Man Utd Focus - How will Kagawa injury affect Ferguson's tactics?
Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa has been ruled out of action for the next three to four weeks with a knee injury sustained against SC Braga in the Champions League. The Japanese international's absence comes at a time when Sir Alex Ferguson is tailoring his tactics in a number of different systems, and as the Reds head into a tricky sequence of fixtures that includes two trips to Stamford Bridge and a clash against Arsenal.
The 23-year-old has been impressive since his arrival from German champions Borussia Dortmund in the summer, and his presence in the United team is of real tactical significance at Old Trafford. He operated mainly behind the strikers for Dortmund, with an ability to drift out to the left coupled with accomplished possession and link-up play. During United's pre-season he was deployed primarily in the hole behind Wayne Rooney, and with the Englishman's injury at the start of the Premier League season Kagawa continued in this role behind fellow new signing Robin van Persie.
Since Rooney's return, and the strong form he has shown, the manager has been presented with something of a selection dilemma in how to fit all of his attacking talent into the side. Danny Welbeck has started the campaign well, while Javier Hernández has shown signs of returning to the player he was in his first season at the club. The options at his disposal has seen Ferguson initiate the use of a narrow midfield, to which Rooney has been central at the tip of the diamond formation.
This development has meant Kagawa has dropped to the left side of the midfield quartet, a role that the playmaker is suited to in respect of his passing abilities and desire to keep play moving, and moving in a positive manner. He may struggle against more physical opposition, which is a fear that was evident in his absence from the team against Stoke last weekend. The manager therefore opted to start with three strikers, with Welbeck initially lining up on the left wing, but with the intention of interchanging with Rooney and van Persie.
This could be an option that is seen again in the absence of Kagawa, in keeping with Ferguson's traditional preference for using wingers. However in fixtures such as Sunday's trip to Chelsea, the manager may wish to compact his midfield by using the diamond again. This could see Antonio Valencia, arguably last season's most dangerous Premier League right winger, move inside to a more central position.
The Ecuadorian has operated in this role for his country, but not for United. He has shown his adaptability for the Old Trafford outfit by filling in on occasion at right-back, and does possess the discipline and physical presence to perform as a narrower midfielder, whilst still providing width as the diamond fluctuates in the fluid manner Ferguson intends it to.
The ability Kagawa has in unlocking defences will be a miss for the deposed champions, but it will be interesting to see how the team will line up in his absence. The manager may continue with his new diamond formation that will look to the full-backs to provide threat down the flanks, or stick to the natural width his wingers offer. Either way, it will be more difficult for opponents to prepare than if United were easily second-guessed as to how they will take to the pitch.
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