Shinji Kagawa made his second home debut for Borussia Dortmund over the weekend, and it was like he'd never been away...
It was as if he had never been away. A raking pass down the flank paved the way for Kevin Großkreutz to tee up Adrian Ramos for the opening goal and a few minutes before half time, Shinji Kagawa slammed the ball into the net himself to re-announce his presence on the Bundesliga stage in high style.
For the massed ranks of the home support inside the Signal Iduna Park, a good football day had just got a lot better – courtesy of their returning midfield star.
In the wake of Borussia Dortmund's 3-1 victory over SC Freiburg on Bundesliga Matchday 3, the 25-year-old Japan international was a little overwhelmed. “It's difficult to describe how I feel right now," he admitted. "I had goosebumps all the way through.”
Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp experienced something similar himself before the game had even started.
“The best moment of all was the 'Kagawa-Shinji' chorus when the team ran out onto the pitch,” he said. “It's not been so loud here for a long time – enough to made your hair stand on end.”
In at the deep end
Kagawa paid back the fans in kind, post-haste, and even the cramp that prematurely ended his day's work just over an hour into the contest was “a good sign,” according to Klopp.
The German coach acknowledged the whole team had to “work really intensively for the points” against a “very passive” Freiburg side.
“It's refreshing to be playing this kind of fast-paced, counter-pressing football again,” said Dortmund's new No. 7, back from his two-year sting with Manchester United, although he acknowledged he was not yet 100 percent match-fit.
Klopp had made clear in advance that Kagawa would be deployed one way or the other against the visitors from the South West – no great surprise given Dortmund's current personnel woes.
A fresh injury to Jakub Blaszczykowski on the point of the Poland skipper's earmarked return from a cruciate ligament rupture has further limited the team's options in the attacking midfield department, with Marco Reus already ruled out of action for the coming weeks.
Fortunately, as the coach was swift to ascertain in training, Kagawa “still has a lot of stuff stored on his hard drive” as far as the BVB playing system goes.
Plenty to smile about
Klopp also helped ease his once-and-future star into his 'second debut' by opting for the 4-2-3-1 formation that reaped Dortmund such rich dividends in Kagawa's first spell at the club, between 2010 and 2012.
Operating alongside one new colleague in Henrikh Mkhitaryan and a familiar one in his good mate Kevin Großkreutz, the Kobe native instantly got down to what he does best, flitting across the frontline with his accustomed verve and creativity.
“Shinji had a smile on his face all the time – at least until he got the cramp,” veteran BVB midfielder Sebastian Kehl remarked afterwards, succinctly nailing Kagawa's evident joy at being back at the heart of the action, with the club where he soared to prominence.
The transition to the Premier League had undoubtedly proved a frustrating one at times although the Japanese midfielder had been at pains to point out that it was not a wasted experience.
“It's not like the two years at Manchester United were in vain, I think I learned a few things there as well. Maybe Dortmund fans will see a new Kagawa.,” he said.
On this day, the many fans who packed out the stadium saw a welcome flash of the old Kagawa – and that in itself was more than enough.
Main Photo Credit: DFL/Imago