men warm up for Real Madrid in style
Shinji Kagawa’s first season at Manchester United has been such a struggle that it has been suggested he was signed to sell shirts rather than score goals.
But the Japan international proved he is much more than an Old Trafford marketing gimmick, with a glorious hat trick as a pivotal period in United’s season got off to the perfect start.
Wayne Rooney was also on target in spectacular fashion as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men moved 15 points clear of champions Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.
Next up is Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday, when United will look to build on the promise of a 1 1 draw in the Bernabeu to move into the last eight.
And, on Sunday, Chelsea arrive at Old Trafford for a mouthwatering FA Cup quarter final.
The big games are coming thick and fast for the Reds as they chase another memorable treble,
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And Ferguson is delighted that 16million man Kagawa seems to have finally come to terms with life in England.
He arrived with a big reputation after helping Borussia Dortmund to successive Bundesliga titles.
But problems with form and fitness have prompted Ferguson to suggest that Kagawa needs to bulk up to meet the greater physical demands of English football.
These were his first Premier League goals since September and he may have put himself back in the frame to face Madrid on Tuesday night after an ineffective performance
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Ferguson said: “It has been a great day for Kagawa and his second and third goals were excellent finishes.
“He’s had a few setbacks since he came. He missed a period of football when he was injured, that put him back.
“But he is a great player and a really good finisher and we saw that today.
“This will do him a lot of good, although I still think we will see the best of him next season.”
Across town at the Etihad Stadium, Roberto Mancini will have raised a knowing eyebrow about the nature of the Kagawa goal that settled home nerves. City manager Mancini believes United have got lucky on occasion this season and they certainly enjoyed some good fortune in first half injury time when they broke the resistance of Chris Hughton’s battling side.
Robin van Persie stuck out a hopeful leg as he stretched to control Antonio Valencia’s cross from the right.
And when the ball popped up invitingly for Kagawa, his scuffed volley completely fooled Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn.
The goal was greeted with a collective sigh of relief inside the stadium rather than a full blooded roar.
And for a period early in the second half, the home side became sloppy.
But the Canaries never looked likely to prosper, and when Ferguson replaced Van Persie with Danny Welbeck it sparked United again in the final 25 minutes. With Rooney pushed further forward and Kagawa moved into central midfield, United were irrepressible.
Rooney was too quick for Sebastien Bassong in both mind and body when he raced in behind the Norwich defender to make the most of Michael Carrick’s raking pass in the 76th minute.
The United striker dummied to shoot before serving up a delicious pass for Kagawa to deceive Bunn with a composed sidefoot finish.
The Japanese midfielder made the match ball his own three minutes from time with another demonstration of pure technique.
Kagawa began the move with a short pass to Welbeck on the half way line before continuing his run forward,
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And when the ball was worked to Rooney,
cards with humanity, his pass sent Kagawa clear to lift a glorious chip over the sprawling Bunn. Rooney then conjured up his 14th goal of the season in brilliant fashion in the dying moments.
The England international collected Welbeck’s pass and cut inside Bradley Johnson with a dip of his shoulder before detonating a shot from 30 yards that arced into the top corner.