Man Utd Focus - Kagawa shines as Real Madrid loom large
Shinji Kagawa scored an impressive hat-trick against Norwich on Saturday to take the plaudits in the run up to Tuesday's Champions League last 16 second leg. The Japanese forward has made a mixed start to his Manchester United career, but showed what he is capable of in a performance that perhaps gives Sir Alex Ferguson a selection headache ahead of the encounter with in-form Real Madrid.
Kagawa began life at Old Trafford like a steam train, with excellent performances in pre-season and early domestic and European fixtures following his move from German champions Borussia Dortmund. However his progress was derailed by a knee injury sustained against Braga in October, which kept the 23-year-old out of action for over two months.
Ferguson clearly has great faith in Kagawa, as was shown by his inclusion at the Bernabéu three weeks ago. That was his only appearance in February though, and his start on Saturday coupled with Ryan Giggs' rest may have led some to think that Kagawa would not be starting in the return game against Real. If this was the case then the manager might have to reconsider after the weekend's display.
There were three very well taken goals for Ferguson to admire, with the second and third particularly showcasing the skill with which the Japan international plays the game. He is adept at watching his opponents as he looks for them to make a move that gives him the opportunity to bypass them with either a pass, dribble or finish. Quick feet, close control and a burst of acceleration are features of his play.
His second goal was beautifully taken, as Kagawa anticipated goalkeeper Mark Bunn's movement across goal and saw the gap to ease the ball into the corner of the net. He displayed his awareness in completing his hat-trick with a first touch from Wayne Rooney's lay-off superbly taking two defenders out of the game, before a chipped finish showed his deftness of touch.
It was a promising indication of more to come from a player who could end up costing United £17m, with his link up with Rooney and Robin van Persie something to look out for as they clock up more time on the pitch together. Kagawa provides another option for Michael Carrick to find in the final third, as the Englishman excelled at the weekend with a performance that was punctuated by numerous balls into the feet of his frontmen.
Carrick will be crucial to United against Real, as could Kagawa be should he be named in the starting lineup. Jose Mourinho's side are in good form at the moment having beaten Barcelona twice in a week, and are very strong on the counter attack. United must ensure their retention of possession is good to minimise the opportunities that the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil and Ángel di Maria have to break forward with pace, and the Japanese can assist with this.
Tuesday's clash promises fireworks, and Kagawa will be hoping that his display on Saturday earns him a starring role in the blockbuster show.
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