Shinji Kagawa: The Potential Signing From Borussia Dortmund Represents Change at Manchester United
With Shinji Kagawa set for a £12 million transfer (rising to £17 million depending on appearances, goals...etc.) to Manchester United, the signing from Borussia Dortmund represents change at Old Trafford.
According to BBC Sport—who never report on mere speculation—United have agreed, in principle, to a deal to sign the 23-year-old trequartista. Only personal terms with the player—negotiations which the Red Devils expect to run smoothly—have yet to be agreed.
The Japan international has had another stellar season in the Bundesliga, with his 20 goals and 14 assists in all competitions being vital to his team.
If the deal to sign the former Cerezo Osaka star does go through, the signing will signify some significant changes at United—as Kagawa is the type of player the Premier League giants don't have.
So here are the five main on-pitch changes Manchester United will make for the 2012-13 season, after they sign Shinji Kagawa.
We all know Manchester United would get destroyed every game with Shinji Kagawa in a two-man central midfield, and it's very obvious that Sir Alex Ferguson and his technical staff know it as well.
So it's clear United will adopt a 4-3-3 formation, with Kagawa playing as the most advanced in a three-man midfield.
It's a set-up that served the team well in their 2-0 win away at Blackburn Rovers at the start of April, while the 4-5-1 they used at Manchester City would've also worked, had the team had a player like Kagawa.
4-3-3 is the formation most likely to be used, with the wingers given more encouragement to cut inside and join the strikeforce—something which could also get more from players like Nani and Ashley Young.
However, tactical set-ups are very interchangeable in modern football, so a 4-3-3 formation will also be a 4-5-1 and a 4-2-3-1—with Wayne Rooney spearheading the attack but also dropping deep and linking up with Kagawa and the wingers.
If Shinji Kagawa signs and Manchester United move to 4-3-3 formation—both of which are now inevitable—it seems clear that Sir Alex Ferguson is slowly building his team around talismanic striker Wayne Rooney.
In the various set-ups, United will play with a three-man central midfield and three forwards (one central, two wide). Wayne Rooney will be the main striker and will spearhead the attack.
There has been talk that next season that Rooney could be used in a deeper role as an attacking midfielder, but that seems highly unlikely with Kagawa—who plays exclusively in that position—set to join the club.
Therefore the 26-year-old will play theoretically in the most advanced role.
However, unlike at Arsenal, where Robin van Persie links up with his midfield yet is almost exclusively the one to finish off chances, Rooney will link-up and positionally interchange with the wingers and Kagawa. This will add more assists to Rooney's game, and keep the best of the Japanese star's goalscoring traits.
So with the signing of Shinji Kagawa, it's more than likely the Red Devils will have a greater attacking emphasis from the centre, with Kagawa linking up with Wayne Rooney and joining the action in the penalty area.
The inevitable three-man midfield will also give greater scope for a box-to-box midfielder, affording the likes of Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Anderson and Tom Cleverley to have more shots on goal.
It means United could be more unpredictable in attack next term, and vary their focus of play.
However, such a change will probably result in fewer chances—and therefore fewer goals—for the strikers.
With a 4-3-3 formation, more play through the centre and a trequartista like Shinji Kagawa in the team, the main difference in Manchester United's play will be their passing—with many more short passes likely to be played.
As it stands, United hit the 11th highest number of long balls per game, with around 66 on average each match. This is five more than Chelsea, and a staggering 15 more than both Arsenal and Manchester City.
They also hit less short passes per game than Arsenal, City and Swansea City. What do all those teams have? An attacking midfielder.
This season United mainly played a 4-4-2, with no attacking midfielder and with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick acting as deep-lying playmakers, hitting around 15 long balls between them every game.
With a link between midfield and attack soon to join the team in Kagawa, United won't need to rely as heavily on the incisive vision of Scholes and Carrick. Kagawa—and Wayne Rooney who'll be given more license to drop deep and create link-up play—can provide the link between the deeper midfielders and the wingers/striker.
Therefore more passes will be played along the ground by United—something which, this season, Man City showed is a winning formula.
With United seemingly switching to a 4-3-3 formation and Wayne Rooney presumably taking up the role of main striker, where does that leave Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck?
Hernandez is a player who tends to run the channels, and Welbeck is a player who likes to drop deep or move out wide and search for the ball. To get the most out of both players next season, they'll be more than just strikers.
Both forwards will deputise for Rooney, and there will be times in 2012-13 where manager Sir Alex Ferguson does revert back to a 4-4-2, and one or both of Welbeck and Hernandez will start.
However, with only three full-time wingers in the side, it's clear that Welbeck and Hernandez will also play a wider role in some matches next season, cutting inside from the flank to link-up with Rooney and Kagawa.
It means they probably won't score more—or maybe even as many—goals as they did this season, but they will undoubtedly register a bigger number of assists and will make more key passes.
In essence—thanks to the signing of Shinji Kagawa—they will be better all-round forwards, and could make United a more complete attacking threat.