Skip to content

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?

Latest Posts
  1. WATCH: The 2 Robbies discuss which Premier League teams will be relegated

    Apr 25, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT

    Robbie Earle & Robbie Mustoe, The 2 Robbies Robbie Earle & Robbie Mustoe, The 2 Robbies

    With four teams separated by two points for the final relegation place, it’s becoming an absolute dogfight. The 2 Robbies break it down.

  2. Pearson: “It doesn’t matter how you win games,” as Leicester inch closer to safety

    Apr 25, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC

    When in a relegation dogfight, win any way you can. That’s the message from Nigel Pearson, and that’s what Leicester City have done.

  3. Pellegrini: Victory over Aston Villa “one of our worst games of the season”

    Apr 25, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    Manuel Pellegrini, Manchester City FC Getty Images

    Play poorly and win, or play well and lose? You can’t always have it both ways, which benefitted Man City on Saturday.

  4. Sherwood: Aston Villa “controlled the game” against Manchester City

    Apr 25, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Tim Sherwood, Aston Villa FC Getty Images

    Sherwood’s men were certainly hard done by away to Manchester City. It’s hard not to agree with the Villa boss.

  5. Promotion Watch: Watford officially promoted; disaster for Middlesbrough

    Apr 25, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Fulham v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Getty Images

    With Watford officially promoted, who’s next? (Hint: It won’t be Boro.)

  6. Manchester City 3-2 Aston Villa: Stunning finish sees City hold on after Guzan’s blunder

    Apr 25, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT

    Manchester City v Aston Villa - Premier League Getty Images

    Citizens survive second half Villa comeback to move up to second, cement spot in top four.

  7. Bundesliga wrap: Schweinsteiger strikes late for Bayern, Hamburg earns huge win

    Apr 25, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT

    Germany Soccer Bundesliga AP

    Three of four “bottom five” clubs who played on Saturday picked up a point, including one side scooping up a massive three points to leap off the bottom of the table.

  8. VIDEO: Watch Lionel Messi score 50th goal of season, 401st for Barcelona

    Apr 25, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT

    RCD Espanyol v FC Barcelona - La Liga Getty Images

    Messi now has at least 50 goals in four seasons during his career.

  9. Watch Watford’s team bus learn they’ve been promoted to the Premier League (video)

    Apr 25, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT

    cD05ODdlNmNhY2MwMjRlZWQzNTJhM2ViYTQ1Y2VlY2YzOCZnPTUwYWUwMzI2NGZiNGMxMjhmOGYwY2I2NmVmY2Q0MmJm Getty Images

    Mexico national teamer Miguel Layun posted this video on Twitter, as the club learns its been promoted and the bus goes absolutely bonkers.

  10. VIDEO: Guzan’s colossal error gifts Aguero and Man City an easy 1-0 lead

    Apr 25, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT

    Stoke City v Aston Villa - Premier League Getty Images

    Aguero? He doesn’t miss from there, and the USMNT keeper was left with his head in his hands. It’s 1-0 City at half.

  11. Newcastle United 2-3 Swansea City: Swans roll, Magpies haven’t won since February

    Apr 25, 2015, 12:49 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Swans found goals from Nelson Olivera, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jack Cork to build a 3-1 lead before Siem de Jong netted late.

  12. Back in the big time: Watford promoted to the Premier League

    Apr 25, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT

    Brighton & Hove Albion v Watford - Sky Bet Championship Getty Images

    The Hornets are back in the PL for just the third time in their history.

  13. Watch Live: Manchester City vs. Aston Villa (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Apr 25, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT

    Aguero Getty Images

    Can the Citizens cement their top four spot? Watch live, here.

  14. Stoke City 1-1 Sunderland: Black Cats enter drop zone despite point

    Apr 25, 2015, 12:14 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    USMNT defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron left the game in the 87th minute with an injury.

  15. Crystal Palace 0-2 Hull City: N’Doye’s double hands Tigers huge win

    Apr 25, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT

    Crystal Palace v Hull City - Premier League Getty Images

    Tigers give themselves breathing space from the bottom three with much-needed win.

  16. Burnley 0-1 Leicester City: Foxes move out of drop zone, send Clarets bottom!

    Apr 25, 2015, 11:58 AM EDT

    Burnley v Leicester City - Premier League Getty Images

    Nigel Pearson was fired last month, or so we were led to believe. Now his Foxes have escaped the drop zone with a dramatic win at Turf Moor.

Featured video

Should Chelsea be more entertaining?