Welcome to the Shinji Show. Kagawa might have had a slow start to his Manchester United career but he brushed the cobwebs off in dramatic fashion against Norwich City.
After a first half where Kagawa and United offered little going forward, Kagawa popped up with a controlled volley to put United 1-0 up just before the break, and it set the tone for his second half which was his best in a United shirt so far.
Incisive with his passing, intelligent with his movement and clinical with his finishing, Kagawa was the heartbeat of everything that United did. His second goal, off the back of some fantastic play by Wayne Rooney, was an even cooler finish with him simply passing the ball into the corner of the net.
But it was his third goal, a delicious chip after a flowing United move, that really stood out.
Ahead of Madrid on Tuesday, what a performance by Kagawa. As the Norwich game progressed, Kagawa drifted into a more central position and United reaped the rewards. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Rooney/Kagawa/Welbeck lining up behind Van Persie once again given how well it worked in the Santiago Bernabeu and if Kagawa plays like he did yesterday, chances will be aplenty on the night.
A clinical performance. There have many multiple occasions this season where United have seen out a nervous last 30 minutes in games by soaking up pressure and holding onto a lead – but not yesterday.
Instead of sitting back and defending from deep, we pushed forward in search of another and boy did we find it. Norwich City left themselves stretched at the back in search of an equaliser and we punished with three quick goals.
It was extremely encouraging to see that change in mentality because it plays to our strengths as the attacking football we have played and the phenomenal amount of goals we have scored has spearheaded us into our current position in all competitions.
Also, that makes it four clean sheets in a row. Just at the right time, United are looking strong all over the pitch. Bring on Real Madrid.
Valencia has a left foot? We saw more of the real @AntoV25 in 90 minutes yesterday than we have done for the whole season. Valencia drove at players with a confidence he hasn’t shown all season. Instead of always looking for the simple ball backwards, he played more freely and was our main outlet with play through the middle proving fruitless with a well organised Norwich defence.
As well as taking his players on, his crosses were dangerous and effective. All season he has been overhitting his crosses but yesterday, he got his head up to look for a player first before swinging a cross in.
Even more surprising than all of that was the fact that Valencia crossed with his left foot and to top it all of, it was that cross that led to Kagawa’s first goal.
Valencia has struggled in the shadow of the #7 shirt all season. We have seen merely glimpses of the 2012 Player of the Year who tore defences to shreds with his brute power and pace. United will always need wingers on form, it is the nature of our footballing system, so Valencia needs to build upon his positive performance yesterday and improve going into the run-in.
A dominant Vidic at both ends. I think it is fair to say we are now starting to see our old captain back in action. Vidic has managed his injury much better since the surgery and with every performance, he is only getting better.
Having Vidic back in the squad gives United a bullish element that the defence drastically lacked in his absence. Our aerial weakness from set pieces has diminished and teams are not able to exploit the long ball game anymore.
Every ball into the box was headed out by Vidic. Most corners United had, Vidic was the first person to attack the header. You can see that he is really enjoying his football again and his knee troubles are, touch wood, behind him this season.
Saying that, it unlikely that Vidic will feature against Madrid for two reasons. Firstly, his recovery from injury means it is unlikely he will play twice in three days. Secondly, his lack of pace would be drastically exposed against Real Madrid’s ferocious counter attack. Ferdinand might not be much faster but his intelligent positioning means he is rarely found out of position and Ferguson is likely to prefer that.
A resurgent Rooney. Leading up to the Madrid game, Rooney’s game yesterday was perfect. Two assists, a goal and an all round performance will give him a much needed boost. He turned round a poor first half littered with misplaced passes and put in one of his best 45 minutes of football in the second half.
Rooney more than most is a player who needs games to find his match sharpness. Ferguson knows that and it was no surprise to see Rooney get a full 90 minutes and his howitzer of a goal right at the death was the icing on the cake.
In the Santiago Bernabeu, Rooney gave up his attacking role in order to try and quash Real Madrid’s attacking threat. It worked. But, at Old Trrafford on Tuesday, United will need to have a bigger threat going forward and there is no doubt that Rooney is going to play a central role in it.