Sometimes the statistics only tell so much.
PIC: Shinji Kagawa before he is booked during Manchester United's match at Norwich pic.twitter.com/4bfQmr1iJg— Eurosport.com EN (@EurosportCom_EN) December 28, 2013
On paper, his would appear to have been a competent performance, but while the numbers suggest a creditable, even dominant, display at Carrow Road, the reality of the 24-year-old’s showing in Manchester United’s 19th match of the Premier League campaign was something else entirely.
For Kagawa, this afternoon was something less than mediocre, and his rate of passing revealed only a small component of a presentation that was altogether underwhelming.
Yes, his accuracy in moving the ball was striking, but what this particular metric leaves out of the equation (and what needs to be considered for a better understanding of his 70 minutes) is that Kagawa touched the ball only 63 times, contributed nothing defensively and was routinely muscled out of possession by Leroy Fer, who continued to abuse him until his removal in favour of Adnan Januzaj with 20 minutes still to play.
He lacked the intensity required to impose himself in the attacking third and appeared, over the course of the match, either out of place or wishing he were somewhere else, which is exactly where he may find himself when the transfer window opens next month.
With Wayne Rooney’s absence due to a groin strain, Saturday’s encounter at a low-table side should have presented Kagawa the ideal chance to carve out a place in David Moyes’ plans, but given the lethargy and futility of his play against Norwich, it’s hard to see him figuring in the United manager’s squad for next week’s showdown with Tottenham Hotspur.
What will be truly disappointing for Moyes is that the match was there for Kagawa’s taking.
The most annoying thing about Kagawa is that he looks worse every week he plays for us. And yet people say he needs "time to adapt".— Man Utd FF (@ManUtdFF) December 28, 2013
Initially playing from the left of the attack, the Japan international later moved into the hole behind Javier Hernandez as United tinkered with their buildup play. It was precisely the role in which Kagawa excelled at Borussia Dortmund, and while he got little help from Hernandez’s off-the-ball movement, he failed to create a single meaningful opportunity before being summoned to the bench.
It was an exhibition in stark contrast to that of Danny Welbeck, who notched his fourth goal in as many matches to help United to an important victory away from home.
Welbeck, who at times has blown hot and cold for the Red Devils, was sat down by Moyes earlier this month and encouraged to improve his training regimen in order to take his game “to another level,” according to the Telegraph.
And while the 23-year-old has quite clearly responded to the challenge, Kagawa has yet to, in any way, justify the £17 million United paid for his signature in 2012.
Januzaj, who immediately put himself about all over the pitch after being introduced, was an immediate improvement, and if Moyes will have taken anything away from the 1-0 win, it’s that the 18-year-old, or Rooney, or a formation that accommodates Welbeck or any other number of players is considerably more preferable than another deployment of the uninspiring Kagawa.