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Does Shinji Kagawa signal an end to a pragmatic Manchester United?

Over the years, many players have passed through the gates of Old Trafford – Ronaldo, Veron, Van Nistelrooy, Cantona et al. The eleven players on the pitch have been chopped and changed but one thing always remained – 4-4-2. Two banks of four with two strikers up top. It has become synonymous with United’s domination of English football but times are swiftly changing and, I hope, so are United.

Manchester City played last season with consummate ease and whilst I am not calling out for us to copy City, far from it, we must emulate the fluid, attacking football that they played all season. It looks like the winds of change could be in motion with Sir Alex Ferguson confirming in the press conference unveiling Kagawa and Powell that Shinji will be playing an aggressive, attacking role in the squad:

“He’ll play further forward [than Powell]. We shouldn’t be looking at one player changing the way we play but he could make a difference. He can give us that extra in the final third of the field. If his goalscoring record continues he could be a very good player for us.”

That is music to my ears. It sounds like we will be playing Kagawa in his strongest position just behind the striker but in the current set up, it would still require energetic drives from central midfield to support it. Whilst Sir Alex feels that it won’t change the way we play, the pragmatic approach of relying on our pedestrian central midfielders to join the attack was two dimensional last season and really hurt our attacking threat and ultimately cost us the title, losing out simply on goal  difference.

The 4-2-3-1 formation typified by Germany in the previous two international tournaments, for me, is how we must set up. Germany have mastered the formation which holds pace and incisive movement as its two key components. Our team is littered with pace in the attacking third and we have plenty of talent able to split defences with movement, none more so than Hernandez.

If Carrick and his partner (Scholes/Cleverley/Anderson/new signing?) are given the task of bossing the midfield with three dynamic players in front of them (Valencia/Kagawa/Nani/Young/Giggs), the team will be much more fluid. Long gone are the days of Scholes running up and down the pitch like a terrier and Carrick’s greatest strengths as a player now come in ball retention and breaking up the opponent’s forward play – so we have to play according to what we are good at.

The average positions of Rooney (L), Van Persie (C) and Aguero (R) last season. Statistcs provided by Fantasy Football Scout.

Last year, we became predictable with Young always cutting inside to cross it with Valencia being our main outlet. Rooney cut a frustrated figure a lot of the time and dropped deeper to try and get the attacks going. Now that Kagawa will do that for him, I strongly believe that Rooney will have his most prolific season to date. You only have to take a look at Aguero and Robin Van Persie’s average positions to see how much deeper Rooney plays and how much more space in and around the box he will be able to occupy when being fed by Kagawa.

Despite all this, maybe we will see simply see a 4-4-2 with Kagawa just behind Rooney, but I really hope we see a change. The best artists in the world adapt to their surroundings and football is no different – if United can adapt and implement the football we played at the start of last season whilst also having two firm central midfielders who protect the defence and break up the opponents play, then I truly think we will have a platform on which we can build a title winning season.

My choice for the starting XI in the first match next season.

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12 Responses to Does Shinji Kagawa signal an end to a pragmatic Manchester United?

  1. mustephen says:

    i think you’re absolutely right, 4-4-2 is now a thing of the past, we were over run in midfield last season, not enough support to the forward players and not enough shielding of the back four. it would be fantastic if we could get our hands on modric for the deep lying playmaker role beside carrick, can’t trust anderson anymore and although i’m sure cleverley will eventually be a magnificent player i don’t think he’s quite ready yet. kagawa pulling the strings in an attacking midfield position is an exciting prospect and leaving rooney to do what he does best and find the net prolifically. the fact that fergie hasn’t tried to sign another striker is a sure sign he wants to play 4-2-3-1, as he usually likes 4 top class strikers in the squad while playing 4-4-2.

    • Sam Peoples says:

      I think the likeliness of Modric is slim to none as Levy will not sell to a PL rival. I do hope that we make a MF signing though and don’t gloss over the gaping hole with signings in other areas.

  2. eti1United says:

    Really interesting to see a graphic representation of the respective strikers’ average positions…

    First may I just say, one player does not signify a complete overhaul of formation and strategy. Kagawa will play in an in that position behind the striker you are correct, but I don’t believe sir alex is suddenly going to change his formation to 4-2-3-1 just because the entire world is going that way; you see he is stubborn like that.

    We played mostly 4-4-1-1 last season. The attacking play, particularly at the start of the season, was devastating. With the right personnel the formation could defeat any team in the league.

    Your proposed XI looks marvelous on paper, and I’m sure they will score many goals on Fifa 13. However in bigger games against slicker players more adept at playing that particular 4-2-3-1 I fear we may struggle.

    And we shouldn’t forget that football is a squad game. Where does ur formation leave Welbeck, and Hernandez for that matter? Fabulous players with bright futures they may be, but do you see either one of them playing the 1 striker in that formation?

    • Sam Peoples says:

      I agree that one player will not bring about a complete overhaul of formation but I think to get the best out of the team with him in, it would be beneficial to do so.

