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Absent without leave: Where in the world are Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata?

Sep 24, 2013, 7:03 AM EDT

Chelsea's manager Mourinho prepares to bring on substitute Mata during their Champions League soccer match against Basel at Stamford Bridge in London Reuters

Four games into the Premier League season, there are many storylines, questions, concerns, surprises and talking points surrounding each team.

With new managers, we see them taking a squad they have been handed and mold it to the best of their ability into a squad that is theirs, something they can call their own.  Managers love to make their mark on a team, so that they can not only exploit their own strengths, but take as much credit for any subsequent success as possible.

However, some go too far in trying to make a squad their own.  Certain decisions go beyond the realm of “bettering the squad” and cross into the void of obvious squad tinkering for the sole purpose of making a statement.

To me, there are no managerial decisions more shocking thus far than David Moyes and Jose Mourinho banishing Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata to the depths of their respective squads.

What Moyes and Mourinho have done is take arguably their most creative players and break them.

Juan Mata:

“I think Jose is searching for his team. After their defeat to Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday, I questioned whether Mourinho knew his best starting XI; If you look at the players they’ve got and the opportunities he’s got to change it, I can’t understand – and neither can anyone in football – why Juan Mata isn’t starting.” -Jamie Redknapp, Sky Sports and Daily Mail pundit

Jose Mourinho has decisively – and publicly – excluded the Spaniard from his squad this entire season. He hasn’t been totally absent, starting two matches against Aston Villa and Everton.  However, a closer examination of those matches show he was clearly utilized incorrectly, thrown to the wolves so Mourinho could justify his decision to bench the 25-year-old.

Last season Mata was selected as Chelsea’s Player of the Season by both the fans and the players. He was nominated for Young Player of the Year. And he was selected to the PFA Team of the Season.

Now? Let’s revisit the Aston Villa match from back on August 21st.  With fellow attacking midfielder Oscar also in the lineup, Mata was shoved over onto the wing…at least, that’s what the teamsheets said. In actuality, Mata was a lost man on the pitch.  Have a peek at Oscar’s passing dashboard.  There is a clear, direct purpose to his play, and an attacking mindset.  25 of his 63 passes were in the attacking third, and 26 of his passes went forward.

Now look at Mata’s dashboard. Certainly doesn’t look like a right winger to me. Not only is he spread out all over the pitch, but there’s no purpose to his play. He went 47-of-49 passing, nice. But a closer look shows only 8 of his passes were in the attacking third (and both his misses), and just 9 went forward.  Where’s the creativity? Needless to say, he created no chances to Oscar’s 2. Mata was substituted off in the 65th minute.

Not only is Mata being used sparingly, but when he’s on the pitch he’s being completely misused. Mourinho said he wants Mata to “adapt” to the way “we (Mourinho) want to play.” Adapt? Yes, let’s remold a Team of the Season member to something he isn’t.  That seems logical.

But don’t worry everyone. Mourinho’s going to be playing Mata against Swindon Town midweek in the Capital One Cup, so that should make up for it. Clearly.

Shinji Kagawa:

“Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United — on the left wing. My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes.” -Jurgen Klopp, manager of Borussia Dortmund back in May.

Someone call Harry Potter – Shinji Kagawa’s stolen his invisibility cloak.

A player who was not so long ago a prized possession of a Borussia Dortmund squad reaching new heights at a meteoric pace, Kagawa has since vanished.

source: ReutersIt has been a disappearance of much less publicity than in Mata’s case, making it all the more baffling.  We saw Sunday at the Etihad a Manchester United squad not only with an aging defense prone to speed, but a monstrous black hole in the middle of their attack.

United’s midfield of Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, and Wayne Rooney certainly have their strengths, but with Vincent Kompany latched onto the hip of Rooney the entire match – like white on rice, as they say – it was void of any creativity. Rooney was isolated, stranded on an island, and Kompany pounced on the opportunity to lock his man down.

Against Manchester City, do you know how many times Danny Welbeck received the ball in the penalty area? It happened three times. Do you know how many times Wayne Rooney received the ball in the penalty area? Twice.

Kagawa can pass just as well as Carrick. He can score goals – he bagged 28 in 65 matches with Broussia Dortmund. What Manchester United are missing is Kagawa’s dribbling abilities.

They couldn’t break down Manchester City’s defense partly because they didn’t have anybody on the pitch with the right key to the vault.  They couldn’t pass their way through that defense, with the central midfield trio going 63-of-84 (75%) in the attacking third.  They sure as heck could have used someone to slice the back four open with a good run or two on the ball.  Kagawa.

