Does Shinji Kagawa signal an end to a pragmatic Manchester United?

by Sam Peoples

Over the years, many players have passed through the gates of Old Trafford – Ronaldo, Veron, Van Nistelrooy, Cantona et al. The eleven players on the pitch have been chopped and changed but one thing always remained – 4-4-2. Two banks of four with two strikers up top. It has become synonymous with United’s domination of English football but times are swiftly changing and, I hope, so are United.

Manchester City played last season with consummate ease and whilst I am not calling out for us to copy City, far from it, we must emulate the fluid, attacking football that they played all season. It looks like the winds of change could be in motion with Sir Alex Ferguson confirming in the press conference unveiling Kagawa and Powell that Shinji will be playing an aggressive, attacking role in the squad:

“He’ll play further forward [than Powell]. We shouldn’t be looking at one player changing the way we play but he could make a difference. He can give us that extra in the final third of the field. If his goalscoring record continues he could be a very good player for us.”

That is music to my ears. It sounds like we will be playing Kagawa in his strongest position just behind the striker but in the current set up, it would still require energetic drives from central midfield to support it. Whilst Sir Alex feels that it won’t change the way we play, the pragmatic approach of relying on our pedestrian central midfielders to join the attack was two dimensional last season and really hurt our attacking threat and ultimately cost us the title, losing out simply on goal  difference.

The 4-2-3-1 formation typified by Germany in the previous two international tournaments, for me, is how we must set up. Germany have mastered the formation which holds pace and incisive movement as its two key components. Our team is littered with pace in the attacking third and we have plenty of talent able to split defences with movement, none more so than Hernandez.

If Carrick and his partner (Scholes/Cleverley/Anderson/new signing?) are given the task of bossing the midfield with three dynamic players in front of them (Valencia/Kagawa/Nani/Young/Giggs), the team will be much more fluid. Long gone are the days of Scholes running up and down the pitch like a terrier and Carrick’s greatest strengths as a player now come in ball retention and breaking up the opponent’s forward play – so we have to play according to what we are good at.

The average positions of Rooney (L), Van Persie (C) and Aguero (R) last season. Statistcs provided by Fantasy Football Scout.

Last year, we became predictable with Young always cutting inside to cross it with Valencia being our main outlet. Rooney cut a frustrated figure a lot of the time and dropped deeper to try and get the attacks going. Now that Kagawa will do that for him, I strongly believe that Rooney will have his most prolific season to date. You only have to take a look at Aguero and Robin Van Persie’s average positions to see how much deeper Rooney plays and how much more space in and around the box he will be able to occupy when being fed by Kagawa.

Despite all this, maybe we will see simply see a 4-4-2 with Kagawa just behind Rooney, but I really hope we see a change. The best artists in the world adapt to their surroundings and football is no different – if United can adapt and implement the football we played at the start of last season whilst also having two firm central midfielders who protect the defence and break up the opponents play, then I truly think we will have a platform on which we can build a title winning season.

My choice for the starting XI in the first match next season.

You may also like