Further doubt was cast over United’s ability to secure a top 4 finish or win silverware following the defeats to Tottenham in the Premier League, Swansea in the third round of the FA Cup and Sunderland in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi final tie. Without the services of both Rooney and Van Persie, the Red Devils faced a somewhat daunting task in Swansea, a team that, contrary to what their position in the table might suggest, leads the Premier League in average possession.
In the FA Cup defeat against Swansea, Moyes fielded a two man midfield while playing Welbeck and Hernandez upfront. Laudrup’s side, given the structure of his midfield, had a numerical advantage in the middle of the pitch and were able to dictate the tempo of the game. The Red Devils were beat in the possession battle and their defense was exposed with frightening ease sometimes. Swansea’s midfield trio of Shelvey, Britton, and de Guzman forced Cleverley and Fletcher to play further apart from one another, preventing them from linking up with Welbeck and Hernandez.
On Saturday, however, Moyes returned to his 4-3-3 formation that at times looked more like a 4-2-3-1 with Januzaj then Kagawa later, playing behind Welbeck, in a No. 10 role. Carrick and Fletcher were deployed deeper roles, while Valencia operated on the right wing. In defense, Smalling, who was preferred to Evans, was paired with Vidic while Evra and Rafael played on the flanks.
In desperate need of a win, and in front of a crowd of over 75,000, Moyes’s men delivered a performance that was reminiscent of the Ferguson era, at least in the second half. Thanks to the experience of the Carrick-Fletcher pair, the playmaking ability of Kagawa, the talent of Januzaj, and strikes from Valencia and Welbeck, the Red Devils stopped the free fall and restored confidence ahead of the crucial fixture at Stamford Bridge.
A Tale of Two Halves
During the first half of the match, United looked very much like the team that lacked creativity and failed to score against Newcastle. That day, Alan Pardew relinquished his 4-4-2 system that had beaten Chelsea and Tottenham and brought Anita into the middle of the pitch while leaving Remy alone upfront. This strategy paid off as it forced Van Persie to drop onto Anita, in an attempt to prevent the away side’s domination, and nullified Hernandez’s impact as the designated playmaker of the day. As a result, Newcastle were able to dictate the course of the game and pour some more misery on the Old Trafford faithful.
Against Swansea, Moyes initially played Januzaj in the hole and Kagawa on the left wing but proceeded to a tactical change after halftime that would change the entire course of the match. The change brought Kagawa back in midfield while sending Januzaj back on the wing, where he’s been known to terrorize opposing defenders. Kagawa played behind Welbeck, supported Carrick and Fletcher in central midfield, and played a central role in United’s two tallies.
A First Half of Disappointment
The United coaching staff likes Kagawa’s versatility and consider him an intelligent footballer. However, David Moyes has been reluctant to give him a more central role, instead deploying him on the left wing for the majority of his still young tenure. While Kagawa’s performance against Leverkusen in the Champions League should have served as clear evidence that he belongs in the midfield, he is typically played under the assumption that he will thicken the midfield. On Saturday, Kagawa was ineffective in the first half and failed to jointly operate with Evra. For the first 45 minutes, it looked as if he was doomed to have another bad game.
Kagawa’s frustration was evem visible especially after he fouled Leon Britton while trying to win the ball back.
Following Smalling’s recovery of the ball around midfield, Carrick delivers a pass to Januzaj who in turn gives it to Kagawa. Kagawa, after some maneuvering, easily disposes of Angel Rangel and launches toward goal.
In the meantime, Leon Britton sprints toward Kagawa in an attempt to put pressure on and limit the space around him, while both Januzaj and Welbeck have started run and are at the top of the penalty box.
Kagawa, after a few steps attempts a pass that Welbeck cannot control and that ultimately lands in Ben Davies’s feet.
As versatile as Kagawa might be, it is no secret his best position is behind the striker. And although he successfully played wide left for Japan, the Premier League is a completely different beast, unlike the slow pace of international football, and Kagawa possesses neither Januzaj’s speed nor Valencia’s athleticism. Additionally, he doesn’t possess the defensive mentality to play on the wing in United’s preferred formations.
A Second Half To Remember
In the second half, Kagawa’s presence in midfield, provided Fletcher, one of the best players at finding space with and without the ball, someone to link up effectively. This was crucial in providing Januzaj with opportunities to unleash his wrath on Swansea’s right flank, eventually leading to both of United’s tallies. Let’s look at how influential Kagawa was in United’s first goal.
Fletcher recovers the ball from United’s own half and delivers a long aerial pass to Welbeck who, after a one-two with Kagawa, sprints down the left wing. After playing the ball to Welbeck, Kagawa starts a run towards goal while Januzaj sprints toward Welbeck and is now looking for an interchange.
Januzaj then gives the ball back to Welbeck who passes to Carrick who in turn sends it to Januzaj. The starlet, after a little trickery, delivers a cross that Kagawa attempts to head home but that saved by Tremmel. However, Valencia is able to pounce on the ball and smash it home
While Januzaj was named man of the match, Kagawa’s presence was felt both in the creation and execution of this attacking display that befits a home appearance at Old Trafford. Kagawa’s playmaking ability was once again highlighted on the Red Devils second goal.
Following a corner kick and later on a throw from Tremmel, Kagawa recovers the ball and strolls forward alongside Januzaj.
Kagawa then delivers a pass to Januzaj who crosses and finds Welbeck whose header is blocked by Chico.
However, the Manchester native would later put a flick that rivaled Van Nistelrooy’s elegance, on a Patrice Evra’s shot attempt.
Even after taking a commanding lead, the Red Devils tormented Swansea for the remainder of the second half with Kagawa increasingly influential. On United’s second goal, Kagawa’s anticipation and vision were at full display.
Kagawa’s inconsistency and diminutive stature, in a league dominated by rugged midfielders, might have occasionally explained his presence on the bench. However, it is time that Moyes relinquish whatever plan he has for Kagawa now, and play him the hole.
Moyes was spotted in Cagliari, Phil Neville in Getafe, and other scouts across the Iberian peninsula, in search of reinforcements. However, with the club’s most significant spending likely to be in the summer, it wouldn’t be ill advised to deploy Kagawa in the center and allow him to grow back into what he was at Dortmund.
Courtesy of Inside The Film Room