Kagawa and Ozil could be key to tie

TEAMtalk guest Ross Dunbar identifies two stars who could pull the strings ahead of Tuesday's clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Last Updated: 05/03/13 at 10:56 Post Comment

Shinji Kagawa: Could be integral to United's progression

Shinji Kagawa: Could be integral to United's progression

They've represented either side of the great Ruhr divide and will be foes when the Champions League resumes in less than 12 hours.

Shinji Kagawa and Mesut Özil are match-winners in their own right, but the stakes could hardly be higher for Manchester United and Real Madrid on Tuesday. A goal apiece in the first leg; this second titanic clash in the last 16 of the Champions League has the ingredients to be one of those eminent tussles that are entrenched in history for years to come.

Old Trafford has been the scene of many consummate victories for the Red Devils in the European Cup/Champions League, but for this generation Real Madrid's 3-2 win in Manchester back in 2000 is one fo the most nostalgic moment of the last decade.

Like then, this tie is set to for a battle of tactics to counter the strengths of each side - but the deft, imaginative qualities of two former sons of the Ruhr's two biggest clubs could be vital.

Kagawa's nominal £300,000 move to Borussia Dortmund in 2010 from Cerezo Osaka brought the added guile to help Jurgen Klopp's new-look side compete for honours. He was an instant hit in the Ruhgebiet, scoring twice against arch-rivals Schalke 04 and firing BVB to their first title in nine years.

Not content with creating goals, his most dangerous asset can be his end-product in front of goal with 29 Bundesliga strikes in 71 games for Dortmund, in addition to his 16 assists.

Kagawa was a phenomenal success in Dortmund, forging a unique legacy as a Japanese footballer in Germany, thus, leading to an inpouring of young talent from the Far East to the Bundesliga.

By the agency of 'Super-Agent' Thomas Kroth, an enormous vaccum has appeared in the disparity of finances between the two countries, so the J-League is becoming a reliable haven - and reasonably cost-free - market for Bundesliga clubs to explore.

It became clear through various contract rumbles that Kagawa saw Germany as a stepping-stone to greater things. Sir Alex Ferguson's trip to Berlin in May 2012 cemented his opinion of Kagawa, and his dazzling display in the DFB Pokal (German FA Cup) final brought an almighty crescendo to Dortmund's double-winning campaign.

The Kobe-born attacking-midfielder has struggled to become the success many predicted but his class was evident in their 4-0 win over Norwich City on Saturday. Kagawa hit a hat-trick - the first Asian player to do so in the Premier League - with goals of the optimum quality, including two delightful finishes, showcasing his technique, composure and game-intelligence in pressure situations.

The last three superlatives are more than appropriate for his direct opponent at Los Blancos: a German native, born-and-bred in Gelsenkirchen and the fulcrum of the easy-on-the-eye German national side.

Özil grew up in the vicinity of Schalke's home patch and would progress through the Academy ranks to pull on the blue shirt at Bundesliga level - until a rift emerged between the young attacker and the Royal Blues hierarchy.

The teenager was branded "money-hungry" and threatened with an 18-month stint frozen out of the first-term to see-out his contract.

The fall-out led to Özil moving North to join Werder Bremen and within a few months, the 20-year-old was starring for the first-team, a sure-sign of Schalke's mistake, as he became an integral member of the squad - filling the ingenious boots of Brazilian ace Diego before his 21st birthday.

Now the poster-boy of the German side that competed at the 2010 World Cup, Özil was destined for the next level as he made the switch to Real Madrid. He outlasted another Dortmunder in Nuri Sahin at the Santiago Bernabeu to establish his place in the team and become a mainstay under Jose Mourinho. In their battles with FC Barcelona, Özil has created 7 goals in 16 matches against the Catalans, to add to the 49 assists in 93 La Liga games for the Madridistas.

"My technique and feeling for the ball is the Turkish side to my game." Özil once stated. "The discipline, attitude and always-give-your-all is the German aspect."

In the same manner, Kagawa has the same idiosyncratic balance on the ball, explosive change of pace to deceive defenders and the paragon adroit passes around the 18-yard box.

They are exemplars of the modern-day attacking-midfielder, adept at traditional wing-position responsibilities whilst possess the positional awareness to get on blind-side of the opponent.

While Tuesday's clash is likely to be a test of the pragmatic nature of both managers, and how United can thwart the awesome talents of Cristiano Ronaldo, the dexterity of Özil and Kagawa may decisively turn the outcome of the game that is ever so delicately poised.

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