Shinji Kagawa was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson 12 months ago from Borussia Dortmund. The Japanese star came with a reputation as an exciting attacking midfielder with an eye for a pass and an eye for goal. Despite that he barely featured last season and David Moyes hasn’t really found room for him this season. So we ask the question: should Moyes find a role for Kagawa at United? Kagawa was utilized mainly as a left midfielder last season. This is not really his best position though, especially in United’s formation where they ask their midfielders to provide width and cross the ball into the box. Kagawa is best when he comes into central positions, operating as a No.10 behind the striker. He creates the lion’s share of his chances from central positions, not from out wide. With a high pass completion of 90% last season and the ability to take on players, he is a very technical attacking midfielder who is best playing centrally but moves wide to find space, rather than going inside to out. Kagawa is creating chances in the area where we would expect a No. 10 to play. However, the Japan international only played the full 90 minutes on five occasions last season – starting 17 games but being hauled off in the other 12 fixtures. The reason for this is that there is an intense competition for places at United. Wayne Rooney is occupying the No. 10 role and despite some criticism of his form last season, he was a very influential figure playing behind Robin van Persie. Had Rooney left the club then Kagawa would have been incredibly important. However, as things stand Kagawa is finding it tough to find a role with Rooney in front of him in the pecking order. Recently Danny Welbeck has also been used off Van Persie, further limiting opportunities for Kagawa.
Moyes has arguably altered Manchester United’s tactics to more of a 4-4-2, a system that doesn’t suit Kagawa. Against Swansea and Liverpool in the league this season, Moyes used Danny Welbeck as more of a second striker, rather than a No. 10. For all of Kagawa’s quality he is not suited to playing in a 4-4-2 system as a second striker, or as a winger, which makes it difficult to find a role for him in Moyes’ tactical set-up. Against Liverpool, Welbeck only attempted 27 passes, which is very low for a No. 10 and confirms the view that he was playing in a more advanced area. Welbeck spent very little time in his own half and was predominantly in advanced areas, not dissimilar to Van Persie, with both players playing relatively close to each other in this tie. This is indicative of more of a 4-4-2, than the sort of fluid formation, such as a 4-2-3-1 that would suit a player like Kagawa and get the best out of him. If we compare this to United’s 4-0 win against Norwich last season in which Kagawa got a hat-trick, we can see a slight difference. Kagawa spent more time in the centre of the park, as well as dropping back into his own half slightly more. Also he saw much more of the ball in the Norwich game in comparison to Welbeck from the Swansea and Liverpool game this season. Kagawa averaged 42 passes per game last season, which is quite high considering he only played 90 minutes on five occasions.
The problem Kagawa is facing at United is that he is primarily a No. 10, while Moyes is using a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 system which is not best suited to Kagawa, especially if Rooney is in the side. Rooney is the primary playmaker and if he doesn’t start then Moyes has opted to select Welbeck as the second striker. Although Kagawa can play from the left he will not hold the width or cross the ball, but rather try to drift infield, something that isn’t conducive to United’s style of play. As a result, Kagawa might find opportunities limited this season, despite his obvious quality.