Here’s a suggestion: Ashley Young was an atrocity on the wing to finish last season, and has been more of the same this year.  Why not replace him on the left side with Danny Welbeck, pair Rooney and Kagawa in the middle, and keep Fellaini to hold behind them? Sure, it’s an attacking lineup, and you lose Carrick’s passing and defense, but the 32-year-old only made two tackles and one interception against City, is that really a major loss? Rooney and Kagawa feeding Robin van Persie is a salivating prospect.

At the very least rotate Kagawa and Rooney. With the mercurial English playmaker out due to injury, Moyes instead turned to the most overrated player in the Premier League in Tom Cleverley. United proceeded to lose 1-0 at Anfield.

If the 4-1 loss to their bitter rivals wasn’t enough of a wake-up call for Moyes, I’m not exactly sure what will change his mind.

Ultimately, it’s the manager’s decisions.  The sad part is, the longer this continues, the more broken Mata and Kagawa, and watching the talent these two possess rot on the bench is more than sad – it’s outrageous.

So whose absence do you think is the more egregious error by their manager? Or do you think Moyes and Mourinho are actually making the right decision?

  1. kurtisdimac - Sep 24, 2013 at 8:15 AM

    You are spot on, I thought that i was the only one who saw that there was a massive gap between the attackers and the central midfielders for Man u. They were so flat and square, so by the time they were able to support the attack, rooney lost out to Kompany or the defence was already set, and all they could do is play diagonal balls to the wingers right in front of the wing balls behind or through the defence at all. Reminds me of the crazy thing fergie did when they played Barcelona in the CL finals..left the middle empty as hell for Barcelona to run riot…

    But thought rooney could have come deeper or stepped away from Kompany..a defenders delight..a forward stuck up the pitch on his own with no movement.
    But regarding the starting side, why not stick rooney on the left, Kagawa behind Welbeck and valencia on the right? To start..or even drop wellbeck and start Kagawa behind rooney with Nani on the left. Also you are right, the change was pathetic. It seems more like it was damage limitation. I would have taken off Young and Carrick and thrown on Hernandez and Kagawa and send rooney to the left and welbeck and hernandez up front. If that didn’t work then I’d take off valencia and throw on Nani..i mean anything that signals an intent. They would be attacking now, 4-0, 6-0 what’s the difference?
    Instead he brings on a player to take over Fellani’s role and try to push him up the field (Fellani), trying to play him like when he was back at everton. Talk about a lack of ideas or stubbornness…He will either have to learn fast, or he’ll be kicked to the curb.

    Jose just is a bitter and spiteful person. He might not even like matta because he is spanish. It just doesn’t make sense at all..we’ll see if he’ll get away with it..Crazy not to use a player’s talent but instead trying to fit a round ball in to a square peg..

    • jmtay14 - Sep 25, 2013 at 2:35 PM

      Moyes prefers Young and Valencia to Kagawa and Nani because Young and Valencia track back and have a good defensive work-rate (usually). Moyes didn’t select a team to beat city, he selected a team to absorb pressure and break on the counterattack. In theory, an attacking four or Welbeck, Rooney, Young and Valencia breaking up the wings and center at speed could be effective if City over-committed their midfield into the attack. Moyes’ failure was not in his initial selection or strategy, it was his decision not to make any major changes during the second half (an attacking substitution). After the first goal, United didn’t work as hard…. After the second, they quit. Four goals was excessive and given the fact that there were some key starting eleven absences and it was at the Etihad, I don’t think the score accurately describes the quality in either team.

      After playing on Sunday, many of the derby players will be unavailable for purely fitness reasons, we may see Kagawa or Nani start against Liverpool but we probably won’t see both at the same time because of their defensive deficiencies. It will be nice to have Rafael back in the lineup, his contributions are under-appreciated and he really does a lot to make us a better side. As for Tom Cleverley, I would enjoy seeing him partner Fellaini in the center; Clev and Carrick are too similar and we need a defensive mid, not two distributors.

  2. dfstell - Sep 24, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    The thing is that United have some depth. The point isn’t to determine “The Best Starting XI” for United, because that should be changing week-to-week based on form and fitness. SAF rotated the squad a lot and Moyes should do the same, so why are we not seeing Kagawa more?

    One thing about Kagawa is that he does seem to wilt badly after about 50 minutes. Maybe he just doesn’t have the conditioning for the helter-skelter style of the EPL? Not saying he doesn’t work hard in training….I’m sure he does….but some guys just can’t be conditioned to making continual 40 yard sprints. He might be happier in a more technical league like Spain or Italy.

    • renhoekk2 - Sep 24, 2013 at 10:32 AM

      Any player who played as infrequently as Kagawa will not be 100% fit. The one thing that keeps this guys in top shape is playing 90 mins.

