He is set to win his third title in three years in two different countries. But it has not been the dream first season in the Premier League that Shinji Kagawa will have hoped for.
There have been flickers of Kagawa’s magic over the course of the season, but not nearly as many as his previous campaign at the Westfalenstadion.
The Stretford End have and Sir Alex Ferguson himself have not seen the Japanese international perform on a consistent basis, but there is more than enough potential lurking for them to wait patiently.
The adaptation from the Bundesliga to the Premier League has not been a smooth ride. While the Premier League continues to adapt to an increasingly continental style of play, the physical nature of some of the teams United face over the course of a season have left him unable to shape games as expected, with five goals and four assists telling its own story. It has not gone unnoticed by Ferguson himself, who has frequently withdrawn Kagawa from the intensity of the battle.
Kagawa’s struggles may lie at the hands of Ferguson. Shoved out to the left hand side for the majority of the season, to accommodate Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, the diminutive playmaker who lacks a turn of pace, often roams into a congested central position in an attempt to find space.
His progression next season may hinge on the future of Rooney, who appeared completely off his game at Upton Park and was withdrawn by Ferguson after taunts of ‘you’re getting sold in the summer’ by the Upton Park crowd.
While there is no certainty that Rooney’s future lies away from Old Trafford, should he vacate that position behind Van Persie, Kagawa would be the obvious man to step in. Ferguson was there himself in the Olympic Stadium to witness Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski rip through the heart of Bayern Munich in the German Cup final at the end of last season.
Such a performance was against a Munich team who have dominated so powerfully on all fronts this season. His performance that night was enough to lure Ferguson into paying £17 million, and it you can bet it won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Kagawa’s form this season itself has been an oddity. An excellent performance in United’s second game of the season against Fulham seemed to pave the way for his new club, but he was hampered by an ankle injury and his chances in the starting line-up have been irregular, starting just 14 league games.
The glimpses of his best have reminded us why his arrival to the Premier League was greeted with such great expectation. A delicate cushion-chest to set-up Rafael’s equaliser at Anfield was exquisite, as was his hat-trick against Norwich more recently, including a goal that frankly made Canaries' goalkeeper Mark Bunn look like a complete fool.
His most recent performance against a physical West Ham side was his most promising to date. Kagawa’s hand in United’s first goal came after being thread through down the left by Van Persie. Winston Reid was left on his backside in one simple yet beautiful movement and he simply pulled the ball back for Antonio Valencia to tap home.
His involvement in the second goal came from his natural habitat. He drifted unmarked into a pocket of space just outside the West Ham box and was found by Michael Carrick. A flick of his right foot and he was away from the defender, smashing a left-footed shot at goal that ricocheted of both posts before Van Persie smashed home.
It was that sort of guile and craft that would have been coveted by United earlier in the season, perhaps in the Santiago Bernabeu, but it was enough to gain his side a point and edge them ever closer to another title.
It has by no means been a perfect year, but the signs suggest next season could bring so much more. He has had his time to adapt, it is now time for Kagawa to improve his consistency and start dominating games.
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