ALEX FERGUSON claims Shinji Kagawa still needs time to adapt to the rigours of English football after admitting that the Japanese midfielder has yet to hit top form at Manchester United.
Kagawa, a £17 million signing from German champions Borussia Dortmund last summer, is expected to start on the bench in Manchester United’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against Reading at Old Trafford on Monday night after the midfielder endured a difficult evening against Real Madrid last Wednesday.
The 23-year-old, who has recently returned from a 10-week knee injury lay-off, was replaced by Ryan Giggs early in the second half against Real after struggling to make an impact in the Champions League last-16 first leg at the Bernabéu.
Despite the midfielder’s search for consistency, Ferguson insisted that it would be next season before Kagawa showed his best form for United.
“The difference between German and English football is that in Germany you can’t foul,” Ferguson said. “You are not allowed to touch anyone in Germany, so he [Kagawa] has come from that environment to the Premier League which is totally different.
“There is a physicality to our game which is different from Germany, but next year he’ll be better. I thought in the first half-hour [against Real] he was terrific and he was making some great runs through them.
"We thought that was going to be one of our biggest assets in the game, someone to play in the second balls and he was just unlucky with a couple of heavy touches on the ball. But he kept on opening them up and if people don’t see that, it’s actually unfair, but he did really well for us in the first half.”
Ferguson is likely to restore the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Ashley Young and Javier Hernández to the team against Reading on Monday night after overlooking those players against Real.
“You have to keep them all contributing and keep them involved,” the manager said. “It isn’t easy because there were a lot of disappointed ¬players on Wednesday and I don’t think anyone expected me to pick that team, but we did and it was OK.
“We could have picked a different team with three different players and if Ryan Giggs hadn’t put that effort in [against Everton] last Sunday, I probably would have played him for his experience. But he did great when he came on, terrific. He has been fantastic, unbelievable, and I don’t know how he does it. It’s incredible.”
Meanwhile, the Reading manager Brian McDermott believes the Premier League is witnessing the repercussions of Manchester United's agonising title failure last season.
Reading go to Old Trafford hoping to ambush United's attempt to repeat their treble success of 1999.
A 12-point lead at in the Premier League points to their coronation as domestic champions after seeing the crown snatched from their fingertips by Manchester City in the dying moments of last season's title race.
McDermott believes the pain felt on the final day of last term has inspired United's position of dominance.
"It's a surprise to see United so far ahead in the Premier League when you look at the calibre of opposition they're up against," he said.
"They're 12 points in front with 12 games to go and Sir Alex Ferguson won't take anything for granted, there's no doubt about that. To move on the way they did from last season, to take that on to the pitch and that hurt, tells you the power of the people there.
"The hurt that day would have given them a tough summer, but you have two ways of going - you either go under as a club or get stronger. United have got stronger."