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Solving the Shinji Kagawa problem

by jonnyescott

After a superb debut season for Manchester United’s big summer acquisition Robin Van Persie, the reds other pre-season signing Shinji Kagawa has somewhat stayed out of the spotlight in recent times. But after a superb hat-trick against Norwich, Kagawa has received many plaudits similar to the ones which he received whilst he was playing for Borussia Dortmund in Germany.

United were heavily linked with the Japanese international throughout the 2011/2012 season and they captured the signing of the 23 year-old playmaker in June 2012 for a fee believed to be in the region of £12m.

After the departure of Park Ji-Sung, many United fans saw Kagawa’s signing as more of a marketing ploy rather than a player signing as the reds have a strong support all over Asia so with Ji-Sung leaving, United wanted to keep their popularity up in the far east which of course, will bring in more money from shirt sales and sponsorship deals.

After a shaky start which included a couple of injury lay-offs. Kagawa has slowly started to cement his place in United’s best XI. But that begs the question – what is the best position for Shinji Kagawa?

Versatility and youthful talent is something which Sir Alex Ferguson has being renowned for nurturing, and with Kagawa turning 24 this week, there is no doubt that he has not yet reached his full potential.

At Dortmund, he was mainly used in the central attacking role which saw him score 29 goals in 71 appearances for the Bundesliga side. Through his success in Germany, Kagawa was crowned Asian International Footballer of the Year 2012 and he was included in the European Sports Media’s European Team of the Season 2011-2012.

At the start of his United career, Kagawa was mainly used out wide on the left as injuries to Ashley Young and Nani meant that United were short on that side of the pitch. Despite scoring on his competitive debut against Fulham, Kagawa seemed to struggle but he did show signs of class with neat touches and a very good reading of the game. That was until United entertained Norwich on March 2.

Kagawa started on the left of a five man midfield which included two holding midfielders in Michael Carrick and Anderson, along with Wayne Rooney in front of them with Antonio Valencia down the right.

Kagawa opened the scoring on 45 minutes after a less than exciting first half. Ferguson changed it about a bit and the second half saw Rooney come out to the left and Kagawa go more central. This was to be the turning point in Kagawa’s season.

He was now the main man. He controlled the game as if he was in front of a television with an Xbox controller. Every time United attacked Norwich, it went through Kagawa. Two wonderful bits of play by United in the 76th and 87th minute led to Shinji becoming the first Asian player to score a Premier League hat-trick. What made this performance different was the fact that everything seemed to come together.

Kagawa showed off his reading for the game by often creating space for himself or other teammates. We’d had already caught a glimpse of this in his previous outings but what we hadn’t caught a glimpse of was his work ethic and his stamina.

At just 5ft 8, Shinji isn’t the biggest of players but the way he used his strength and fitness levels to chase the ball down till the last minute, despite United’s 4-0 lead, was the kind of thing which turns players into fans favourite’s at Old Trafford.

If he continues to play as a central attacking midfielder, whether that is in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Rooney dropping even deeper or a 4-2-3-1 formation which would see Rooney vacate out to the left, I can see a big and bright future for Shinji Kagawa.

Who knows what he could achieve. It’s only a matter of time until we find out.

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