Having been rumoured to have agreed a move to Manchester United the prospect of Shinji Kagawa in the Premier League is looking extremely likely.
While many have been criticising United’s apparent lack of creativity in the middle of the pitch for years, Kagawa does not really represent a straightforward solution to this. What he will bring to the side however is far more important. Despite the calls for a No. 10 in the vein of Sneijder or similar United are far from short of creative riches, Carrick and Scholes offer passing ability from deep, Nani and Young both offer creative wing-play with ability to come inside and Rooney offers creativity higher up the pitch. Adding another creative player could prove to be counterproductive as they may reduce the space for these other players. What Kagawa is likely to bring to the side is a different type of movement. Unlike Rooney, who drops deep to collect the ball, or Hernandez and Welbeck, who tend to play in advance of Rooney on the last man, Kagawa offers forward runs from a deeper starting position as well as lateral movement. While he is competent out wide, his best position is that which he plays at Dortmund, close to Lewandowski whose movement allows Kagawa to find himself unmarked on his runs from deeper. This point was illustrated extremely well in Dortmund’s first and third goals in the Pokal final against Bayern Munich that Ferguson attended.
In this sequence you can see Kagawa (circled in blue) begins moving laterally in a position deeper than Lewandowski (circled in red), drawing Jerome Boateng high up the pitch and causing him to take up a position in front of his centre back partner Holger Badstuber. While this is happening Lewandowski is forcing Badstuber deeper as he attempts to reach a pass from right back Lukas Piszczek. In the second part of the sequence we can see Kagawa has reacted to this by attempting to run past Lewandowski to receive the header, placing himself in a race with Boateng that he would be expected to win. Unfortunately Lewandowski’s header is not ideal and Kagawa isn’t able to attack this space directly, however, he is able to return the ball to Lewandowski in behind Badstuber instead to calmly slot the ball past Neuer.
This, depicting the opening goal, shows Kagawa far in advance of Lewandowski after a tackle on Lewandowski led to the ball arriving at the feet of Blaszczykowski who engages Neuer before squaring the ball behind Boateng to Kagawa (shown by the black arrows), who is again unmarked after a run from deep and slots the ball home easily.
The purpose of this series is to indicate 2 things. Firstly, unlike Rooney, who excels at it, Kagawa does not focus upon dropping deep to collect the ball and look to play a “killer” pass, something revealed by the fact he finished the season with more goals and assists and that his average of 37.7 passes per game is considerably less than Rooney’s 50.4 or the 51.9 of Sneijder who has long been linked with the same position at United. Secondly, Kagawa provides a different option from the other players at United. It is relatively easy to see Kagawa playing alongside Rooney, looking to move past him as he drops deep and then to receive the ball from him unmarked. It’s not entirely dissimilar to the roles of Vucinic and Mancini in Spaletti’s 4-6-0 at Roma around 2007 (albeit more central) , while Rooney would play the “False 9” role of Totti, something he has done well in the past . Additionally, with his preference to play behind the striker and burst past him Kagawa would offer an alternative option or cover for Rooney if required.