    • nussdorferac - Sep 24, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      Considering BVB play at the most frenetic level of any team in the world, I think it’s fair to say Kagawa could manage to keep up.

      Also, how can you tell he wilts after 50 minutes? He never plays.

    • nobert88 - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:32 PM

      He didn’t recover from (the) flu when he played vs Leverkusen, I could tell that from his voice after the match interview aired in Japan (I’m currently in Tokyo on business).

      Btw, Kagawa was No.1 in the Bundesliga for running average is 12.36km per game
      Usually, In the later second half, United tend to play long-ball tactics bypassing midfield. This is one of the reasons why he becomes anonymous.

  3. medic0nduty - Sep 24, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    When Moyes made only one substitution in the Derby, to bring on Cleverly, that action showed a lot. First, it really drove home that Kagawa isn’t part of his plans at United as players like Cleverly are getting the nod over him. Second, it showed a disturbingly stubborn side to Moyes; Kagawa was, without a doubt, the best attacking creative player he had on the bench, yet he completely ignores him.

    I personally feel Kagawa should get out of United as soon as he can if this is the attitude Moyes has, because if this is how Moyes actually feels than poor Shinji is going to be wasting his talent there. The quote from Klopp really drives this home.

  4. renhoekk2 - Sep 24, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    The crazier thing about both situations is that both managers obviously knew where these two players stood with their respective squads and neither manager sold them during the transfer window. Why not sell them off and bring in someone you actually want on your squad?

  5. unclemosesgreen - Sep 24, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    Valencia was the worst player on the pitch for the Manchester derby – I’d like to see he and Ashley Young sit against top competition, with Nani and Rooney on the wings and Kagawa taking over Rooney’s midfield position.

    Valencia was as defensively inept as he was offensively impotent. His failure to follow Kolarov’s run down the side caused the first goal to happen, and his failure to make anything happen the rest of the match was almost as glaring. I thought for a moment after that first goal that Vidic might shank him.

  6. joeyt360 - Sep 24, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    “However, a closer examination of those matches show he was clearly utilized incorrectly, thrown to the wolves so Mourinho could justify his decision to bench the 25-year-old.”

    I’m wary of any argument that claims to know ‘clearly’ what someone is thinking. But all the more so for Jose Mourinho. Hanlon’s Razor would seem to apply here: what’s been attributed to malice can be explained by mere stupidity.

  7. atxnole - Sep 24, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    There is clearly no love lost between Mourinho and Spaniards and his players are being punished for it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Mata and Azpilicueta are never playing and Torres is also on the fringe.

  8. mikeevergreen - Sep 24, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    TIme for these two to hand in their transfer requests. Sunderland could use Kijawa to steady their midfield. Fulham could grab Mata so that they could HAVE a midfield.

    • atxnole - Sep 24, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      I’m assuming you’re just having a laugh. Both players would of course only accept a transfer to another world class club.

    • notaretard - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:14 PM

      in what world are you living? there are loads of teams out there that are better and have bigger budgets than fulham and sunderland. why in god’s name would kagawa go to a team battling to stay up when klopp would gladly take him back at dortmund? and why would mata, who could start at almost any club in the world that gave him a fair shot, go to a mid-to-lower-level premiere league team? please tell me you aren’t being serious

  9. huberttseng - Sep 24, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    I wouldn’t put the blame all on Moyes, Sir Alex wasn’t playing him either. And Sir Alex had a history of moving Rooney out to the left, but giving him the freedom to switch off with Ronaldo and move all over the field. Kagawa could’ve worked there, but they need a fresher left back than Evra who can track back, which I wonder if Moyes keeps to a 4-4-2, is the reason. Either way, Kagawa needs to move on in January, which I’ll suspect he will do because of the World Cup.

    As far as Mata, I have no idea with Mourinho is thinking outside of he wants it to be his team. It just seems to fit his personality, like his bust ups with Casillas and Ramos. Admittedly, there are too many options in Chelsea’s lineup, but I think he’s gonna rue benching the assists leader in 12-13. He also should leave for another club this January to ensure his place in the World Cup. It’s really important for him, because unlike Kagawa, Mata may not be guaranteed a spot on the Spanish team.

  10. notaretard - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    to imply that kagawa is a victim of new management is just wrong. sir alex wasn’t playing him last year all that often. he hasn’t played consistently since leaving germany. moyes may play him less than ferguson, but he wasn’t playing much last season either, so the logic of that is just not correct

  11. thfc54 - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    Would love to see Mata at White Hart Lane in January. Doubt if he will be sold to a PL team though.

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