5 Things We Learned: Norwich City 1-0 Manchester United

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By Chris Mortlock

1. We miss Rooney when he’s not in the side

Robin van Persie has been singled out by many as Manchester United’s most important player this season and with 8 league goals in 12 league games, not many would argue with that. He has scored vital goals already this term – and we’re only a third of the way through the season. But after seeing the team crash to a 1-0 loss at Carrow Road, surely that accolade must be, at the very least, shared with Wayne Rooney?

Rooney may not be United’s most prolific striker anymore, but his contribution is paramount and quite clearly missed when not available. We severely lacked energy and creativity on Saturday evening – something Rooney has in abundance. There was no fluidity in our attack. No urgency in our play. Without him – floating in between the opposition’s defence and midfield – we were heavily reliant on our wide midfielders to produce. Perhaps starting one of Cleverley or Anderson may have half-filled the void left by Rooney? Or maybe it just wasn’t our day?

2. Giggs cannot play in a central-midfield two, but is not solely to blame

Ryan Giggs was the surprise inclusion in United’s line-up on Saturday. Not so much his name, but his position. Ferguson deployed Giggs in a central-midfield role, alongside Michael Carrick. With both Cleverley and Anderson available, Sir Alex’s choice of partner for Carrick puzzled many. Then again, predicting an Alex Ferguson starting XI has never been easy.

Ferguson had obviously highlighted Norwich away as a game where he could get Giggs some game time, especially considering the impact he made in the same fixture last season. Asking a player, nearing the age of 39, to play in a central-midfield two is a lot to ask, especially in a game where the opposition were bound to pack their midfield. And they did.

Giggs cannot and should not be solely blamed for this defeat, however. It was a poor performance all round by the team.

I, for one, was surprised to see us go with a 4-4-2 against Norwich. Although van Persie dropped deeper when required, there was always a danger of us being outnumbered and over-run in midfield and that’s ultimately how Norwich scored their goal. A one-two between Hoolahan and Snodgrass wiped-out United’s central-midfield pair in the blink of an eye. Hoolahan then picked out Garrido, whose first time ball was met brilliantly in the air by Pilkington. It was a well-worked goal and one well-worthy of winning any football match.

3. Chicharito is a starter – he just needs the service

After coming off the bench to single-handedly turn last week’s game on its head, Javier Hernandez had seemingly “picked himself” for the Norwich game, according to Sir Alex. The Mexican once again impressed with his improved link-up play, but goalscoring opportunities came few and far between. He was replaced on 69 minutes by Danny Welbeck with the question on many people’s minds: does Chicharito make more of an impact coming off the bench?

His speed and movement is very effective when coming off the bench to face tiring defenders. Should that mean we keep Hernandez in reserve, just in-case we’re a goal down and need a game-changer? No way, in my opinion, definitely not. Although bringing Chicharito on with 20 minutes remaining may have been a better option in hindsight, against Norwich, he cannot be blamed for not making an impact from the start – we created next to nothing for our strikers. Absolutely nothing. For a poacher like Hernandez to score goals, he needs service. Without that service, games will more than likely pass him by.

4. This was the wake-up call we needed

If we learned anything from Saturday’s game, it was that we can’t always turn games around. Sometimes you have to take your hat off to the opposition and admit defeat. Norwich played brilliantly and thoroughly deserved the win. Similar to our first defeat of the season – away at Everton – we didn’t come up against a better team, technically. We came up against a well organised team who got their tactics spot on. Norwich nullified our wide players’ influence on the game which ultimately prevented us from creating anything more than half chances. Their central-defensive pair – Turner and Bassong – were brilliant, it has to be said. They kept van Persie and Hernandez very quiet.

Proven so many times during Ferguson’s tenure as United boss: sometimes a defeat can have a positive effect on the team. We have a few winnable games coming up over the next few weeks. With the Manchester derby on the horizon too, we’ll want to go into that game full of confidence. Hopefully this was the wake-up call we needed.

5. This game should mark the end of our central-defensive crisis

Constantly having to alter your central-defensive pairing must be a real headache for a manager, but that’s exactly what Ferguson has had to do on so many occasions this season. Just when we get a settled back four, one of our central-defenders pick up an injury. Although Ferdinand and Smalling have started the last two games, Smalling is only just coming back from a long-term layoff himself. With Jones now back in training (he should feature on Tuesday against Galatasaray) and Evans not too far away from a return, too, we’ll be back in the healthy position of having four top centre-halves to choose from in next to no time. Fingers crossed.
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One Response to “5 Things We Learned: Norwich City 1-0 Manchester United”

  1. Good article, Chris.

    I fully agree with point one. Rooney is still very much the heartbeat of the team.

    Giggs’ selection was a surprise, I thought Cleverely may have started.

    Here’s a post I made on the forum:

    Cleverley has already played 468 minutes of football in the Premier League plus his appearances for England & Great Britain. In comparison Scholes has played 498 minutes and Carrick 1080. I think Cleverley should have started yesterday, but I fully agree with Fergie’s management of him and Anderson. I believe Fergie isn’t thinking about the here and now, he’s thinking about the latter stages of the season and long term. Both have had injury issues and a player is more susceptible to injuries if they are tired and/or lacking match fitness – Anderson is a prime example. Fergie also has statistical data of players fitness levels etc.

    Minutes played this season:

    Cleverley – 468(PL), 180(CL), 90(LC), 483 (E), 390 (GB not including warm up matches) = 1611 minutes in total.
    Carrick – 1080(PL), 180(CL), 291 (E) = 1551
    Giggs – 326(PL), 101 (CL), 120(LC), 197(GB not including warm up matches) = 744
    Scholes – 498(PL), 79(CL) = 577
    Anderson – 157(PL), 180(CL), 171(LC) = 508

    PL – Premier League
    CL – Champions League
    LC – League Cup
    E – England
    GB – Great Britain

    So we can see why Cleverley may not be starting as regularly as we would like. We know Anderson has a terrible injury record, so there are valid reasons why Fergie is looking after him.

    For me, the form of our wingers is a bigger issue than midfield.

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