Pitchside

Kagawa in last-chance saloon at United, but could yet save his career

Pitchside

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Squawka explain why Shinji Kagawa is running out of chances fast at Manchester United, but could yet play a key role in Tuesday's derby.

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Despite the love for Shinji Kagawa among some Manchester United fans, you'd be hard-pressed to find any that would call his Old Trafford career a success.

Things went pear-shaped even before his debut season in England had kicked off: while the plan looked to be Sir Alex Ferguson deploying Kagawa in the creative role behind Wayne Rooney, the shock signing of Robin van Persie left Kagawa with no home in the United starting line-up.

The former Borussia Dortmund playmaker has found game time hard to come by for the Red Devils since his move in the summer of 2012, and Saturday's showdown with West Ham was his first start for United since January 11 against Swansea.

However, the Japan international did enough against the Hammers to suggest that he has a future at United - and could have a vital part to play in the Manchester derby on Tuesday night.

While the absence of the injured Van Persie is a blow for David Moyes, after the Netherlands international's mercurial display against Olympiacos last Wednesday, United did look like a more fluid team without him at Upton Park.

With Kagawa and Juan Mata supporting Rooney on the left and in the middle respectively, and with Ashley Young pulling opponents down the right wing, the front four had the kind of balance and creativity rarely displayed by the reigning Premier League champions this season.

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Kagawa's heat map against the Hammers shows his fondness for drifting inside from the left and linking up in the middle, and he made two of his four key passes in and around the penalty area.

Creative players sometimes have a lower passing accuracy as they search for riskier passes in behind defenders, but Kagawa's success rate of 91 per cent from 56 attempted passes proves that he can keep control of the ball while looking for weak spots behind the opposition's back line.

An average pass length of 15 metres shows his preference for keeping the ball moving rather than in the air, and United looked like a fluid side with Kagawa, Mata and Fletcher all exchanging the ball regularly, with one take-on completed by the Japan international as well.

One area of weakness that has caused Moyes to have reservations over Kagawa's suitability to English football is his defensive game. The 25-year-old has been deployed on the left for Japan and Dortmund as he has a reputation for a high work-rate and an aptitude for tracking back, though United have seen little of that in the Premier League.

Kagawa has vowed to bulk up in the past to cope with the demands of English football, but against the Hammers he had a positive experience.

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The midfielder completed one of two attempted tackles, and won his only attempted header. He completed no defensive actions - an area he still needs to work on - though only Michael Carrick won more of his overall duels than Kagawa did in Saturday's match.

With Van Persie injured for four to six weeks, it really seems like it is now or never for Kagawa's Old Trafford career.

With Manchester City up next on Tuesday night, Moyes may revert to a cautious approach and bench the Japanese playmaker, though with the defence of their title long gone and a Champions League qualification place still a distant hope, it would be refreshing for the beleaguered manager to select the side United can aspire to be, rather than the one they have to be.

Despite City's 5-0 win over Fulham on Saturday and United's humbling at home to Liverpool a weekend ago, plenty of sides have shown this season that Manuel Pellegrini's men have a soft centre, particularly at the back.

It may seem odd to suggest playing an attacking midfielder who has scored and assisted precisely zero goals this season against arguably the title favourites, but Kagawa has had to beg, steal and borrow any minutes he can get from Moyes.

His ability on the ball - with nine of 15 take-ons completed this season - can stretch a defence prone to lapses in concentration, with the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis and Vincent Kompany all seeing red in recent games after being punished by good passing and/or a lack of attention.

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With Van Persie injured, and potentially on his way out this summer should a good deal come along for both the player and the club, the derby is a perfect chance for Kagawa to prove why he can be part of Moyes' side next season. His slick interchanges with Rooney and Mata suggest that he has the skill and temperament to play in a side that places emphasis on retaining possession, with a seasonal average passing accuracy of 88% further backing up that claim.

Much depends on Moyes, and whether he has the courage to select a formation that worked so well against West Ham. And with Van Persie likely to be out of the Champions League quarter-finals against Bayern Munich - watching from the stands alongside a cup-tied Mata - another opportunity will present itself for Kagawa to shine for United, particularly with his knowledge of Die Roten from his time with BVB.

Put simply, Kagawa's time has come. Now the 25-year-old must seize his chance and show that he deserves to stay at Old Trafford. There has never been a better opportunity for Kagawa to display his talents in England, and if Moyes backs the playmaker, both he and United may stand a chance in the Manchester derby.

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