Kagawa could be the answer to Moyes' Manchester United midfield conundrum

As the new manager at Old Trafford continues to be knocked back in the transfer market, he could do worse than give the former Borussia Dortmund playmaker an opportunity

By Tom Maston

With Wayne Rooney’s future at Manchester United looking far from certain, and Cesc Fabregas joining the ever-growing list of players to reject the Old Trafford outfit, David Moyes faces a selection conundrum ahead of his first competitive fixture as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor.

Moyes heads into Sunday’s Community Shield curtain-raiser against FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic without the unfit, and unhappy, Rooney, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury. Yet to feature in any pre-season matches for United and forced to train with the reserves as he eyes a move to Chelsea, the club are unlikely to rely on the 27-year-old in the upcoming campaign.

While Rooney's uncertain future remains a problem for the Premier League holders, his absence from Sunday's showpiece at Wembley provides the perfect opportunity to utilise and experiment with a player that has yet to deliver for the club since joining last summer, though remains a fantastically gifted footballer: Shinji Kagawa.

2012-13/MAN UTD
43 APPS 26
17 GOALS 6
191 MINS/GOAL 281
44% ACCURACY 42%
The Japan star’s first 12 months in England have been little to write home about, hampered by poor form, a string of injuries and a failure to adapt quickly to the Premier League. He often played second fiddle to Rooney, too, while on the rare occasions they were both selected, they contested the same pockets of space – though the England forward is unlikely to be an obstacle any longer.

The Red Devils were far from happy with Kagawa's displays following his £17 million move from Borussia Dortmund last summer, with the 24-year-old starting just 17 league matches, scoring six goals – three of which came in one match against Norwich.

Though the club would concede they may have placed too much expectation on the former Cerezo Osaka playmaker during his first campaign in English football, he produced little to suggest that the outlay of such funds was a worthwhile investment, other than to grow shirt sales in the Far East.

In Kagawa’s defence, however, he was often played out of position, deprived of the free role he craves drifting between the lines and running beyond the frontman. Pushed out to the wing by Ferguson, and often given more defensive responsibility than he would have been used to at Signal Iduna Park, he lacked the opportunity to make the incisive runs and produce the goals that he did in Germany.

His coach at Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp, commented in May that he was distraught that a player of Kagawa’s ability was being wasted by one of the world’s biggest clubs.

“Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United– on the left wing! My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes. Central midfield is Shinji's best role,” he said. As someone who nurtured him through his maiden years in European football, Klopp should know.

While the Japan international scored or assisted every 131 minutes in the Premier League with United (notching in just four matches), he was involved in a goal every 96 minutes in his final year in the Bundesliga with Dortmund (and featured on the scoresheet in 15 different matches across all competitions).

6/1 Shinji Kagawa is 6/1 with bet365 to open the scoring in the Community Shield
Linking with Robert Lewandowski and bursting forward relentlessly in Klopp's quick-transition BVB side, Kagawa attempted three times as many shots and played twice as many key passes per game as compared to his time at Old Trafford. At Dortmund he was encouraged to attack, at United he has been stifled.

Kagawa’s performances for Dortmund suggested he would be the perfect fit to slot in behind the free-scoring Robin van Persie. A different style of player to Rooney, using his pace and trickery to unlock defences, a free-flowing Kagawa could inject some much-needed energy into what has been an underwhelming first month in charge for Moyes.

However, the Japan international, like most of the United team, has shown little form in pre-season, barring a solitary goal against old club Cerezo Osaka. Of course, that tally is equalled by Van Persie, an indication that something has yet to click for the Red Devils in a pre-season schedule that has produced three defeats and no clean sheets.

Kagawa was particularly profligate against Sevilla in Friday night's testimonial for Rio Ferdinand. Goalkeeper Beto regularly thwarted the attacking midfielder, but, encouragingly, he showed an appetite to adventure into the box. Playing in an under strength United side, there was a sense that, with Van Persie ahead of him rather than Angelo Henriquez, and Michael Carrick supplying passes from deep rather than Tom Cleverley, he could yet be the livewire he was in Germany.

There were some glimpses from Kagawa last term that he could have a long-term future at the Theatre of Dreams, and Moyes’ first big test may well be whether he can get the best out of a player who was one of Europe’s hottest properties little over a year ago.

He must start to replicate his Bundesliga showings soon, and prove that he can form a dangerous and destructive partnership with Van Persie, beginning against Wigan on Sunday. If not, Moyes could be forced to delve into the transfer market. These next two weeks could make or break the careers of one of Asia’s brightest footballing lights.

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