalty area. 

The incident occurred just before a tussle with Mason Greenwood, who subsequently also appeared to touch the ball with his arm. 

Attwell was advised to review Hudson-Odoi's action on the pitchside monitor, yet no penalty was given despite replays appearing to show the Chelsea wing-back's hand in an unnatural position when coming into contact with the ball.

Shaw claimed in a post-match interview with Sky Sports that Attwell had told United captain Harry Maguire giving them a penalty would "cause a lot of talk after". 

United later clarified that Shaw misheard Maguire's conversation with the official. 

While Solskjaer refused to explicitly repeat Shaw's accusations, he was aware of what was said and made no attempt to shut them down, before also insisting it was "100 per cent" a penalty. 

He then went on to accuse Chelsea of influencing referees via content published to their website ahead of the match, with Maguire's recent VAR brushes the focus of the article in question. 

Yet despite the comments made by Shaw and Solskjaer, neither is set to face any disciplinary action, with the FA not considering them to be in breach of the rules and regulations. 

Luke Shaw claimed referee Stuart Attwell told Manchester United captain Harry Maguire that giving a penalty in Sunday's draw with Chelsea would have "caused a lot of talk".

The Red Devils saw their unbeaten Premier League run away from home stretch to 20 matches following a 0-0 stalemate at Stamford Bridge.

In the first half, Attwell checked on the pitchside monitor to see if a penalty should have been awarded to United when a bouncing ball struck the raised hand of Callum Hudson-Odoi, who was tussling with Mason Greenwood.

The official stuck with his initial decision not to give the spot-kick and, according to Shaw, he indicated to Maguire that changing his mind could have caused controversy.

"At the time I saw a handball and didn't know if it was Mason or Callum," Shaw told Sky Sports.

"I didn't know it was a potential check and that they needed to stop [the game] if it wasn't going to be a pen.

"But I heard the ref say to H [Maguire]: 'If I give a pen, it's going to cause a lot of talk after'. H was told it was a pen by VAR, but I'm not going to moan."

Speaking on Sky Sports, former United captain Gary Neville said the penalty would have been given before the guidance on handball incidents in the box changed in the Premier League earlier this season.

"There's no doubt earlier in the season that this would have been a penalty," he said. "Hudson-Odoi's panic is the fact that his arm shouldn't be there. I think it is a penalty."

However, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel said awarding a penalty would have been nonsensical as the ball also struck Greenwood's arm, though it hit the Man United forward second.

"How can this be a VAR intervention? The player in red plays the ball with the hand and then we are checking for a penalty? Why does the referee have to see this?" he said.

"I've seen it on the iPad, I don't understand why the referee has to check it but I'm glad it was no penalty. That would make it even worse."

The draw saw United move a point above Leicester in second in the table, although leaders Manchester City are 12 points clear.

 

Manchester United's opening-day 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace was a chastening reminder of the team's frailties, but there was a somewhat surprising voice behind the subsequent call-to-action for the club's hierarchy.

Luke Shaw provided undoubtedly the most honest assessment of the situation among United players, this from a player who had rarely come across as a natural leader during his time at the club.

"We have a very good group, but personally I think we need more players to strengthen the squad," he told Norway's TV2. "It can give us a boost. When you look around at how other teams are strengthening their teams, then we must also do it to keep up with the others."

Perhaps the fact he wasn't speaking to a British outlet resulted in a more relaxed, open response from Shaw, who then also went on to criticise their pre-season.

But it was a new, authoritative look for a player who has always seemingly preferred to keep away from the media spotlight, and few United fans would have disagreed with him.

What happened next, however, he probably didn't expect – among the four players signed on deadline day in October was a new left-back, a Brazil international with the kind of attack-minded profile many had hoped Shaw would develop at United.

While Shaw definitely showed signs of progress in 2019-20, Alex Telles' arrival was the clearest sign that his position was no longer assured – he needed to respond.

 

A SHAW THING

The fact Telles has made just six Premier League starts in his debut season at Old Trafford is as good a starting point as any when highlighting Shaw's improved standing, and in fairness to the new signing, he's hardly put a foot wrong.

