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Is Kagawa the new Rooney?

Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa could be the ideal replacement for Wayne Rooney.

The 23-year-old shone on his home debut against Fulham and United feel that he could be in the mould of club legends Bryan Robson and Paul Scholes.

In his three starts for the Red Devils, Kagawa has shown he is the fantasy footballer missing from Sir Alex Ferguson's attack.

While Robin van Persie is probably getting used to his place in the United starting line-up with Rooney picking up an unusual injury, Kagawa is the powerful playmaker, who fits in between midfield and the forward line creating havoc and scoring, as he did impressively in the nervy 3-2 win for United last weekend.

The prospect of Rooney's absence for at least four weeks, due to the nasty cut on his thigh from Hugo Rodallega's boot, will be felt less because of Kagawa's impressive start.

Impressive start 

The Japanese international's nearest clone from United's recent glorious past is Paul Scholes.

Writing in the matchday programme ahead of the first home match, Sir Alex Ferguson said: "I would also include Shinji Kagawa in the (goalscoring) mix because he is very much an attacking player, nominally from midfield but perfectly capable of taking a front role.

"One thing for sure is that he will add a scoring dimension if he plays central midfield, as he showed last season for Borussia Dortmund.

"He has been very impressive in our pre-season games and at Everton. He is very bright, understands the game and is clever with the ball.

"He is quickish and doesn't give the ball away, which is an important quality to have in your midfield.

"We have been low on goals from midfield in recent seasons. There was a time when Bryan Robson would give you a dozen through the centre of the park and Paul Scholes in his heyday was good for 10 or so but lately, we haven't seen that kind of tally.

"I believe that Kagawa will put that right, which with the addition of Van Persie to the team, should ensure that we don't lose any more titles on goal difference." 

United were defeated at Goodison Park in their first match of the season but Kagawa's touch, vision and movement impressed.

Manchester City have David Silva as their chief attacking midfielder, while Juan Mata struts his stuff for Chelsea.

The creative key to United's hopes of reclaiming the Premier League rest on Kagawa, who has the low maintenance demeanour and focus admired by Ferguson, all of which are attributes of Scholes.

Home debut goal 

Shinji scored on his debut and his side's second goal at Old Trafford, a 35th minute tap-in after Tom Cleverley's shot was parried by Mark Schwarzer.

On an afternoon that began with Usain Bolt parading his Olympic gold medals and asking the Old Trafford crowd to tell Ferguson to "sign me up," it was the playmaker who appeared the manager's shrewdest bit of summer business.

Van Persie scored a sublime equaliser, a hooked volley on 10 minutes, to illustrate why Ferguson paid £24m for him.

However, the Dutchman is 29 and has a CV full of injuries. Kagawa is 23 and cost just £12m, perhaps a bargain in a footballing world full of overpriced and potentially over-rated players.

Cleverley, who sat alongside a lumbering Anderson in United's unusual formation of 4-2-3-1, said of Kagawa: "I love playing with him - one and two touch, high-energy football. We're on the same wavelength."

The Englishman views the Japanese midfielder as United's missing component.

"Definitely. He's brilliant." the 23-year-old said. "He has settled in really well. He links defence with attack. He gets on the half-turn and creates chances. I can't speak highly enough of him. He is the player I want to be."

Vulnerability at the back 

Rafael, scored United's third and ultimately, decisive goal against Fulham with a header, which added to Kagawa's strike and stretched United's lead to 3-1 before a second-half mixup between an uncertain David de Gea and Nemanja Vidic, allowed the Cottagers a way back into the game.

This offered Martin Jol's side hope of an unlikely draw.

United held on to record their first points of the season, though when Rooney replaced Kagawa with 20 minutes left, there was a lull in the home side's thrust.

United's vulnerability at the back, stems from Ferguson's central defensive crisis that ruled Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones out and had Jonny Evans on the bench.

While Ferdinand made a return at Southampton, Jones is still struggling with injury and Rooney will miss England's opening World Cup qualifiers, Manchester United's opening Champions League match and potentially, the next two Premier League matches.

Rooney may well be struggling to be recalled to Ferguson's starting 11, if Kagawa continues to shine. According to Van Persie, there is more to come in the understanding between him and the Japanese.

Van Persie said: "Like every player, we have been training every day. The training sessions have been very good with all the guys. It is still a process.

"I have to get used to them and they have to get used to me because I've only been here a week and so we have all the time in the world and I don't want to rush into things." 

By Simran Sangha

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