1. Sir Alex really wants that twentieth title
With a gap of 15 points and a crucial Champions League tie against Real Madrid just three days away, you would have been forgiven for thinking Sir Alex would ring the changes for Saturday’s visit of Norwich. Looking at how his team lined up on Saturday afternoon, though, you’d have noticed how Ferguson is not passing any invitation to build on an already impressive lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League. De Gea, Evra, Carrick, Rooney and Van Persie all started against the Canaries, with Van Persie the only one of the five substituted. The fact that Sir Alex only managed to replace Van Persie proves how 4-0 flattered us somewhat. Norwich sat deep and defended well for the most part, with our final three goals coming in the final 15 minutes. With a number of tricky fixtures still left to play, it’s not all wrapped up just yet. I have a sneaky suspicion Van Persie could score a title-winning goal at The Emirates next month. Imagine that.
2. Welcome to United, Shinji Kagawa
We’ve seen glimpses this season, but you’d have to say: Saturday’s game against Norwich was where Shinji Kagawa properly announced himself to English football. In an otherwise uneventful first-half, the Japan international broke the deadlock in injury time with a controlled volley. Valencia’s left-footed cross [yes, you read that right] found Van Persie, whose unorthodox touch found an unmarked Kagawa, who then volleyed the ball past Mark Bunn from close range.
We found Norwich’s defence hard to break-down and had to wait until the 76th minute to double our lead. Kagawa once again the scorer with, for me, goal of the day. The way he sold the Norwich defence was genius. Carrick’s perfectly-weighted pass found Rooney bearing down on goal. A check inside and an unselfish pass to Kagawa gave the Japanese star a chance to stroke the ball home — or at least that’s what everyone thought he’d do. Instead, he gave the Norwich defence the eyes and simply passed the ball, the opposite way, into the net. It isn’t the sort of goal that usually wins a Goal of the Month competition, but it certainly wins mine.
His hat-trick goal was just as magical. Receiving a pass from Rooney, the midfielder’s brilliant first touch took two defenders completely out the game, before delightfully chipping the ball over the advancing Bunn. A quite remarkable hat-trick. If he wasn’t in the manager’s plans for Tuesday before kick-off on Saturday, he certainly is now.
3. Carrick: It’s hard to believe it’s not Scholes
It just goes to show how highly people now rate Michael Carrick, as many predicted a rest for the midfielder ahead of Tuesday night’s crucial Champions League tie. For years the Geordie was playing in Paul Scholes’ shadow. Many strangely believed he offered nothing and was carried by the team. Only now are people starting to realise just how vital he is. Saturday was yet another top class performance by the ‘Rolls Royce’. His 94% pass completion percentage is something we’ve learnt to expect, along with his ability to dictate games from the heart of midfield. Arguably the most vital part of our current team, long may his midfield dominance continue.
It’s incredible to think that successive England managers have regarded Scott Parker a better holding midfielder. No disrespect to Parker, but at a time where football fans across the country are forever bemoaning our [England’s] inability to retain possession, it’s bemusing to think that Carrick has been continually overlooked at international level. England’s loss is United’s gain, though, I suppose, and with Scholes out of action and seemingly entering the final stage of his second coming, it’s great to see Carrick finally receive the praise that has mysteriously eluded him in the past. At 31, the Geordie is now considered a senior player, but, like Scholes, there’s no reason why he can’t continue for another six or seven years. His style of play will enable him to do so.
4. Sir Alex is a party pooper
Saturday was supposed to be a landmark occasion. Club legend Ryan Giggs was in line to make his 1000th career appearance, and after his goal and performance against QPR last week, the likelihood of him featuring against Norwich was promising. Whilst celebrating the Premier League’s most decorated player is a nice gesture, it doesn’t win titles. The boss confirmed that Giggs will feature against Real in a post-match interview; whether that’s from the start or off the bench is anybody’s guess. The Welshman may well miss out on a place in the starting XI to Shinji Kagawa, after the Japan playmaker’s scintillating display on Saturday. It doesn’t matter whether the 39-year-old starts the game or comes off the bench, his presence and experience will be vital. What an occasion for him to make his 1000th career appearance, too.
Like a number of United players this season, Giggs has proven his early-season critics wrong. If you’d have told a United fan back in November that Giggs would be rested against Norwich at home ahead of a vital Champions League tie against Real Madrid, they’d have laughed at you — I know I probably would have. That’s no disrespect to Giggs, either. Against Spurs especially, the game seemed to pass him by; he was unable to keep up with their pace and movement in midfield. A retirement announcement was surely imminent. Fast forward four months and those same people would now be apologising [sorry]. What the Welsh Wizard has been able to do so brilliantly over the past two decades is adapt. Football has evolved over the past 20 years and Giggs has evolved with it.
5. Defensive solidity restored
It’s a funny old game, football. Just three months ago David de Gea was seemingly out of his depth as United’s No1, and apparently heading back to Spain. The side were continually conceding early goals and were having to rely on Robin van Persie et al to rescue points. Getting Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones fit again has gone a long way in restoring defensive stability. No way would we have continued to simply out score opponents week in, week out. Another clean sheet on Saturday means it’s now four Premier League games since De Gea last conceded a goal. Not bad considering he’s ‘out of his depth’, eh?
We now sit 15 points clear of City and it’s no longer all thanks to our strike-force. Ferdinand and Vidic are at a point in their careers now where they’re having to manage their bodies accordingly. Long gone are the days of playing two games per week; the manager now has to choose games for the pair wisely — something he’s doing quite effectively.
Our defensive solidity will be tested on Tuesday night, though, make no mistake about that. Real have scored in each of their Champions League away games under Mourinho and come to Old Trafford full of confidence after back-to-back El Clásico wins. With Vidic playing a full 90 against Norwich, Ferdinand and Evans will be the likely central defence pairing.
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