Kagawa was our best attacking player by far in an evening where we were far from our free-flowing best. The Japanese international showed glimpses of the player he is destined to be as he drifted in from the left always looking to create openings and open up the West Ham defence. He was instrumental in both of the goals; first dropping his shoulder to leave James Collins on his backside before squaring to Antonio Valencia, it was his nifty footwork that led to our second equaliser of the night when he weaved out of a tight spot to get a brilliant shot away which hit off the woodwork before Robin van Persie pounced. In both instances Kagawa showed the difference he can make in the final third when playing off the front man but also displayed his ability to be creative from a wide position. He has been deployed on the flank this season simply because our actual wingers have had indifferent campaigns due to poor form, injuries or a combination of the two. Antonio Valencia was better than he has been recently but that isn’t saying much as he has endured an extremely poor season. The Ecuadorian has become predictable and seems to lack confidence when taking players on. He did well to make the run for his goal, his first in a year, but still doesn’t look like the player he was at that time.
Nani and Ashley Young have also struggled this season which has meant Kagawa has had to fill in on the left which hasn’t enabled him to deliver the consistently outstanding performances he showed in the Bundesliga last season. His overall performance was impressive as he often tracked back to help out against a West Ham team that were dangerous on the counter but if we are to see the best of him, he’ll need to be played in his preferred position.
2) Phil Jones becoming the new O’Shea
While we’re on the topic of playing players out of their natural and/or preferred position, a quick word on our number 4. I know he can “do a job” in midfield but he has produced his best performances in a red shirt in defence. It is obvious, even to Fergie now, that we lack bite in the middle of the park but to put Jones in there is unfair as the 21-year-old is more suited to playing in defence.
In the last three games he has started at centre back, right back and in midfield which would be disorientating for a seasoned professional, let alone a relatively inexperienced youngster. Sir Alex has talked him up recently as an “animal for football” and that “he can play anywhere” but those comments came across as a sweetener for Jones to accept his role as the new utility man that the manager likes to have. He had Phil Neville and then, most notably, John O’Shea who filled this role to play in a number of positions which eventually saw both players deprived of a regular starting position as they never had the opportunity to nail down a regular spot in the team.
Jones is in danger of following in their footsteps as the game seemed to pass him by when up against a powerful Mohamed Diame and his positional sense was not as it was against Manchester City. I personally feel, as does the man himself, that Jones is a centre-back and until he gets regular action there, he will also be unable to fulfill his potential at United.
3) Wayne Rooney needs to be dropped
Rooney was rightly brought off by the manager as the England forward grew visibly frustrated with his inability to have an effect on the game and it’s time he is dropped for his lacklustre showings. Granted, he also has been moved around the pitch a lot lately (notice a pattern here?) but the man who is supposed to be after a new contract has to prove his worth if he is to be offered similar terms he is on at the moment. It’s been a strange season for Rooney as his importance to the team has somewhat diminished with the arrivals of Kagawa and van Persie so it seems he is unsure of what his role in this new team is. He played in midfield against Stoke and dropped very deep again against West Ham as United struggled to put sustained pressure on the home side’s defence. Fergie should take the opportunity on Monday to give Rooney a break (regardless of what the press read into it) and give Welbeck the chance to play as a striker which he hasn’t been doing (another victim of the wingers’ form).
4) De Gea can handle a bit of rough and tumble
David De Gea has often been criticised for being unable to deal with crosses and set-pieces but he showed both against West Ham and Stoke that he has grown used to the style of these types of teams and is much more confident when balls come into the box from wide positions. He has been one of our most improved players this term and showed his character when recovering from an assault by Andy Carroll. Luckily, Nemanja Vidic had an ongoing battle with the on-loan Liverpool striker and kept him at bay for the majority of the game. If Vidic had been available last season, De Gea may not have been exposed to the threats from aerial balls that he had been vulnerable to as the captain showed in the last two games that it is a centre-back’s responsibility to protect his goalkeeper from such aggressive advances. The manager singled him out for praise afterwards and the Spaniard is finally getting the plaudits he deserves from those outside the club too.
5) We can win it on Monday
A lot of Reds were understandably unhappy with our display against West Ham but considering we went behind twice and our second equaliser was arguably offside, it was a good point. Also, if City lose to Spurs on Sunday and we overcome strugglers Aston Villa on Monday night, number 20 will be finally in the bag. Smile guys, we’re nearly there.