Shinji Kagawa’s Nearly Back But Where Does He Fit In?
In some quarters, Shinji Kagawa arrived at Manchester United as a second-choice signing to Eden Hazard.
United fans defiantly protected their signing as only passionate fans can, fending off any suggestions that Kagawa was going to struggle to adapt to the Premier League given his slight frame and the fact that he’s most adept at playing in the same role as the one in which Wayne Rooney excels.
But a quite superb pre-season with the squad turned a few heads back in England, the former Borussia Dortmund star showing his worth playing in behind a lone striker and starring in ‘the hole’.
Those who have been following the Bundesliga closely in the last couple of season would tell you that there was no doubt about Kagawa’s ability and adaptability. He had 2 fantastic seasons at Dortmund, the second of which was his best given Dortmund were without Mario Gotze for most of the season. Manager Jurgen Klopp admitted they hadn’t missed Gotze too badly – a bigger compliment could not have been made to Kagawa’s talent.
So when he arrived at Old Trafford, the biggest question was where would he play and how would Sir Alex Ferguson change his system to accommodate him? From what we have witnessed so far, even Sir Alex is at a loss to get the best out of his summer signing.
“The diamond is seen as a little revolutionary because it goes against our history, but the level of the game in England and Europe is so high now that making yourself unpredictable is a strength. Teams will now have to think about whether we will play with two wide players or in the diamond because we have the players who are capable of doing both things.
Players like Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverley can play very well in the diamond, while in Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ashley Young I also have very good wide players.” – Sir Alex.
We have seen Kagawa start behind the main striker on the opening day at Everton – a role he excelled in, we have seen him moved to the left wing to accommodate Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in the system and in his last outing against Newcastle, Kagawa often found himself on the right of a lopsided United midfield. He has openly admitted that he is at his best when playing off the striker, his elegant technique more suited to opening up defences rather than starting attacks.
The idea of fitting Kagawa into United’s system is an intriguing one. Playing him in a midfield two, with Michael Carrick in the holding role, may look mouth-watering on paper but it leaves the midfield light and at a danger of being over-run (sound familiar?). A midfield three with Kawaga at the tip and Tom Clerveley and Carrick sitting deep will allow him more freedom to bring his strikers into play while maintaining the fluidity of movement Sir Alex so desperately craves.
Kagawa may well find himself shunned to the left-wing more often than not this season, a position not too unfamiliar to him but one which in which his influence wanes considerably. The fact remains that a diamond formation is the only feasible option to get the best out of Kagawa. He could prove to be Ferguson’s trump card against Europe’s more illustrious opponents but as far as domestic matters go, Kagawa will have to bide his time.
Kagawa is remarkably talented at finding pockets of space between the opposition defence and midfield, his vision best utilized when linking the midfield and attack. He has scored 2 and assisted 3 goals in 8 games so far, an efficient if unspectacular beginning for a Premier League novice. But there is a general feeling that he hasn’t quite hit the heights he is capable of. Patience is a luxury ill-afforded in football these days, an immediate return on investment expected in the world of multimillion Pound deals.
Sir Alex has a wealth of attacking options at his disposal this season, a clear signal that the Premier League title will not be lost on goal difference. But while Robin van Persie has taken to United’s system like duck to water, Ferguson has struggled to bed in Shinji Kagawa, his role in the starting XI still unclear. With Rooney seemingly having found his devastating form of late, Kagawa’s task has become harder.