Nov 10

Suitable personnel needed if United want bolder approach

Tag: Opinion Piece @ 9:41 am

Shinji Kagawa, tussels with Mikel González during Manchester United's draw with Real SociedadTo some he’s the man tasked with saving Manchester United through a skilfully prepared potion of inch-perfect passes and delicate flicks, to others he’s simply an overrated footballer who will never have what it takes to grab a game by the scruff to its neck, while to others yet he remains an outrageously talented player who will follow Juan Sebastian Veron in the list of those who just “did not fit the system”.

Whatever your stance on Shinji Kagawa is, the Japanese splits opinions with the same incisiveness with whom he split defences wide open when playing for Borussia Dortmund.

Since his arrival in Manchester, Kagawa has floated between being a success waiting to happen, a complete waste of money and a mysterious object, a mathematical equation seemingly easy to resolve and yet so complicated that many seem to have given up on resolving the mystery that shrouds it.

The truth, as it’s often the case, is somewhere in the middle.

Were United to unlock Kagawa’s full potential, they’d have on their hands a player capable to open defences and provide the creative spark United have too often missed over the last couple of seasons, not to mention the fact that by attracting more attention from defenders, the Japanese would free space up for the likes of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney.

The first 18 months of his United career, however, have only shown glimpses of the Kagawa that had become the hub of the Borussia Dortmund team that won the Bundesliga title two seasons ago.

Kagawa’s lack of contribution, as many have rightly pointed out is due to the him being played out of position, by Sir Alex Ferguson first and David Moyes then, with both managers choosing to deploy the Japanese wide on the left, rather than in his favourite number 10 role, where he thrived in while at Dortmund.

On the other hand, the counter argument is just as valid for while one can’t expect a player to make an impact every time he appears on the pitch for 20-30 minutes, Kagawa has too often failed to grasp his chances partly, perhaps, due to the aforementioned issue with his playing position.

However, if there was anything to be learnt from Tuesday’s dull and uneventful 0-0 draw against Real Sociedad is that Kagawa could prove to be crucial to United’s chances in Europe, were David Moyes to be bold enough to give the Japanese a chance in the role he wants to be deployed in.

Having started the game on the left, Kagawa produced arguably one of his best performances of the season which, ironically, could create more problems than it solved.

The Japanese spent the first hour against Sociedad constantly trying to drift to a more central position, thus exposing Patrice Evra defensively and confirming he clearly isn’t the traditional left winger United and Moyes are craving for, even though Evra and Kagawa showed signs of developing into the sort of partnership Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar formed under David Moyes’ tutelage on Everton’s left flank.

Whether that’s by design or simply by circumstance, Kagawa and Evra were involved in United’s two-most common passing combinations on Tuesday, with 17 passes going from Evra to the Japanese and 14 going the opposite way, which will have pleased Moyes, particularly considering that Kagawa is never likely to be occupy the number 10 role, at least for as long as Wayne Rooney remains at the club.

Blaming Rooney for Kagawa’s limited opportunities would be an extremely petulant and short-sighted exercise, particularly considering the form Rooney has enjoyed this season, but if there was any proof needed that the United striker is the biggest stumbling block between Kagawa and the number 10 position, those doubts were quelled on Tuesday.

As Rooney was replaced by Ashley Young, Kagawa moved behind Robin Van Persie and thrived immediately, as United created more chances in five minutes than they had done in over an hour. Statistics are a luxury modern football is becoming over-reliant on, but numbers often paint a clearer picture than a thousand words.

Kagawa's attacking contribution is limited when he's deployed out wide

Kagawa’s attacking contribution is limited when he’s deployed out wide


In the final 30 minutes Kagawa completed eight of the nine passes he attempted in the final third, one more successful pass than he had completed in the first hour of the game when, crucially, he had only attempted 10 attacking passes, as his attacking instincts were strangled by being played out of position.

And while dropping Rooney would be absurd based on the first three months of the campaign, Kagawa’s performance on Tuesday night showed that, at least in Europe, he must be United’s number one option in the number 10 position, for Kagawa and Robin Van Persie provide the subtlety and movement Champions League football requires.

The Japanese thrived in the number 10 position over the last 30 mins vs Sociedad

The Japanese thrived in the number 10 position over the last 30 mins vs Sociedad


As tantalising as it might sound, the option of deploying Kagawa behind a Rooney – Van Persie strike partnership can not be entertained given United’s terrible lack of options that would be required in midfield in order to accommodate Kagawa as well as two strikers. Ironically, United’s farcical conduct in the transfer window over the last couple of years, more than a player of a particular strategy, could hamper Kagawa’s career at United.

Should David Moyes solve the jigsaw, he’ll have guaranteed himself a shot at glory this season.


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Tags: Opinion Piece

6 Responses to “Suitable personnel needed if United want bolder approach”

  • I’ve pointed out elsewhere that Kagawa can play in behind Rooney & RVP with say one of Januzaj (my preference) or Nani operating wide (right and left) This means utmost flexibility upfront but it would also allow for two central holding midfielders and of course a back four. Key to the success of this system are attacking full backs who can provide service from wide. We have those – Evra, Rafa, Buttner and Fabio. If LB comes then that would add to the resources.

  • The problem is that Moyes wants to build his team around Rooney rather than Kagawa so if Kagawa wants to be a part of the team he is going to have to learn to play on the left. If he can put in some good performances there he has a chance of persuading Moyes to let him move inside.

    Today’s selection is depressing. Jones as a central midfielder? What was the point of buying Fellaini? I don’t particularly like the guy but it is clear his pre-season was hampered by all the speculation and our failure to sign him up early on to integrate him in the team.

    I don’t understand this fascination with Smalling as a right back. I’d rather play Valencia there when Rafael is not fit. And why not play Januzaj on the right?

    • @colver:

      Hello Colver.

      I quite like Smalling in defence. I think sometimes he gets nervous and row z is his preferred option when the simple ball, not only looks better, but is better.

      On the ‘Jones’ front, does anyone else think he is just a trier and that’s as far as he will ever go. He is John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Macheda….. and a name from the past Carlo Sartori, all wrapped up in one package.

      We are 1-0 up…. Arsenal have been very disappointing. Where is Ozil… Where is Ramsey… Where is Arteta…… however an early goal from them and it’s ‘game on’…..

      Second half just started.


  • Well Rooney has achieved some vindication. Without him we would be in the relegation zone because he has been the only player in our team willing to fight to pull the club back towards the top of the table where it belongs. It was a workman like performance exemplified by Rooney’s incredible work rate and energy and desire. But ultimately that is what we need to do until we are able to inject some genuine quality into our team.

    • @colver:

      Scrappy, scrappy football from both sides today.

      MOM…. Roo.

      De Gea 5… Smalling 5… Evra 5…. Evans 5…. Vidic 5…. Jones 6…. Valencia 5….. Carrick 5….. Kagawa 5… Rooney 8….. RvP 5


  • Against my peronal feeling, I have to congratulate Moyes for the spirited defensive display. Not only were the defending effective, but it was spirited as well. With lots of closing the man down and determination to break up the fluid Arsenal game. Well done.

    On the other side, I wish our attack could develop like that. 35% posession at home is nothing to feel proud of. And while I’m at it, please cut out the silly wing-play. Just as a matter of interest. I wonder how many of our wide crosses were converted to goals over the past few years?

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