Kagawa could be handed crucial playmaker role
Moyes ready to unleash Old Trafford's forgotten man in 'No 10' slot
David Moyes has rarely trusted Shinji Kagawa this season, often dropping the 25-year-old attacking midfielder first after a poor result or team performance.
But, with Juan Mata ineligible and Robin van Persie sidelined with a knee injury, the former Borussia Dortmund playmaker is under consideration for a key role in tonight's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Bayern Munich.
Kagawa has been on the winning side in each of his four matches against the German champions and the Manchester United manager suggested that may work in his favour. "It is something we seriously considered," Moyes said. "Shinji is a really important player for us. He gives us something different and he is certainly in our thoughts for the game."
The fact that Kagawa's place against Bayern is not guaranteed highlights the manager's doubts about the midfielder and the quandary facing him about the approach United must take against Bayern. If Moyes is prepared to be bold, Kagawa's impressive performances during the recent victories over West Ham and Aston Villa would ensure his place in the No 10 role behind Wayne Rooney.
But Bayern's power in midfield may force Moyes to go for numbers in the centre of the pitch, resulting in Kagawa's flair and vision being sacrificed in favour of a more workmanlike axis of Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Marouane Fellaini.
Kagawa has appeared in less than half of United's 47 games this season, with those close to the player claiming that his mild-mannered persona prevents him from going public with his genuine frustration at being consistently overlooked by Moyes.
Ever since a group of Borussia Dortmund supporters launched a "Free Shinji" campaign in August – an effort to persuade Dortmund to take him back to Germany in January – the £17m signing has struggled for the game time to persuade Moyes of his worth.
When United lost at home to West Brom in September, he was withdrawn at half-time and singled out by Moyes for his apparently underwhelming performance. Yet there has been a pattern to Kagawa's eye-catching performances in a United shirt and the fact that his return to form has coincided with Van Persie's injury should not go unnoticed. Last season, Kagawa thrived when playing behind Van Persie or Rooney, but he proved peripheral when both forwards played, as a result of being consigned to the flanks.
On the wing, Kagawa struggles to make an impression, but his impact from a central role – his pass which led to United's penalty against Villa emphasised his destructive capabilities through the middle – gave weight to claims last season by Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp that the player is best used in the No 10 role. "Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United – on the left wing," Klopp said.
Touch maps from the West Ham and Villa games show Kagawa's heavy involvement when playing centrally and, under Klopp, he claimed 17 goals from that position in his final season at Dortmund, inspiring the club to a domestic double.
With Mata arriving at Old Trafford for such a hefty fee in January, however, his days at Old Trafford appeared to be numbered.
However, if Moyes trusts him against Bayern, Kagawa may just give United the cutting edge that could, perhaps, give the German champions something to worry about it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
THREE KEY BATTLES
Büttner v Robben
Dutch left-back Alexander Büttner (25) has his work cut out against his vastly more experienced compatriot Arjen Robben, who has been integral to Bayern's stunning form.
The stylish winger, capped 73 times by his country, has scored 10 goals, assisted in five others and created 40 chances for Pep Guardiola's side in the Bundesliga this season.
Fellaini v Kroos
Marouane Fellaini, who has struggled to justify his £27.5m price tag since joining United, will be trying to contain one of the most dynamic midfielders in Europe in Toni Kroos.
The 24-year-old has been heavily linked to a move to Old Trafford, although Bayern insist the player, whose current contract ends in summer 2015, will not be leaving the club.
Kagawa v Lahm
Shinji Kagawa, having performed well against Villa on Saturday, will attempt to get beyond the defensive covering of Philipp Lahm.
Lahm has been described by Guardiola as "the most intelligent player I have ever trained in my career" and the versatile 30-year-old, who has won 105 caps for Germany, has switched to a holding role in midfield for Bayern this season.
MANCHESTER UTD V BAYERN MUNICH, LIVE, TV3/ITV, 7.45