Telles has looked a solid acquisition and certainly fits the bill as a forward-thinking full-back who is also capable defensively, but Shaw has reached a level he has arguably never shown before in his career.

As an attacking outlet, Shaw's output has improved almost across the board, as such he has made himself almost undroppable.

 

His five assists is already a personal high for a Premier League season, having only managed seven in total before 2020-21, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. He is creating 2.3 chances per 90 minutes, which is up from one last term and well clear of his previous best of 1.2 each game for an entire campaign.

Undoubtedly one reason for that is the fact he is taking more set-pieces, yet his average of 1.4 open play chances created per 90 minutes remains a frequency he has never matched before over the course of a season, proving his increased familiarity with dead-ball duties isn't skewing the data.

A quick glance at his average position activity maps shows his involvement in the left-hand channel of the attacking third is up on each of the past two seasons, as well as his final year with Southampton.

 

This shows Shaw is embracing greater attacking responsibility, and where that is reflected most is the number of passes (including crosses) he is playing into the box each game (7.4). His last season with Saints had been his best in this regard (4.4), yet he's way up on that, and his productivity here is more than two-and-a-half times what it was in 2019-20 (2.9).

Shaw's early days with Southampton appeared to promise much. Finally, he appears to be back on track, not that it's been smooth sailing.

 

COPING, OUTLASTING, PROGRESSING

Shaw's relationship with Jose Mourinho became something of a distraction at times during the Portuguese's ill-fated reign.

Granted, Shaw wasn't the only player Mourinho seemed to have a problem with, but his treatment of Shaw in particular did leave a sour taste.

In two-and-a-half years playing for Mourinho, Shaw only made 33 Premier League appearances. While he did have injury and fitness problems, the manager's attitude seemingly did little to endear himself to the player.

Mourinho publicly criticised him after a 2016 defeat to Watford, saying: "For the second goal, [Nordin] Amrabat on the right side, our left-back is 25 metres distance from him, instead of five metres. But even at 25 metres, then you have to jump and go press. But no, we wait."

Mourinho then used Shaw's positive performance against Everton in 2017 against him. He said: "He had a good performance, but it was his body with my brain. He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him."

This isn't to say Shaw has been faultless this season. In fact, his defensive focus has been questionable at times in 2020-21, such as against Tottenham and Manchester City, for example.

But it's fair to say the greater attacking impetus he is showing this term compared to under Mourinho means he is more than making up for the occasional defensive lapse, and it's not like he's being beaten time after time – on average Shaw is dribbled past once every two games, the second lowest frequency for a single season in his entire career.

The difference? Well, according to the man himself, belief and competition.

"I feel really good, obviously big credit to Ole for that for believing in me and pushing me," Shaw said last month. "Alex [Telles] as well, we have a great relationship and he pushes me each day in training. We get on really well. It's nice to have that type of competition, but we push each other to get the best from ourselves. When he plays, I want the best for him, and it's the same the other way round. It's a positive way for both of us to look at it and push each other."

 

THE BEST?

There was a time – not even that long ago – when the very suggestion of Shaw being among the Premier League's best full-backs would have drawn a chuckle of derision in response.

Granted, across the four seasons prior to 2020-21, Shaw's best record of open play chances created per 90 minutes was 0.2, but there can be no doubt he is now at least in the conversation.

 

Liverpool's Andy Robertson is generally seen as the standard-bearer for left-backs in England's top flight, and Shaw compares well from an attacking sense with the Scotland international.

Shaw's 40 chances created this term is one more than Robertson, while the latter is just ahead in terms of key passes in open play (29 to 24) – though the United man has made 20 appearances to his rival's 24.

Robertson is proving a more regular source of service, with his 213 passes into the box and 201 total crosses/corners far more than Shaw's respective numbers (129 and 105), but the United left-back's deliveries are far more reliable.

Shaw's 37 successful crosses/corners is just five fewer than Robertson despite playing almost half the amount of overall deliveries.

But what really highlights Shaw's growth is his xA (expected assists) figures. His xA per 90, so the amount of assists he would ordinarily be expected to get per game, is 0.21 in 2020-21. Not only is that better than his previous best by some distance (0.12), Joao Cancelo (0.24) is the only full-back doing better here this term.

