Shinji Kagawa - Manchester United MidfielderNine games to go and fifteen points clear of second placed Manchester City, Manchester UnitedAi??have a firm grasp on the title this season. 19 goals under his belt and the top scorer in the league, Robin Van Persie has already settled in the club with ease but however he is not the only new-comer to the club. The other is 23 year old Japanese international Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund for a price of 16 million Euros. At first it may seem like a hefty price for a player hitherto unknown in these shores but the attacking midfielder has had an impressive season before his transfer, scoring 16 goals and assisting 14 in 36 games. His statistics are better than those of Eden Hazard Chelseaai??i??s new signing who cost Chelsea 40 million Euros – Hazard has 192 apps, 50 goals and 30 assists, while Kagawa has 198 apps, 86 goals and 45 assists and at half the price.

The last season was a forgettable one for the Red Devils as they lost the title to their noisy neighbours Manchester City in the most dramatic manner on the last day of the season. In the final reckoning, it was the goal difference that tipped the balance in City’s favour and United were left ruing their failure to hit the back of the net often enough. There were two reasons for this, one was that United lacked a striker of quality and calibre to pair up with Rooney. His strike partners are Javier ai???Chicharitoai??i?? Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. Chicharito is a goal poacher; speed, positioning and instinctive finishing being his forte. On the other hand Welbeck is an energetic striker but lacks composure on the ball and is not yet a proven goalscorer. All said and done their style of play forces Rooney to fall back and serve them the killer through balls, thus ruling him out as a threat in front of goal. Having Rooney and not letting him play as a striker will eventually lead to a dip in his form as well as his goal tally.

The other reason, United did not have a creative midfielder to provide the support that was required for scoring more goals. The highest number of assists is by Van Persie with 10 and followed by Rooney with 7 indicating that the goal scoring opportunities are created by the strikers more often than the midfielders. This season Van Persie has clearly fulfilled the role of a much required goal scorer, but has Shinji Kagawa fulfilled his role as the attacking midfielder that United desperately needs?

Now it has been established that a creative midfielder is the need of the hour at the club. The players competing for a spot in the midfield as Kagawa are Cleverly, Carrick, Anderson, Nick Powel and the veterans Scholes and Giggs. Considering the fact that most of these players are defensive in nature and requirement for creating more chances in front of goal, the stage is set for Kagawa. To answer the question about fulfilling his role, he has showed glimpses of his ability to thread the ball through for goals and to make use of his skill and pace Ai??but overall he has failed to impress. Adding to his incredible skill to pass players with ease, he also has exceptional vision. In the games that he has played, he has shown sparks of brilliance, making passes through the flanks, in the centre of the park and dribbling through centre halves and giving United that extra speed in moving the ball around. This has only been glimpse of the untapped talent possessed by Kagawa, however his midfield partners Carrick, who has made 4 assists, and Giggs, who has made 5, are in good form and are currently preferred over him. Kagawa so far has played 13 games where he has made 2 assists and netted 5 goals. The pressure on Kagawa to deliver is immense.

It was not an easy decision for Kagawa to move clubs considering that Dortmund was the league champions in the 11/12 season and he was instrumental for helping them achieve that goal. Signing for United would mean giving up his playing time and moving to a more competitive environment to secure a spot on the starting eleven. Kagawa not being a success is not because of the lack of ability, he demonstrated immense talent and potential at Dortmund, but it is Unitedai??i??s rigid formation that is the barrier. There are two options for Fergie and the coaches, either Kagawa trains and modulates his style of playing as per the formation followed or changes can be made to the formation to accommodate his playing style. The latter is a much preferred option because Dortmund follows a 4-2-3-1 formation and Kagawa dropped into the hole between the lone striker and the two defensive midfielders and was more or less allowed to play freely in any part of the field, whereas Ferguson follows the default 4-4-2 formation. It would seem a lot to ask from him to play a central midfield role in his first season, he would need time to adjust to the rigor of the Premier League. If United were to make a more progressive formation like 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 then it will be easier for him to play his natural game and it will also help him transcribe the role he excelled in at Dortmund. Another added advantage to a new formation is that Ferguson in recent times has deployed van Persie as a lone striker role and thus changing the formation will help Kagawaai??i??s game and still maintain the shape that United is currently keeping.

Kagawa did put in a notable performance against Norwich, where he scored a hatrick. The first two goals were simple, being involved in a series of good passing moves and running into the box to make the final tap in. The last goal of the three showcased his talent, judging the situation in a split second and dashing forward to receive the pass from Rooney through his run, his first touch taking him past two defenders and an effortless chip over the keeper to finish it off. It was a picture perfect goal and his performance in the game would have sent shivers down the spines of the other midfielders on the United bench.

Granted that United are on top and look almost unbeatable thus making Kagawa irrelevant, but one should note that the performances by the Red Devils so far have been carried forward by Van Persie almost single-handedly. It would be ignorant for one to say that Van Persieai??i??s scintillating form will continue endlessly. As the old saying goes ai???class is permanent and form is temporaryai??i??, holds true for Van Persie and Kagawa, the latter at the moment is not in form but in time Kagawa will rise to meet the expectations of Old Trafford whose future future looks exciting having a player of his talent in the squad.

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Written by Guest Author Sujay Umapathy

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