Why Manchester United's Midfield Will Be Key to Their Premier League Challenge
With the recent acquisitions of Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell, Sir Alex Ferguson is ushering in a new era of dominance on both the domestic and European fronts. It was a shame that United lost out to their bitter rivals and cross-town, noisy neighbours Manchester City on goal difference, and lost out on Europe due to their own complacency.
Last year must have dealt a harsh blow to Ferguson, and he will surely change things around a bit to ensure that they don’t “slip-up”.
The return of Nemanja Vidic at the heart of defence is certainly a reassuring sign. With Jonny Evans having come-of-age last season, and a plethora of other defensive options to chose from—Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Rio Ferdinand, Rafael, Patrice Evra—the Red Devils’ defence will behave, as always, as a compact, tightly organized and stubborn system.
But midfield woes have continued to plague United. The Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011 were harsh reminders that United’s midfield needs a strong injection of panache if they don’t want European elites to run circles around them. And though the void left by Roy Keane and Paul Scholes might not be filled adequately, Sir Alex has indeed made some smart acquisitions in the past few years to take United to another level.
I believe that Shinji Kagawa completes the picture—affording Sir Alex with more tactical options and being a world-class presence in midfield.
At Borussia Dortmund, Kagawa played a major role as he helped the club win back-to-back league titles, leaving perennial juggernauts Bayern Munich in the dust.
Kagawa equips Sir Alex Ferguson with a myriad of opportunities to improve upon tactics. Versatility is the key these days. Besides the usual 4-4-2, Kagawa’s assimilation into the team means that the team can convert to a 4-4-1-1 or a fluid 4-2-3-1 as required.
During the preseason, Kagawa often overlapped with Javier Hernandez, either sitting right behind him or moving more towards the center. His linkup play was particularly impressive, and he looked his best whilst sitting just behind the lone striker and orchestrating the attack.
Likewise, against Shangai Shenhua, his playmaking skills shone out; his through-ball to Federico Macheda was particularly sublime.
Kagawa’s lone goal was the decider against the Chinese club, as United won by 1-0, and he racked up yet another man-of-the-match performance.
Against Hannover, Kagawa scored a superb goal in the dying minutes to help secure a win for United.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
The acquisition of Kagawa means that United need not be overly reliant on their main-man, Wayne Rooney. Rooney would not have to drop deep and turn into an attacking-midfielder of some sort—orchestrating the attack and setting up other strikers.
Kagawa will allow Wayne Rooney to focus on his goal-scoring duties and lift the creative burden from Rooney’s shoulders. Both players would complement each other immensely.
Besides boasting the usual repertoire required for an ACM—great vision, passing and dribbling skills—Kagawa can also score goals. And by the plentiful. Last season alone, Kagawa amassed 13 goals in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund and played a key role in their title-winning season.
One thing is for certain—Kagawa does not shy away from taking shots. He also is deft at creating spaces. He will work well with Rooney and Antonio Valencia, receiving passes from them and scoring. To those who doubt his goal-scoring exploits, here is a collection of his 10 best goals.
At the center of the park, there are more options this year than last year. Besides Michael Carrick, United have options in Anderson and Tom Cleverly, both of whom have shown flashes of brilliance and might mature into their roles this season. Nick Powell might feature more than thought of, and Darren Fletcher might too recover fully. Manchester United have reported that he is back in training (as per manutd.com)
Manchester United’s key strength over the last decade has been an extensive reliance on the flanks to afford them width.
And United have superb wingers operating down the flanks.
While Nani can prove extremely frustrating at times, he has matured quite a bit. The recently concluded Euros also displayed his prowess. He is technically proficient, and on his best days can wreak havoc upon opponents.
Ashley Young, too, is quite a gifted player, but like Nani succumbs to inconsistency. However, I am sure that a good rotational policy between these two, barring major injuries, should see them turned into major players.
On the right, United have one of the best wingers in the world in Antonio Valencia. Last season, Valencia was an unstoppable force, combining well with full-backs and strikers alike. Often times, it was he who carried United through and helped them grind out the results.
United play a completely different ballgame when Antonio Valencia is in the park.
His positioning ability in the right flank combined with his tricks and pace enable United to attack effectively from the right. His crossing and passing are pin-point, and his marauding runs are a spectacle to behold.
He also frees up the right-back, where left backs are too busy concentrating on him that United's right-backs like Rafael are allowed to make effective passes into the center.
Of course, United will have to rely extensively on their greatest asset which is Wayne Rooney, and I am certain he will not disappoint. Let’s hope that the midfield can also truly step up and complement Rooney, as United try to reclaim domestic and European glory.
Follow me on Twitter: @BrenGoetze
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