United's rising son shows slick finishing skill in Norwich win
Three of a kind: Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa scores a hat-trick against Norwich on Saturday at Old Trafford. photograph: darren staples/reuters
Manchester Utd (1) Real Madrid (1):It was back in May 2009 when Shinji Kagawa, then playing for Cerezo Osaka against Mito HollyHock, last celebrated a hat-trick. But nearly four years on, his repetition of that feat in a Manchester United shirt carried far greater significance.
In becoming the first Asian player to score three goals in a Premier League game the midfielder made the most eloquent of cases for inclusion in Alex Ferguson’s starting line-up for tomorrow’s Champions League tie against Real Madrid at Old Trafford. Michael Carrick has warned that United must “play a complete game”, against consummate counterattacking opponents and last summer’s €13.9 million import from Borussia Dortmund hopes to help them do so.
“My hat-trick will be huge news in Japan,” acknowledged Kagawa. “But they are really looking forward to the Real Madrid game, that’s what I’m aiming for as well.”
Supremacy on the break
With Phil Jones’s ankle injury set to sideline him against Real, Kagawa seems likely to be granted his wish. If so it will be intriguing to see whether United’s manager tries to counter the supremacy on the break that has enabled Real to beat Barcelona twice in the space of the past week with the formational shift displayed here.
It might have been a red herring, an attempt to pull some tactical wool over José Mourinho’s eyes, but there is a strong case for Ferguson again deploying the essentially 4-3-3 system he utilised for the first time this season against Norwich City.
Dispensing with the 4-2-3-1 he has often favoured lately, the Scot switched to a fluid configuration that has the added benefit of being able to morph seamlessly into a more defensive 4-3-2-1 or even 4-5-1 when required. It is also much easier to confuse opponents by freqently flicking from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 and back again than to make the same rapid alterations with 4-2-3-1 as the basic default system.
Norwich’s failure to unleash a single shot probably said more about Chris Hughton’s containment policy than United’s shape. Even so the midfield trio of Carrick, Anderson and Kagawa, operating behind Antonio Valencia, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, offered the home team such a formidable amalgam of solidity and attacking threat that at one point Robert Snodgrass engaged Hughton in an animated touchline debate that, judging by the Norwich creator’s despairing gesticulations, looked to be about the difficulty of identifying chinks in United’s armour.
Snodgrass is highly talented but not remotely in Cristiano Ronaldo’s league. The challenge facing Ferguson is to find a way of subduing his former prize asset while allowing not only Kagawa to attack from deep but Rooney to concentrate on being a forward.
After sacrificing his own invention for the overall team effort in Madrid, Rooney did far more than merely shoot United’s accomplished, dipping fourth goal over a startled Mark Bunn from outside the area. An afternoon on which he was definitely not required to play in Van Persie’s shadow saw Rooney briefly annoy both the Dutchman and Ferguson after shooting wastefully when Van Persie was better placed. That though was a rare aberration.
Instead Rooney soon showed off his selfless side in creating the second goal for Kagawa. A second assist was chalked next to the Liverpudlian’s name after a move initiated by Kagawa and Danny Welbeck concluded with Rooney cueing up the Japanese for a shot dinked, delightfully, over the goalkeeper.
Its creator trusts it is a sign that he and United are approaching individual and collective zeniths. “The age  I’m at now is the time when most players start to peak,” said Rooney.
Withdrawn after 66 minutes, Van Persie, nonetheless, assisted in Kagawa’s opening goal.
After a pivotal performance Michael Carrick’s thoughts had turned to the crunch Champions League encounter.
“Madrid played some textbook counterattacking football against Barcelona last week That’s their strength. We can’t be too gung ho so it’s about taking our chances . . . We have to play the complete game,” said the United linchpin.