A couple of Gameweeks into the new season and Sir Alex Ferguson has been tinkering with his up front options already, handing Fantasy managers plenty to consider. For the weekend visit of Fulham, the United boss retained just one of his four attacking players –Shinji Kagawa – from the side that lost to Everton in Gameweek 1; a sign, perhaps, of what may unfold over the campaign.
There’s little doubt Kagawa has settled quickly into his new surroundings. With his manager admitting the idea of starting both Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie for the Fulham match was “too much of a risk” due to fitness issues, the Japanese star was an automatic selection for the role in “the hole” against Martin Jol’s side.
Prior to the match against the Cottagers, Ferguson lavished praise upon Kagawa, indicating he expects a significant attacking contribution from the Japanese star over the course of the current campaign:
I would also include Shinji Kagawa in the [goalscoring] mix because he is very much an attacking player, nominally from midfield but perfectly capable of taking a front role. One thing for sure is that he will add a scoring dimension if he plays central midfield, as he showed last season for Borussia Dortmund. We have been low on goals from midfield in recent seasons. There was a time when Bryan Robson would give you a dozen through the centre of the park and Paul Scholes in his heyday was good for 10 or so but lately we haven’t seen that kind of tally.I believe that Kagawa will put that right, which with the addition of Van Persie to the team, should ensure that we don’t lose any more titles on goal difference.
With Rooney now ruled out for the next few matches with a thigh injury, Kagawa could be set to forge a partnership with Van Persie up front for United – as a result, we take a look at the club’s first two matches to ascertain just where, if any, the difference lay in the respective performances.
Looking at the average position map from the two games, the similarity between Kagawa and Rooney at Everton is striking. In the Goodison encounter (left), Kagawa (26) and Rooney (10) were almost in identical positions when in possession – the latter’s propensity to drop back and influence the game from a deeper position dampened the side’s attacking edge. Nani (17) also played a part here, too; starting on the right wing, the Portuguese star continually came inside when on the ball, affording Kagawa little space to dictate matters in “the hole”.
Compared to the Fulham game (right), the difference is obvious. Antonio Valencia (7) hogged the touchline far more than Nani managed at Everton, while Robin Van Persie (20) took up a more advanced position than Rooney in the lone forward role. These two factors combined allowed Kagawa a far greater in the middle of the park and afforded United a superior attacking edge. Indeed, Kagawa’s average position against Fulham is the same as Rooney’s at Everton; a definite sign that the two are perhaps too similar in style to play together as effectively as Kagawa and Van Persie or Rooney and Van Persie.
Kagawa and Rooney
Despite his side having less of the ball against Fulham in comparison to Everton (60.1% v 70% possession), Kagawa managed to register slightly more touches per minute (1.0 to 1.1) against the Cottagers. He also received exactly the same number of passes per minute (1.4) in both games, though his overall totals are obviously affected by the game time in each match –he played the full 90 minutes against the Toffees but made way for Rooney on 67 minutes on Saturday. Regardless of who he plays alongside up front, the Japanese star is likely to see the same amount of the ball, going by the stats so far.
|Kagawa (eve)||Kagawa (FUL)||Rooney (FUL)||Van Persie (FUL)||Rooney (eve)|
Rooney’s stats, on the other hand, vastly differ over the two games. Against Everton as the lone frontman, he had a touch every 1.3 minutes and received a pass every 1.9 minutes but, coming on as a direct replacement for Kagawa, he failed to impress in “the hole” alongside Van Persie. The game seemed to pass by the United number 10 – with a touch every 3.3 minutes and a pass received every 4.3 minutes, his arrival failed to have the desired effect.
A look at Van Persie’s stats against Fulham highlights the difference in his interpretation of the lone forward role – he had less of a desire to drop back like Rooney against Everton and was resultantly far less involved in the overall play with a touch every 2.2 minutes and a pass received every 3.3 minutes. With more space afforded to Kagawa as a result of Van Persie and Valencia’s presence, the Japanese playmaker managed four shots in the Fulham match, whereas against Everton he failed to register a single attempt.
Nani and Valencia
The battle for the right wing berth is just as pertinent a point. As the respective average position maps highlight, Valencia clearly offers a better balance on the flank and the stats more than back this up. Against Everton, Nani saw the ball once every 1.4 minutes – while that’s not too dissimilar to Valencia’s 1.1 minutes per touch against Fulham, it’s where the likeness ends. Nani made just 28 touches in the Toffees final third over his 78 minutes at Goodison; half Valencia’s 56 in the win over Fulham.
Indeed, the latter was United’s main out ball in the attacking zone against the Cottagers – he received 40 passes and made 29 successful passes in the final third; Nani’s Goodison stats are 16 and 12 respectively, a significant difference.
|Mins/Touch||Final 3rd Tch||Pass Rcvd Final 3rd||Succ Pass Final 3rd||Crosses||Chances Created|
The maps below represent the position of origin of each chance created in each of United’s two games so far. The lack of creativity on the right at Everton (left) differs vastly from the Fulham match (right) with Valencia on the flank, with United failing to provide a single scoring opportunity down the right at Goodison. The latter produced 14 crosses against Fulham compared to Nani’s eight at Everton and Valencia also created three goalscoring opportunities in Saturdays’ win – Nani failed to make a single “key pass” against Moyes’ men.
Nani’s lack of defensive awareness is another factor here and one which could play a part in Ferguson’s thinking. The Portuguese star’s tendency to drift centrally when on the ball resulted in 14 of Everton’s 18 crosses coming from the Toffees left flank, with the likes of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar benefiting from Nani’s wayward positioning. Fulham, on the other hand, were reduced to just five of their 13 crosses from the same wing with Valencia and Rafael limiting the attacking potential of John Arne Riise and Alex Kacaniklic in comparison. Furthermore, when it comes to goalscoring opportunities, Everton created six from the left on Monday, while Fulham managed just two at the weekend, despite having far more of the ball against United than the Toffees.
The stats certainly suggest that right now, on form at least, Valencia is a far more productive option on the right than Nani and with Kagawa’s partnership alongside Van Persie up front looking strong, Rooney’s injury certainly takes one difficult decision out of Ferguson’s hands.
*The Technical Area is put together using the statistics and maps available in our members area. For access to such data and tools on every player, team and match of the 2012/13 season, and for exclusive members articles like this, click here for details.
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For Gameweek 38
- van Persie
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