Why Shinji Kagawa Struggles To Find His Place With Manchester United

When Shinji Kagawa joined Manchester United in 2012 from Borussia Dortmund, many United supporters were ecstatic upon hearing the news. Kagawa was instrumental in Dortmunds’s back-to-back Bundesliga titles and was the creative force behind their electrifying play. The attacking midfielder scored 21 goals in 49 appearances for Die Schwarzgelben as well as scoring a goal and providing an assist in Dortmund’s 5-2 victory over Bayern Munich in the 2012 DFB-Pokal Final, which secured the double for them.

The Japanese international formed a brilliant partnership with Nuri Şahin, Mario Götze, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski, which made the German side extremely formidable save for their form in the UEFA Champions League. His creativity, pace and skill were attributes that United and their fans wanted.

Sir Alex Ferguson rarely made a bad purchase, so when a player of his ilk begins to struggle, one must wonder what went wrong. Last season Kagawa only made 20 appearances, as he was struggling through injury, but in those 20 appearances, he averaged a 90% pass accuracy, scored 6 goals, assisted 3 goals, made 16 key passes and had a shooting accuracy of 75%. Those are quite good numbers for a player who missed just about half of his first season in the Premier League.

He was excellent at finding space and releasing players with accurate and well timed passes. And he worked tirelessly to fit into the team. Supporters of the Red Devils must have been pleased with Kagawa’s output in such a short span of time, and Sir Alex Ferguson definitely saw Kagawa in his first team plans.

Some would say that his fallout this season has to do with his physical conditioning and that he is not cut out for the rigors of the Premier League. This is simply not true. During his spell in the Bundesliga, Kagawa set the standard for physical conditioning. He covered more ground than any player in the Bundesliga by averaging 12.36 km per 90 minutes.  Admittedly he’s not the best defensively, and he’s slight of stature, but there are plenty of hard tacklers in Germany, and he’s not a defensive player, so it’s unfair to judge him on those criteria.

Kagawa excels at playing in the number 10 role. He sits behind the striker, makes quick one-two passes with wingers and forwards, floats in and out of space and has an eye for goal. While he is a versatile player, he has been misused at Manchester United. He is by no means a winger, and for him to succeed and bring the most he can to a club he must be played in a central position so that he can orchestrate the attacks and dictate the pace of the game.

While he has the calibre to be a central attacker in the Premier League, it seems that his time at Manchester United is coming to an end. With Dortmund he was receiving deep passes from his defensive midfielders and even his defenders, which allowed him to run at opposing defenders and find pockets of space to exploit. Without service like that, he has been forced to backtrack with United, and has been playing more defensively than he should be. United’s style favors play on the wings and counter attacks through the middle, hence why Kagawa has been playing in unfamiliar territory. He is used to being the catalyst for his club so when he is not involved in every attacking movement, he is not being played to his strong suits.

This season he has only made one appearance in the Premier League and has only played for 45 minutes. The arrival of Marouane Fellaini from Everton has pushed Kagawa further down the pecking order and it seems that the Belgian will be a staple in United’s lineup this season. With fewer chances on the pitch and fewer touches on the ball, it stands to reason that unless he produces the spectacular in the little time he’s given, he will be shown the door, which is unfortunate for the Red Devils.

Any team looking for a world-class attacker should stay on red alert, as Kagawa would provide that special something for any team who would give him chances and the freedom to play at his best.

10 thoughts on “Why Shinji Kagawa Struggles To Find His Place With Manchester United”

  1. You say he is not a winger and needs to play centrally; but for Japan he usually plays in the LAM spot with Honda at CAM, and usually plays very well in that role.

    Problem is, United continue to try to play with 2 traditional wingers, and Kagawa in that type of wide role doesnt play as well. Meanwhile with Rooney pretty much having the CAM spot down (and his defensive work is immense from that position–something Kagawa lacks), Kagawa will not have the opportunities many think he should have.

    1. I think that’s a pretty accurate analysis. He’s not bad offensively on the wing, but if he’s playing on the left, he MUST cover when Evra gets forward. He often doesn’t do that and that is a big problem. If you play Welbeck in that left wing role, he might not be as creative as Kagawa, but he covers for his fullback.

      And, I don’t think you can just play Carrick and Kagawa in the middle either. That’s two guys who are finesse players and they’ll get overrun. You need someone in the middle who will at least try to push someone off the ball (like Rooney).

      I think it’s pretty obvious that United bought Kagawa to play under Rooney……and then they bought RVP and didn’t have a place for him anymore.

      I don’t think it’s a lost cause though. He can be good on the left; he and Evra just need to communicate better. Or maybe try him on the right where Rafael recovers a lot better than Evra? He’s also there when Rooney gets hurt of the squad needs to rotate.

      But, I’d really rather see him work to develop a feisty side.

      1. I think the addition of Fellaini could help with the “covering for Evra” idea.

        Look at Bayern; Ribery and Robben dont track back a whole lot and especially Alaba attacks at will on the left. But they have Martinez and to a lesser extent Schweini to mask that.

        Same for Barça with Busquets (to a lesser extent obviously as that is how Bayern pummeled them), City previously with Barry and most other top teams who play with “creative” wide attackers instead of traditional wingers. The notion that the wide attacker has to cover for an attacking fullback is as outdated as the rest of David Moyes tactics.

        1. That’s United’s problem. Their deep midfielder is Carrick who doesn’t break up plays that well. He isn’t useless defensively, but his defensive contributions are mostly interceptions when the other side is maintaining possession. United kinda needs someone to put out fires.

  2. Moyes is not smart enough to utilize a player like Kagawa. Kagawa should rejoin Dortmund in January and play for a CL threat. The supporters would welcome him back, Jürgen would give him proper playing time in a World Cup year, and young Shinji can regain his love for the game in the top league in Europe.

  3. Yeah Kagawa does play well on the wing when Japan use him in such a manner, but that’s a different system and for club he’s more of a central player. Honda is central all around. Both are great players it’s a shame Honda hasn’t found his way out of Russia

  4. He will return to Dortmund to revive is career just like Sahin. Sahin struggled at Liverpool because according to Dortmund’s manager Klopp he was not used properly. Sahin is now thriving at Dortmund and if Kagawa returns Klopp will get him playing well again.

    The problem is that Sahin is on loan from Madrid and I’m not sure United would want to loan Kagawa out. They would want to sell him and Dortmund cannot afford to buy him back unless Unites sell at a big loss. Not likely to happen. It will be ineteresting to see what happens to Kagawa in january.

  5. Mr. Moyes sees the Diver, Notso and the next Ronaldinho as more his type of player. You know, one that has seconds of brilliance followed by countless minutes of what the heck are they doing out there. Until he realizes that he indeed does have a good team, he will continue to play defensively and lose ground on the rest.

  6. Moyes needs to be sacked period. How do you have a team that won the league last year by a huge margin and this year not even be in the top half of the table. Zaha should be given a chance to play instead of Ashley Young, who honestly doesn’t have the athleticism and versatility of a winger. Also you cannot have two lethargic defensive midfielders on the field at the same time. ( At least carrick can pass the ball) It is very hard to put kagawa in the first team mainly because man united want to play with two strikers playing center forwards. The only way I see Man United playing better and with Kagawa in the first team is if they play a 4-3-3 formation ( somewhat barcelona like formation) with one fully defensive midfielder( fellaini or carrick), one box to box player ( either phil jones, anderson or cleverly) and one attacking midfielder ( kagawa). Fersdinand also need to be taken out because vidic is losing speed and he needs a younger center back ( phil jones , smalling or evans) who can challenge more effectively those through balls.

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