When Sir Alex Ferguson watched Shinji Kagawa’s contribution towards Borussia Dortmund’s dismantling of Bayern Munich in the DFB Pokal final (German cup) he must have does so with a huge sense of satisfaction. Ashley Young was supposed to invigorate the United midfield last season and, for a while, he did; but Kagawa promises so much more.
The diminutive Japanese midfielder, who signed for Dortmund from the second tier of Japanese football in 2010, has overshadowed Japan’s ‘greatest’ player Keisuke Honda with his performances this season. He even overshadowed Dortmund’s own golden boy, Mario Gotze, who, despite spending long periods of time out injured last season, was barely missed as Dortmund romped their way to the German double.
Yes, this has undoubtedly been Shinji Kagawa’s season; a season in which the midfielder created the most assists in the team as well as finishing the season as the club’s second highest goal scorer, a season in which Man Utd’s new signing eclipsed the performances of both Robben and Ribery to finish the season as the most effective, and the most efficient midfielder in the league.
However, the question remains: just where will Kagawa fit in to this United side? Ideally, Kagawa likes to play just off the striker yet it is a position favoured by more than just one player at the club. So will Shinji have to fight for his place in the centre, or will be moulded into something different by Ferguson?
The formation that United played for much of last season and where, on paper, it would seem there is the ideal position for Kagawa – playing just behind the striker. The problem here is that the No.10 role in a formation like this would invariably go to Rooney. Having developed a partnership with Danny Welbeck last year playing in this style it seems unlikely that Kagawa would be able to force himself between the two players, especially considering that his English is in need of improvement.
You could argue, though, that, in signing Kagawa, Ferguson has found a player good enough to take Rooney’s place should he get injured and make a decent job of it.
The other problem with playing Kagawa here is that when Rooney does so he often likes to dictate the play and be the centre of every attack. Kagawa is not like this – his talents lie in his movement and his finishing. He may be able to play a final ball but he cannot be the focal point of every attack in the way that Rooney can.
German football expert Raphael Honigstein suggested that it would be possible for Kagawa to play out wide in a 4-4-2. Kagawa has a work ethic not totally dissimilar to that of Antonio Valencia so he would not be a defensive liability in this position. However, he is far less effective when running at players from deep. Kagawa much prefers to move in between the lines of defenders and wander across the pitch – something he could not do as a wide midfielder.
For the national team, in order to accommodate Keisuke Honda’s role behind the striker, Kagawa plays out on the left hand side of the attacking three. This seems the most likely option for Ferguson. Here he can play Kagawa with Rooney, without having to sacrifice one of their styles of play. The roaming between positions that you often find in such a formation is ideal for bringing the best out of Kagawa. The question then posed is, who would make up those three behind the striker? Their stats for last season were:
Player Games Goals Assists
Rooney 43 35 4
Kagawa 36 17 8
Nani 37 10 14
Young 33 9 7
Valencia 31 6 14
Clearly these statistics are not going to define the starting eleven over the course of the season, form will do that. But considering how effective Kagawa was last season it will be interesting to see how early he is incorporated in to the United side. Kagawa obviously has many attributes on offer, versatility being one of them, and with Ferguson’s penchant for squad rotation higher than most managers in the league we can expect to see Kagawa try his hand at a number of different positions for Man Utd in the next 12 months.
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