First of all to old readers, welcome back and I don’t know what the future holds (not that is not a subtle homage to Cristiano) but hopefully it involves having some free time to put in some consistent blogging.
Anyway the year out from blogging has probabbly helped maintain my sanity because United were quite frankly very below par this season, in a league that was in general quite poor once again – despite some proclaiming it as the ‘most exciting ever’.
Yes it was exciting but with all respect, we and the league in general got our asses handed to us by Europe in terms of performance levels albeit Chelsea somehow, unbelievably so managed to defy all realms of logic and hoofballed their way towards a rather unmemorable European Cup triumph which will not be looked back upon fondly by history – unless of course John Terry on retirement becomes footballs answer to Herodotus.
The key problem areas with the english teams that leads them to look so second rate and have to resort to parking the bus at times is the midfield. For some reason (people always talk about it as if its an unsolvable mystery), english teams are always made to look agricultural in midfield and resort to playing on the counter and failing to take the game to the opposition. It hasn’t harmed the likes of Chelsea and United particularly, due to the fact they’re excellent defensively although standards have been slipping in this regard due to ageing stalwarts such as Terry, Ferdinand, Evra, Vidic, Van der Sar, Cech either retiring, being injured or losing a yard of pace/hunger. Nevertheless the lack of good defences in Europe generally at the moment means these two teams are still world class defensively even though even the most casual observer would be capable of telling they’re not particularly performing at a world class level in comparison to say 2007/08.
However this summer has seen both teams try to take the first tentative steps towards evolving and finally adopting the Barcelona style of play. Chelsea have signed Marin and Hazard, whilst already possessing the nimble footwork of Mata and the vastly underrated in terms of technical ability Ramires in their ranks. If administered correctly, they could be dominating possession stats next term and give Man City a run for their money. It’s clear that the desire at Stamford Bridge is to move away from a power based game to a more technical, finesse possession-based style more in line with Abramovic’s vision.
Are United in danger of being left behind? well as it stands, quite frankly we don’t have a midfield capable of winning the CL, far far from it, a midfield which finishes the fourth highest in terms of amount of possession per game in the Premier League ( (57.3%), behind Arsenal (59.6%), Manchester City (57.7%), and Swansea City (57.6%)) doesn’t have a leg to stand on with regards to being able to outplay the likes of Barca, unless of course the footballing goods are smiling on you like they did on Chelsea. But wouldn’t it be nice to actually win the European Cup and be dominant, utterly brilliant and fearless in doing so?
The pursuit of Hazard and Kagawa demonstrates that perhaps finally Fergie has grasped the importance of the fluid midfield and how it correlates to controlling games in modern football and that a move away from wing-dominated thinking is imminent. Or perhaps, Fergie has just been biding his time for the right players to come along at the right prices, I presume its the latter, the great man has never really let us down and usually always clocks on to trends within the game and gets it right eventually.
Why signinng Kagawa is a masterstroke
Statistics (courtesy of ESPN:
Season 2010/11 (International & Club):
- Games Played: 49 (4 as Sub) , Goals: 21 Assists: 10
Season 2011/12 (International & Club):
- Games Played: 31 (1 as Sub) , Goals scored, 17 Assists: 2
There are a number of flaws with the current United midfield. It lacks mobility, it lacks creativity, it lacks goals, it lacks quick thinking and awareness, it lacks bite, it lacks leadership. Look at the list I’ve just given and compare that to the United midfield of 1999-2001.. yep exactly. There were two reasons why that United midfield ticked all the boxes, two reasons why it was so complete that it was capable of matching up to the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus at their peaks. Messers Keane and Scholes, two such different yet complementary players, a dynamic/tough/creative midfield duo which despite the averageness of the strikers in front of it, never allowed United to ever come second best or be embarassed in a game. Yes we’d have a few losses, but I can’t remember many games in which those two at their pomp allowed us to look second rate.. . put it this way, what Athletic Bilbao done to us this year, would simply not have been allowed to happen if Scholes and Keane in their pomp were playing for us in midfield. Both of them were elegent and mobile on the ball, Keane was no Edgar Davids in terms of on the ball talent, but he was good enough on it to never be shy of carrying it even under pressure and this meant him and Scholes could trust each other in tight spots and this in turn encouraged the defenders to always release the ball to them rather than look to play it long or back to the keeper.
What individual attributes would Kagawa bring to this United Side?
So yeah why is Kagawa such a vital signing? well look back at that list of flaws. Anyone that has watched Kagawa closely and there are a few full match complilations of Japan matches on youtube for those who have never had the chance to watch him over a full 90 mins for Dortmund, would no doubt vouch for the following attributes.
1. Mobility (Technique & Agility): On the ball this lad is quite simply brilliant. There are many who were dying over Eden Hazard and many of the same are now ridiculing his talent for choosing Chelsea over us, but in my personal opinion this lad was always the superior signing in terms of what United needed. He has a class and economy on the ball you can’t teach, he doesn’t need to resort to trickery not that he doesn’t have it in his locker – I assure you he does – but he beats players with feints, his two-footedness, close Barcelona-esque dribbling. In addition to this he doesn’t linger on the ball despite being such a good dribbler he’s entitled to, but he knows the right places when to and when not to dribble.
2. Industry: This lad glides across the pitch like a Iniesta and eats up ground for fun. One second he’ll be by the halfway line turning his man and unleashing a 40 yard pass, the next he’s in the box getting on the end of the cross to the winger he just supplied. Hands up if you reckon Anderson has showed as much movement over the course of a season? He never stops moving and whereas someone like Rooney who despite his famed ‘never stops running’doesn’t really have the movement and innate fitness of a true number 10, Kagawa is like a younger Scholes, a player who doesn’t stop trying to make things happen rather than get frustrated at his team mates for not getting him into the game.