Shinji Kagawa: Will he be played in his best position?

By Don Pablo

First off, let me say that I am as ecstatic as the next guy that Man United has agreed a deal to sign the Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund. Kagawa offers a different dimension to anything we have at present; an attacking midfielder capable of thriving in the final third of the pitch. Whether we would have sanctioned such a signing if the player wasn’t in the final year of his contract (hence the knockdown price) is moot but regardless, Kagawa is a welcome signing.

Despite the excitement that comes with signing a goal getter and a goal creator, there’s a palpable sense of fear that laces such excitement. My fear is that Sir Alex Ferguson will curb the attacking instinct of a creative young player and in a few years time, we will end up with a less flambouyant more functional Kagawa.

There is a precedent to back such a scenario. When Anderson arrived at Man United, he was being dubbed ‘The new Ronaldinho’ due to his quick dribbling and his playing position that was similar to his established compatriot. A casual look at youtube videos of Anderson in his Porto days shows you a player whose game relied on creativity high up the pitch and could create chances in plenty for himself and his team mates (see video below). At United, Fergie has tried unsuccessfully to convert Anderson in to an all rounded midfield player who is equally adept at attacking as he is when tracking back. To say the least, he has failed in that regard with the Brazilian’s questionable fitness not making it any easier for the gaffer. Football pundits in Brazil have always lamented on how Sir Alex has killed the Brazilian in Anderson by trying to make him a central midfielder as opposed to his initial attacking midfielder role.

Michael Carrick is another player who arrived at United as a playmaker who would control play higher up the field but he has done a better job of dropping deep as compared to Anderson, mainly due to his passing range and his ability to read play hence breaking up opposition attacks from deep. Regardless of his relative sucess in a deeper role, the trequatista Carrick is no more.

As German football expert Raphael Honigstein puts it, Kagawa’s finishing is one of his strongest assets, along with his ability to play in team-mates with direct, one-touch passes. He is very much a man for the final third, a player who finds space between the lines and gets on the end of things. Pulling the strings in the center of the pitch is not his game.His ideal position is behind the main striker.

Kagawa would thus best be used in the hole in a 4-2-3-1 formation behind Rooney as the lone striker. This system would see us kill many birds with one stone. We will have three players in central midfield as opposed to the two we had in last season’s 4-4-1-1 which saw us lose midfield battles more often than not in the big games. We would also negate the need to buy another striker as Hernandez and Welbeck would be understudies with Rooney ploughing a lone furrow upfront.

The 4-2-3-1 system will also see Fergie maintain his wing play approach with Valencia, Nani or Young given the freedom to cut in regularly and try get goals for the themselves as they wouldn’t necessary be wingers per se but more of inside forwards, with less defensive responsibilities as opposed to the traditional winger.

If we move to the 4-2-3-1 and play Kagawa in the hole, there’s every reason to believe we will be a potent force both at home and in Europe. The cynic in me however believes that Kagawa, much like Berbatov, Anderson and Veron, is a creative player who Fergie will struggle to use in his best position and at best, he will end up being an OK central  midfielder as opposed to a world class playmaker. I hope I am proved wrong. Welcome to Manchester Shinji.

Anderson the playmaker at Porto:

Categories: Sports | 16 Comments

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  1. loso

    very true if fergie uses him in a 4-4-2 his done,however i think that saf last season before cleverly and ando got injured was trying to change the way we play but had to scrap that when they got injured cleverly kagawa are capable of quick one touch in the final third that saf wants now hence slow players being sold eg berba n park etc

    • Loso, he can still cut it in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 by drfiting in from the left. But ideally imo, he should play centrally. Yeah I remember that system of quick short passes. Clevz and Kagawa can implement it but who will cover who between the two of them. Remember how easy it was for opponents to bypass our midfeild?

  2. Nnaemeka

    One of the more exciting things last season was the link up play betweed Danny and Rooney. Despite Kagawa’s arrival, I would hate to see us lose that. Yes we need to beef up the midfield, we need more possession, ergo more midfielders, but I have this romantic notion that we’ll retain a loose 442, with a very fluid top four, a la Borussia Mönchengladbach … Rooney and Shinji can interchange between the hole and Left Wing, which is where he plays for the Japanese National Team. Danny or Javier up front, with Ashley the back up on the left while Nani and Tony take turns getting injured on the right.