 

Shaw has made himself almost indispensable to United, his influence all the more important given Aaron Wan-Bissaka isn't particularly refined as an attacking outlet and they very rarely play with conventional wingers on either flank.

Therefore, Shaw offers the kind of threat from the wings that arguably no one else in the United squad does – and as his xA record shows, he is proving a consistent danger that marks him out as one of the league's best.

After being plagued by questions relating to his mentality for years, it's fair to say he is responding in the ideal fashion, with Telles' signing seemingly an important catalyst.

While it might be a little early to declare him outright the Premier League's best, his current trajectory at least shows that to be a realistic aim.

Manchester City appear to be cruising towards the Premier League title and will look to extend a 17-match winning run away to Mikel Arteta's Arsenal.

While top spot is firmly in their hands, the chasing back have plenty to play for, with Manchester United in need of a win at home to Newcastle United and Tottenham heading to West Ham for a tough London derby.

Chelsea's winning streak under Thomas Tuchel has put them firmly back into top-four contention, and Timo Werner's welcome return to goalscoring could have come at a critical time.

That said, fantasy football managers would also be wise to consider Danny Ings, whose impressive scoring record will be of concern to Tuchel's men.

 

EMILIANO MARTINEZ

Aston Villa's reported £20million spend on Emiliano Martinez is a candidate for the best piece of Premier League business this season.

Martinez kept his 12th clean sheet of the season to help Villa grind out a draw at Brighton and Hove Albion last time out.

The former Arsenal man is just the fifth Villa keeper in the Premier League era to keep at least 10 clean sheets in a season and is only three short of Brad Friedel's tally set back in 2009-10. Leicester City's impressive attack could have met its match.

 

LUKE SHAW

Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw has enjoyed perhaps his best season for the club, with his form rarely affected despite his team's up-and-down recent results.

He has provided an assist in each of his previous three appearances, registering five in total this term, his best tally in a single league season.

Against a struggling Newcastle side, Shaw could become only the fourth United player to assist a goal in four consecutive games, after Ryan Giggs, Nani and Antonio Valencia.

LEWIS DUNK

Brighton have not conceded more than one goal in any game since drawing 3-3 with Wolves on January 2.

On Saturday, they host a Crystal Palace side who have failed to score in a higher share of their away league games this season (58 per cent) than in any other campaign in the competition's history.

A clean sheet for Brighton and Lewis Dunk looks likely, and given the centre-back has scored more goals (six) than any other defender except Virgil van Dijk (also six) since the start of 2019-20, he could be worth the captaincy this weekend.

 

RAHEEM STERLING

If Arsenal are to stop City's run, they will need to keep Raheem Sterling quiet.

The England forward has scored seven times in the league against the Gunners – he has only scored more often against Watford, West Ham and Bournemouth.

Sterling has netted in all three of his previous league meetings with Arsenal and has registered four goals and two assists in his most recent five games against them.

SON HEUNG-MIN

West Ham have rarely gone into recent games with Tottenham as favourites, but they are six points ahead of Jose Mourinho's men in the table, after playing a game more.

However, they will have to contend with Son Heung-min if that points gap is going to grow. The South Korea star has been involved in six goals in his past five league games with the Hammers and assisted in each of the last three.

In fact, he has assisted more goals (four) against West Ham than he has against any other side in the Premier League.

 

TIMO WERNER

Timo Werner ended his league goal drought against Newcastle United last time out, scoring exactly 1,000 minutes after his previous effort against Sheffield United in November.

Despite that much-publicised goal drought, Werner has actually been directly involved in more goals (10) in the league than any other Chelsea player this season, while only Mason Mount (105) has had a hand in more shots (73).

With his confidence beginning to grow, this could be a good time to back the Germany striker in your selection.

DANNY INGS

Southampton have lost six games in a row since knocking Arsenal out of the FA Cup in the fourth round, so backing a win over Chelsea would seem a little bold.

Still, expecting Danny Ings to be among the goals is usually a safer bet.

The striker has the best minutes-per-goal ratio of any Saints player with at least 15 in the competition, averaging one every 161 minutes.

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