Why Shinji Kagawa Was Manchester United's Best Player Against Norwich

Terry CarrollContributor IIIMarch 2, 2013

Shinji Kagawa
Shinji KagawaMichael Regan/Getty Images

With 15 minutes to go, the Stretford End seemed in no doubt that Manchester United's best player against Norwich City was Michael Carrick.

For the second game running, United's most loyal supporters sang the midfielder's name lustily. And even after Shinji Kagawa had transformed a match characterised by a lacklustre first half, they still sang on.

It is a mark of achievement for both players that the supporters have never given up on either. To watch these two players today was to witness the two world-class performances on the day.

Both players are quiet and unassuming, but both vindicated their manager's unwavering belief with performances that would have graced any team in any league.

While nobody will ever forget Roy Keane, maybe they now understand that Carrick is a very different kind of player, much better suited to an era where you can no longer confidently tackle an opponent.

Carrick is a Rolls-Royce in midfield when he is allowed to be. Some supporters may be uninspired by what he does. They will never be pleased until United start lumping the ball forward hopefully or all 10 outfield players can run defences ragged.

Carrick was simply magnificent for the whole 96 minutes actually played. His stats showed that he made 129 passes with a 94 percent success rate. 

Frankly, it doesn't matter that some of them were sideways or backwards because he hardly ever puts a foot wrong. 

While United started so hesitantly that they didn't have a single attack worthy of mention for over 20 minutes, by that time Michael had hit three scything passes that cut through Norwich's defence like a knife. It wasn't his fault that his colleagues failed to make anything of them.

Indeed, until injury time in the first half, Carrick's was the only shot of any merit, bringing a diving save from the endlessly irritating Mark Bunn.

Too many players under par

If you look at the result or the cold, hard statistics in the paper tomorrow, you could be lulled into believing that this was a stroll for United.

They actually made it mighty hard work for 80 percent of the match.

Roberto Mancini has made himself look foolish in referring to Manchester United's luck in securing what tonight is once again a 15-point lead.

To put the lie to that you only had to watch this match.

United have conceded three goals in their last nine matches. That's not luck.

Norwich had just one goal attempt that Martin skyed over. That's not luck.

Shinji Kagawa scored three clinical goals from just three chances. That's not luck.

What should worry City, if they were watching this match, is that United had three players who were well below par and yet won this match at a canter.

OK, so Sir Alex Ferguson put the fear of God in his players after they blew an eight-point lead last season. "Remember how this feels..."

And more than ever before, his mantra match after match is the next match...and the next match.... Taking each one as it comes, with talk of titles and Trebles banished from the dressing room.

There is no doubting that all members of the surprisingly strong team the manager put out today were trying their socks off. But if three of them can be below the high standards they set themselves and the team registers a 4-0 win, City should concede the title right now.

The other thing that should worry City is that Sir Alex is still experimenting with his side and trying to play some members into form.

Despite what you might read elsewhere and a goal that would be described anywhere as world-class, Wayne Rooney was pretty ordinarily today. 

Yes, he gets the credit for a couple of assists which were utterly unselfish, but he lost the ball or gave it away time and again.

Luckily, his shortcomings were once again overshadowed by Anderson's woefully inept performance. 

Sir Alex started with Carrick and Anderson, presumably because he will play Tom Cleverley alongside his best midfielder in the Real Madrid match.

Long before Cleverley's arrival, the crowd were desperately pleading for his introduction, with the team clinging on to a slender one-goal lead.

In fact, another reason why Carrick comes so close to man of the match is because for much of the period before, he had to run midfield pretty much on his own.

Some people may refer to the lauded Norwich ex-Leeds midfield players making it easy for him. The overlooked truth is that Carrick makes it easy for himself. He carves out space for himself and, even when the crowd is drawing breath, still manages to slip the ball to a colleague.

Anderson, on the other hand, was shockingly bad. There is little else to add. He had a couple of bursts through the middle, but whatever his desperation to stay at United, surely Nick Powell or the aging maestro Giggs must be a better option.

Somewhat surprisingly after his injury and pending the Real Madrid match, Robin van Persie not only played, but was once again under par.

It is very easy to conclude that, whatever the risks, Sir Alex simply must play him every match because resting him is counter-productive to him maintaining his form.

If he had been at his sharpest against Madrid, the tie could be all but over. Now even Luis Suarez has skated past him in his quest for the Golden Boot.

His day could be summed up by yet another knock and two awful, skyed shots from his usually reliable left peg.

Shinji Kagawa is in the room

While Kagawa scored an uncomplicated opening goal after Van Persie miscued, he was not nailed on to be MVP until he finished his hat-trick with three minutes to go.

Nevertheless, from fairly early in the match his class started to show.

Nominally he was on the left wing, but Sir Alex is canny enough to give him game time to find his form and to let him play where he wanted. Patrice Evra was so good that Kagawa was hardly ever missed down the left flank.

But on the form he showed today he could very quickly become Manchester United's Lionel Messi.

Frankly, he looked more clinical than either Van Persie or Chicharito at their best in the way he finished his three goals. The third was an utterly composed and sublime chip over the keeper into the far corner.

If Michael Carrick is the Rolls-Royce in midfield, Kagawa seems to simply glide over the ground, so exquisite is his movement.

Sir Alex has managed to sign a growing number of intelligent players in recent years. That must surely be one of the hallmarks of United's renaissance.

Let's be clear. Kagawa is a very clever player. Van Persie is and so is Rooney. It takes time to get on a wavelength with new playing colleagues, especially when you speak Japanese.

But what the little maestro does talk is the language of football. Everything he does is economically precise.

There were other solid performances in what had started out as an uninspiring United performance despite Norwich's lack of threat.

Nemanja Vidic was a giant in defence, and Jonny Evans replicated his form so far this season. Chris Smalling came out of the doldrums to be not only secure down the right flank, but also put over several excellent crosses.

Patrice Evra was at his very best, and Valencia was close to it.

But on a day when United only had eight players firing on all cylinders, Norwich, their lumbering centre-forward and their largely ex-Leeds United midfield were simply brushed aside.

The conductor of the orchestra was contender for player of the season Michael Carrick. But the standout was the Japanese maestro Shinji Kagawa.

Welcome, Kagawa San. May you truly become great at Old Trafford.


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