Of all the battles thrown up during the classic encounter between two of Europe’s most decorated and famous clubs last week; one in particular caught my eye.
Whilst Cristiano Ronaldo took on Rafael and Robin Van Persie went head to head with Sergio Ramos, a more subtle contest was taking place; Mesut Ozil versus Shinji Kagawa.
A battle more in keeping with You Got Served than Saving Private Ryan, both players were given the freedom of playing in direct support of their central striker with the licence to roam and influence the game.
Ozil shot to prominence following the 2010 World Cup when he was given a free role in a rejuvenated, youthful Germany side that caught the eye of the world with a new brand of attractive football that included a 4-1 mauling of England. The Turkish born playmaker subsequently left Werder Bremen to join Madrid for a bargain £13million.
Kagawa moved to Old Trafford last summer following impressive displays in the Bundesliga as he helped Borussia Dortmund to back-to-back league titles playing in support of the centre forward.
In the Bernabeu, Kagawa looked bright in the first half. Primarily sticking close to Robin Van Persie and linking well with the Dutchman, Kagawa on more than one occasion was only prevented from running beyond the high line of the Madrid defence by the big toe of Sergio Ramos.
In the second half he was moved out to the left to allow the impressive Danny Welbeck to influence the game and provide a more direct out ball for a United side coming under increasing pressure.
And while Kagawa waned, Ozil was a constant threat throughout with the home side having more possession and pressure as would be expected.
Never standing still, the German international drifted around effortlessly leaving United’s defence unsure of whether to stay with him, track the run and inevitably leave a gap for Ronaldo, Benzema, Di Maria et al. to profit, or hold position and let him pick up pockets of space where he can harm you.
Always on the cusp of the action without having a devastating impact on the game, he showed not just how good he is and can be, but gave onlookers an insight into how Kagawa will perform when he adapts to life at Old Trafford.
With the tie well balanced at 1-1 Mourinho is likely to demote Ozil to the bench for the return leg at Old Trafford, opting for a more compact midfield three that may see Modric come into the side.
Kagawa, however, will be looking to impress as United look to make the most of home advantage and if he goes on to become as good for United as Ozil has been for Madrid then he could prove to be one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s best-ever signings.
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