If ever there was a game which illustrated exactly why Shinji Kagawa does not play more often for Manchester United, Sunday’s Premier League loss to Everton was it.
A talented player with the ability to open up defenses and find space when there seemingly is none, Kagawa has a lot of upside to his game. His passing and vision is capable of cutting open most defenses at any given time, and he can both score and assist for his teammates.
The downside, though, is defensively he is a liability for the team. Every manager he has worked under has recognized that, and finding the best way to overcome it is the challenge. At Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp played Kagawa upfront behind a lone striker, and that is clearly now his ideal position.
It gives him no real defensive duties, it allows him to roam free and find space to effect a game and it means you get Kagawa exactly where you want him: centrally, pulling the strings. The problem for Kagawa at United is that when everybody is fit, Wayne Rooney occupies that position; and even when Robin Van Persie has been injured recently, Rooney has become the striker and Juan Mata has then taken over that role in behind.
It shows you how far down the pecking order Kagawa is for that position under David Moyes at United. It means Kagawa ends up playing out on the wing when picked, and the game against Everton showed just why that is a bad idea and a gamble at best. The man of the match in the game was Everton right-back Seamus Coleman, who, not surprisingly, was Kagawa’s man defensively.
Coleman raided up and down the right flank all game, and Kagawa was nowhere to be seen. Time and time again Coleman would arrive in United’s half, ready to do damage, and Kagawa would arrive three or four seconds later. It just wasn’t good enough, especially for a player who isn’t exactly tearing up trees offensively either. Kagawa was not the only one by any means, but it served as a perfect example as to why Kagawa playing wide is just asking for trouble.
Now if Kagawa had a couple of world class midfielders behind him, that would help. If Kagawa had a strong, reliable back-four behind him, that would help also. But he doesn’t, and his lack of defensive ability simply compounds the defensive flaws of the entire team. It’s not even Kagawa’s fault particularly; he shouldn’t be playing wide at all.
United’s struggles, though, mean it’s probably worth the gamble playing Kagawa wide. But when it does go wrong, it does so spectacularly, like it did at Goodison Park. Kagawa is destined for an Old Trafford exit in the near future, and why Sir Alex Ferguson even bought him in the first place, when United already had Rooney for Kagawa’s position, is a mystery.
The only hope Kagawa can have is that wherever he moves onto next, he is deployed in his best position. That position accentuates his undeniable positives and at the same time covers for his equally undeniable negatives just behind a lone striker. He has no chance of playing that position with any kind of regularity at United, and for the sake of his career, Kagawa needs to hope that is not the situation when he surely moves on.