Manchester United punctuated their dreary start to the season with a hopeful glimmer on Wednesday night as they beat Liverpool 1-0 in the Capitol One Cup. Javier Hernandez netted the winner, but most eyes were busy seeking out a rare glimpse of Shinji Kagawa.
The Japanese playmaker has hardly been sighted in the Premier League this term, despite generally impressing during an injury-hit debut campaign. He failed to get on the pitch at all as the Red Devils crashed to a humiliating 4-1 defeat against Manchester City last weekend.
The party line at Old Trafford is that Kagawa?s workload is being managed due to his participation in the Confederations Cup over the summer, but the view from the outside is that manager David Moyes simply hasn?t taken a liking to the former Borussia Dortmund star.
There are some complicating factors to consider. For one, the presence of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck makes Kagawa?s favoured between-the-lines role difficult to accommodate; for another, he isn?t especially suited to playing on the flanks.
But the biggest indicator that the Kobe native is out of the loop is that Moyes spent most of the summer trying ? and failing ? to sign an attacking midfielder. Perhaps it was in anticipation of Rooney?s possible departure, but there is little doubt Cesc Fabregas or Luka Modric would have leapfrogged Kagawa upon arrival.
Some would say the Bundesliga winner simply doesn?t fit the United shape and system, or that he lacks that electric, charismatic quality required to star in such a prominent role at one of the world?s powerhouse clubs.
Those points aren?t without some validity, but there is a much simpler way to look at it: United?s current approach isn?t really working when it matters, so what are they going to do about it?
In Kagawa they have a seriously talented player who brings a level of creativity and subtlety that is lacking in the likes of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia; and as evidenced when he rattled the crossbar from 20-odd yards against Liverpool on Wednesday, he?s a dangerous customer within sight of goal.
It might be that Moyes and United have to change a few things in order to make it work, or it might be that Kagawa has to adapt to a less-than-ideal position on the wing. Either way, it seems plain that the Red Devils are better off with Shinji on the park than on the pine.