    • Haha..Nnaemeke, here we go again with our 2 vs 3 in the middle argument once again. As we’ve concured before, 2 in the middle would work best with an enforcer to compliment the passers we have. I’d hate to see Welbeck benched (which will be harder if he impresses at the Euros) but I want to see Rooney let lose with enough creativity supplying him and a solid midfield and defence. He could easily score 40 plus goals playing a false nine like Messi and with solidity behind him, that’s a team/system to challenge for the Champions League I believe.

  3. Totally agree with what Nnaemeka said;

    panoramicdon, kill the myth that we need an enforcer in midfield. Barca dnt hve one, hardly to Real Madrid in their 4-2-3-1/4-3-3. Neither do Germany (4-2-3-1). Passing midfielders are the key nowadays. Thats why 4-4-2, and 4-4-1-1 are in decline.

    Good article

    • Trivante, you will notice that I said we need an enforcer to play 4-4-2 and not neccesarily every other system. It’s difficult to play 2 in the middle with both being passers. In a 4-2-3-1, an enforcer isn’t needed as much as in a 4-4-2. Nnaemeka vouches for 4-4-2 which I think can only work with an enforcer. A 4-2-3-1 at United can work perfectly with different combinations involving Carrick, Scholes, Kagawa, Cleverley, Young or Fletcher as the midfield 3.

    • I guess the question that needs to be asked is was kagawa brought in to replace scholes? and judging by scholes contract extension then my guess would be no, and hence that is an issue that could remain whether or not kagawa will be played infront or much deeper…wellbeck may suffer, fergie could play all three the options are so many and thats the biggest positive.

      • Kagawa was bought to add options to our midfield which has been lacking in quality and quantity for years. As you mentioned, Welbeck may suffer most from his arrival

  4. I love this article man. One of the major reasons we lost last season was due to fergie’s poor team selection. With your proposed formation (which by the way i think is the answer to our problems) and the arrival of Kagawa makes us title contenders again. Don’t you think that we need a formidable force at right back. i still think that we have a hole to cover at that position that we are constantly vulnerable at.

    • Thanks for the kind words Dutch. Kagawa definately adds alot to our tactical options and will make us more competitive. Right back? Rafael? Jones? Smalling? Valencia? I think we have more than enough options there with Rafael the likely long term option. Left back is more of a problem tbh

  5. Eddie

    Our main problem has been a creative role in the midfield, there has been a huge hole btwn the midfield n strikers, rooney on the other hand at the begining of the ssn hs playd 3 roles alone: bridge the hole, score goals n pulling defendrs so wingers n the other strikers score goals so Imo we should adopt a system we play kagawa behind strikers n NOTE i said strikerS not striker, at the end of the day kagawa has come to add the fire power nt replace it

    • So Eddie how do you propose we do that? Play two in the middle? Or 3 at the back? Scenario 2 is highly impropable from a Fergie team and its rare to find a team playing two upfront and a dedicated attacking mid. Too gung ho. Not that I don’t wanna see two uptop with an AM, mind.

      • Eddie

        The assumption is that if Rooney players alone upfront he will deliver what he did this past season plus more goals…. dont get me wrong, I know rooney can be a goal machine given the right conditions… I propose the attacking midfielder to play infront of the DMF and the wingers.. and just behind the strikers…. a sort of 4-3-1-2.. wht possible holes do u forsee in this system?

  6. Reports coming in says ManUtd are likely to sign Luka Modrid. Now if that happens the fear of reducing kagawa flair will be no more and possessions football will be Fergi’s signature for next season sacrificing Danny Welbeck and seeing the beauty of Micheal Carrick again. With 4-2-3-1 Europe will be the focus again with Carrick-Modric as Midfield enforcer’s and Young/Nani-Kagawa-Valencia playing behind Rooney/Welbeck/Chicharito/Angelo H. Fergi’s team next season will keep the ball something his determined to do after the Bilbao’s defeat last season

  7. What a load of bollocks why have we won what we’ve won? Carrick trequaterwhatsit fuck off he’s not good enough to do that at uniteds level and neither was anderson as it turned out cantona was so was ronaldo who I think played in “the last quarter” (pretentious moi) if kagawa can then he will if not then fergie will fit him in where he can help out

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