Manchester United have had a poor start to this season. We all agree on that. The back four has not been as solid as we might expect from a David Moyes team, but most alarmingly, the attack look bereft of creative initiative.
So why is Moyes leaving Shinji Kagawa on the bench?
Before his arrival at Old Trafford, Kagawa produced 15 assists for Borussia Dortmund, and averaged nearly a goal every other game. Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp holds him in very high stature, and took heavily to the blow of loosing the man he has described as “one of the best players in the world”. Last season he struggled to settle in the premiership, but produced a few eye catching games, most memorably a hat-trick display at home to Norwich.
This season, however, his contributions have been limited, and the manager appear to doubt his skills.
The little Japan international has only made three starts so far, and has forfeited a spot in the starting XI to the likes of shooting star Adnan Januzaj, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, the latter of which has done little to defend his selection. United fans have called for Kagawa, and pundits have questioned whether Moyes’s approach is pragmatic. Borussia Dortmund fans have even started the Twitter campaign #FreeShinji.
The Manchester United midfield is currently lacking pace and movement. Moyes has chosen a modern 4-2-3-1 formation which sees Michael Carrick pair up with either Morouane Fellaini, Tom Cleverly or Ryan Giggs, and Wayne Rooney plays off Robin Van Persie. Here lies the problem with Kagawa.
Moyes is determined to use him as an attacking midfielder, a part of the trio that are designed to feed the striker. The newly appointed manager seem to prefer traditional wingers that provide width in his system. This means that the only available position for Kagawa is the number 10 role behind the striker; the Rooney-role.
Wazza is at the moment in better form than we’ve seen him in for a long time. He has been one few bright spots for the Red Devils, and has rediscovered his ability to dictate the pace of a game. There is no doubt Moyes has identified Rooney as the mastermind of his team. Michael Carrick sits deep and pull strings while Rooney is given freedom to roam between the opposition’s lines.
As a consequence, poor Shinji’s is pushed out wide. Aside from on a few occasions when Rooney’s been subbed off, the former Dortmund playmaker has ran the wide left areas with varying results. When United beat Liverpool in the league cup he looked uncomfortable up until the last ten minutes when he was moved inside. The switch made Kagawa burst into life, and he even skinned two Liverpool players on a run from the half-way line only to have his shot bounce off the woodwork.
Another spark of promise in United’s gloomy season kick-off has been Januzaj. The 18-year old has effectively been given the nod ahead of Shinji on a few occasions, and Moyes appears to be a fan of his direct style of play. United have struggled to score, having only bagged seven goals since their opening 4-2 win against Swansea. Januzaj is an individualist, whilst Kagawa needs to be integrated in an engine. Credit to Moyes for giving the youngster his chance, but the Albanian/Belgian/Kosovan (pick the one you’re more comfortable with) might be the very symbol of how Moyes will struggle to put Kagawa in the side. Also, as frequent as the managers rotates, it could become a challenge to keep his players fresh. The Japanese playmaker could struggle to pinpoint his form.
However, if Manchester United are sticking with the in-fashion 4-2-3-1 the manager will need players that move the ball around in a more fluid fashion than what Young and Valencia are capable of. Kagawa is a genuine pass-and-move style of footballer, the same type of player as Chelsea’s Oscar. If United are to develop their play in a more possession based direction, than a future trio of Kagawa – Rooney – Januzaj has to be a longterm goal. As ridiculous as it may sound, Manchester United, the keepers of the classical winger, might move away from the style that has been their most infamous characteristic.