Once again Ryan Giggs sprung a surprise with his team selection tonight, opting to field two debutants in Tom Lawrence and James Wilson. Shinji Kagawa was selected in a much deeper role tonight alongside Michael Carrick in midfield, and the youthful side was completed with a return to the team for Adnan Januzaj. A new look back four may well be a sign of the future at Old Trafford, with three of the regular back four out of contract in the summer.
New Role for Shinji
Following the poor performance on Saturday against Sunderland, it was clear the midfield needed rejuvenation. As well as the youthful additions to the wide areas, Marouane Fellaini was selected behind James Wilson and Shinji Kagawa was given an unusual role alongside Michael Carrick in the centre of midfield. This new role for Kagawa is one many United fans have been desperate to see this season, especially given the need for more creativity in midfield and the increasing number of so-called ‘number 10s’in the squad.
It was interesting to see the Japanese international in this role, which I believe brings far more to the team than the partnership of Fletcher and Carrick. Kagawa provides more guile and precision in and around the penalty area than Fletcher, and has the ability to ‘pick the lock’against tightly packed defences like Hull’s. His link up play tonight was solid if not spectacular, but what was clearly on display was his ability to pass and move on the edge of the box and link up with the offensive players in the side. Having Fellaini in front of him it provided a big target for Kagawa to play the ball into and receive it from, as well as seeing the Belgian absorb a lot of the physicality that has so often hindered him in his United career. Having said all that, he needs to have a far greater impact on the game that he did tonight if he wants to make that position his own. One definite positive was his impact on Michael Carrick. Kagawa’s desire to roam and search for the ball allowed Carrick to sit deep and dictate play with very little pressure on him. It is something I’ve mentioned many times before this season, but United cannot afford to play with two holding midfielders at all times, especially at home against smaller sides. With Kagawa playing in the deep position, the overall tempo of United’s attack was faster, with far more attacking variety than what was on offer on Saturday against Sunderland. Having said that, it wasn’t difficult to improve on that performance.
James Wilson, goal machine?
Followers of United’s youth teams this season will already have known about James Wilson’s potential going into the game this evening. His performance however surpassed all expectations, grabbing two goals and genuinely putting a case forward for a role in the first team squad on a regular basis next season. His goals were that of a typical poacher, both in the penalty area, both reacting to the ball before the opposition. His first goal in particular was a very tidy finish. When you assess our striking options, he provides something we don’t really have, especially if the rumours are to be believed and Javier Hernandez leaves this summer. Young Wilson looks to have the makings of a typical number 9, and his stats for the evening back that up. Whereas Rooney, van Persie and Welbeck look to drop deep, move out wide and generally play with a real sense of freedom, Wilson remained within the width of the 18 yard box and was always the focal point to United attacks.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and two goals in a game against a Hull City side with very little to play for does not mean James Wilson should be given the number 9 shirt and expected to score 20 league goals next season, but tonight we saw the first glimpse of a future United striker.
Changing of the guard
Away from the tactical side of tonight’s performance, it felt like the end of an era at Old Trafford. Nemanja Vidic played his last game at the Theatre of Dreams and it may well turn out to be the last of almost 1000 appearances for Ryan Giggs as a Manchester United player. In Tom Lawrence, James Wilson and Adnan Januzaj, the club has showed its ability to blood youngsters and do what so little top clubs do in this day and age – consistently produce quality young footballers. Every Red would like to take the time to thank Ryan Giggs and Nemanja Vidic for their service to the club, but even as they walked down the tunnel for the last time, there is a feeling that something great might just be around the corner.
By Adem Berkay
Like our page on Facebook
Come and discuss this article in our Forum