      4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1 are extremely interchangeable formations and very similar in many respects.

      The problem with playing 1 up top is that it does limit the possibilities for our strikers. Welbeck was magnificent last season with his link-up play with Rooney but we have now bought a marquee attacking midfield player – a player whose sort we have not had in the squad for a long time.

      It means that we will have the ability to play more direct through the centre rather than depending on our wingers to give the incisive passes. Unfortunately, I do think this is going to limit the growth of Hernandez and Welbeck because Rooney will be preferred but I definitely think it is the best way of maximising what the squad has to offer.

  3. Eti1United says:

    Really interesting to see a graphic representation of the respective strikers’ average positions…

    First may I just say, one player does not signify a complete overhaul of formation and strategy. Kagawa will play in an in that position behind the striker you are correct, but I don’t believe sir alex is suddenly going to change his formation to 4-2-3-1 just because the entire world is going that way; you see he is stubborn like that.

    We played mostly 4-4-1-1 last season. The attacking play, particularly at the start of the season, was devastating. With the right personnel the formation could defeat any team in the league.

    Your proposed XI looks marvelous on paper, and I’m sure they will score many goals on Fifa 13. However in bigger games against slicker players more adept at playing that particular 4-2-3-1 I fear we may struggle.

    And we shouldn’t forget that football is a squad game. Where does ur formation leave Welbeck, and Hernandez for that matter? Fabulous players with bright futures they may be, but do you see either one of them playing the 1 striker in that formation?

    Doesn’t mean to say we won’t see a 4-2-3-1 at some stage during the season; we saw it last season although we mostly made it look like a 4-5-1 because of a defensive mindset.

  4. Eti1United says:

    You have a point there: at times we have become a bit too dependant on valencia or nani (now Young) doing something special on the wing and setting up a goal. Unfortunately the opposition was wise to it and often Valencia had to pass back because he was being double-teamed!

  5. Sam Peoples says:

    Kagawa will bring an unpredictability that will bring dividends across our whole attack. You only have to look at the impact that Mata, Silva, Dempset et al, had on their respective teams to see how much he is going to bring to United.

  6. Al says:

    “The eleven players on the pitch have been chopped and changed but one thing always remained – 4-4-2”
    Erm, no it hasn’t. Remember the 4-4-1-1 in the days of Veron, the 4-3-3 with Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez, the 4-5-1 away from home in the Champions League, providing memorable nights such as the 3-2 win at the San Siro against AC Milan?
    Also, you mention that Rooney dropped deeper to get attacks going, this isn’t because he’s forced to do it, it’s because he feels its his best position, ‘in the hole’ so to speak, a vintage number 10. The fact he was able to do that and get over 30 goals is pretty special, and it’s a big ask to expect Shinji to do the same.
    The difference between your 4-2-3-1 and the 4-4-1-1 which we played last season is minimal, if our wingers pushed up that much it would be too much to ask them to be tracking back and helping out the full backs, and with no defensive midfielders that team would be even more exposed than the one last season.
    I don’t expect a massive change in system, Kagawa will most likely play on the left on occasion and through the middle off Rooney at times as well, I wouldn’t want Welbeck and Chicharito to be left out on a regular basis either.
    Either way it’s going to be interesting to see how Fergie accomodates our attacking options, with Nani, Valencia, Young, Kagawa, Rooney, Chicharito & Welbeck we’ve got some great options, now we just need a CM!

    • Sam Peoples says:

      4-5-1 is specifically used in Europe, so I left that out. As for the 4-3-3 with Rooney/Ronaldo/Tevez, fair point.

      I know that Rooney dropping deeper is his choice but with Kagawa playing behind him, he won’t do it as much because he simply won’t need to. He dropped back because he wanted to get involved and create opportunities but Kagawa will take some of that pressure of his shoulders, so he should be able to get more clear cut chances further up the pitch rather than creating a lot of chances for others.

      I 100% agree that I don’t want to see Welbeck and Hernandez left out but SAF will want to play Kagawa in the position where he blossomed at Dortmund. Forcing him out wide won’t do that but I think it will change according to who our opponents are.

  7. alukogu obioha says:

    kagawa will have an instant impact. he will do better than david silva of man city from what i have seen of him so far. will love to see fit again Ando and clever Tom in that CM role. 4-2-3-1 will be a perfect formation to accomodate kagawa.. We can then use scholes & carrick as subs to see of games or they can be used as starters in FA CUPS and other cup games. same as wellbeck & chicharito. i’d want to point that nani shld be deployed to yhe left wing as ashley young plays below per for a starting bet in man utd.

  8. manu of man U says:

    There must be a great change in the middle of the park….. If Carrick plays in the new formation then Man U will still stay down

  9. kasshmoneii says:

    i think there is no different 4-4-2,4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 so far kagawa is playing behind Wayne
    ———————————————- Wayne —————————————-
    ——————————————— kagawa —————————————-
    —————Nani———–Ceverley———-Jones—————Valencia———–
    evra—————————-smalling—————vidic———————–Rafael
    Lindegaard

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