Norwich City 1 Manchester United 0 – Five talking points
On Saturday, United finally ran out of opportunities, ideas, and luck – one could have already seen it coming. When United conceded through a swashbuckling header from Anthony Pilkington, going down 11th time this season, Norwich fans would’ve half expected a comeback from the away side – especially after having the hearts broken by Ryan Giggs’ winner last season. But then, United somehow never looked to have much left in the tank and they fell short to create much impact for most of the game. Failing abruptly after a run of dodgy wins has been a pattern for United side for the last few seasons, and Sir Alex could only hope that it serves up as a lesson before the all-important Manchester derby in 3 weeks’ time.
It was again one of those nights on the road for United, where they enjoyed a massive share of possession (62%) and yet were outdone by a well-drilled side, willing to pose a potent threat on the break. With Sir Alex deciding on keeping Tom Cleverley and Anderson on the bench, the midfield combo of Giggs and Carrick failed to provide the expected pace and stability. It has always been a Rooney or a Cleverley who threads the ball forward for the side, and with both of them absent in the starting line-up, the forwards were left wanting for scoring opportunities throughout the game. It’s difficult to evaluate how much Rooney contributes to the game with his work-rate, making a difference all over the pitch and it’s days like these without him that United faithful could finally witness how vital he is in filling the creative void of the side.
Sir Alex has always been praised for his ability to rotate his squad and manage to grind out critical points in the league run-in. Yet, restricting Cleverley and Anderson to the bench wasn’t a decision that paid off as Norwich was another side that ran through another vulnerable midfield makeshift that the Scot thought would be enough to earn all three points at Carrow Road. Partnerships in the centre comprising of the likes of Carrick, Scholes and Giggs have been exuding discipline and consistency on the ball, yet when it comes to constructing anything meaningful for the forwards – the partnerships have been way short of expectations. If Sir Alex and United aspire to strengthen their hold on the League title and propel a challenge on the European front, he must get at least two midfield partnerships that could serve the purpose on and off the ball.
With five games unbeaten and five points off the relegation hassles, Chris Houghton has been pretty efficient with a side that Lambert earned enough praise to have landed with a job at Villa Park. With Lambert’s relentless efforts last week to stop a rampant United side lose its way in the second half, Hughton decided to play with a similar approach and few decisive tweaks to gain a famous result for the Canaries. Houghton initiated Johnson and Pettey to press forward and outnumber the visitors at the back until they find the first goal. What Villa missed was maintaining shape and steel at the back when it mattered, and on the other hand, Norwich always looked pretty confident when their time came to hold the lead for the last 30 minutes.
It’s always difficult to stand up and deliver against arguably the most destructive wing-play in the League, yet the Norwich side did alright – in fact more than enough, considering their only goal came off some shrewd play on the flanks. Anthony Pilkington and an impressive Robert Snodgrass took the game to the opposition full-backs with burst of pace and uncompromising strength to hold and make most of the possession. It was an intriguing battle on one flank where Antonio Valencia, Anthony Pilkington and Javier Garrido operated in rampant fashion, occasionally creating opportunities for their side single-handedly. It was rather fitting when you see the only goal coming from a delivery coming from the same wing that provided all the quality football in the game.