While the implementation of Louis Van Gaal's 3-4-1-2 formation has given Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata the opportunity to all share the field, Japanese attacker Shinji Kagawa has been left largely out of the fray by this transformation.
With only one attacking midfielder built into Van Gaal's system, Kagawa seems to be behind Mata and Adnan Januzaj in the pecking order.
Replacing the left and right attacking midfield positions, where Kagawa was also capable of playing, are the left and right wing-back positions. This role requires the player to be highly adept on both sides of the field, built for players such as Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, and, per ESPN FC, the newly arrived Marcos Rojo. Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard could also see time there as well.
Aside from preferring to play in a more central role, Kagawa is not nearly defensively sound enough to be used in the wing-back role, averaging just one tackle and 0.9 interceptions per game last season (per WhoScored).
Contrarily, Antonio Valencia averaged 1.7 tackles, 1.3 interceptions, and 1.3 fouls per game in the previous campaign. Though the last statistic may be a little concerning, it shows that Valencia is willing to play physically, a characteristic Kagawa seldom shows.
With his skittish defensive play and lack of comfortability on the wings, Kagawa will almost certainly not feature in the wing-back role this season.
However, what the Japanese international lacks in defensive ability he is often able to hide with his attacking prowess when played in the right role. He is a tidy dribbler, an able finisher and a pinpoint passer, able to hit teammates on the run with precise through balls.
In his debut season at United (2012/13), he posted three assists and six goals on only 21 shots and looked to be a future star towards the end of the campaign.
Often played as a true winger or wide attacking midfielder the following season, Kagawa took a step back, again posting three assists but contributing zero goals in 14 starts.
Though it is evident that Kagawa possesses talent, he is currently merely a squad player for United, as it is going to be hard for him to displace Mata and Januzaj.
An alternate route for Kagawa could be as a central midfielder. While he probably doesn't offer enough defensive support to play in a two-man midfield alongside Darren Fletcher or Ander Herrera, a spot for him in a three-man midfield is plausible. If Van Gaal should choose to switch to a 4-3-3, Kagawa could reinvent himself as a deep-lying playmaker a la Luka Modric.
Ultimately, barring formational changes from Van Gaal or injuries to Adnan Januzaj or Juan Mata, Kagawa's prospects of earning a regular spot in the team this season look bleak.
Stats and information from WhoScored.com and ESPNFC was used in this article
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