Follow Doron on Twitter
Man City went top at lunchtime on Saturday as Chelsea lost at West Brom. It meant that United knew they’d have to win at Carrow Road to ensure they ended the weekend as the league leaders. Norwich had famously beaten United at home in 2005 and this season they’d conquered Arsenal – despite what the TV pundits thought, this was never going to be a simple victory for the Reds. We welcome comments from both sets of supporters.
You can almost hear the collective groan from United fans when Giggs’ name appears among the starters for a league game. It’s not that he’s a bad footballer, but away from home in the Premier League, he’s not really suited to a two man midfield. There was a time in fact when he, partnered with Carrick, was United’s best central option – but this was predominantly for Europe against a style of football where that pairing could work.
Carrick, a mainstay and one of the first names on the teamsheet, has now started every league game for a year. The issue is often trying to find the best partner for him. Between him and Giggs it seemed obvious that there would be little dynamism or energy in United’s midfield. With Rooney missing, Van Persie would attempt to drop deep and help out but he’s nowhere near as effective as Rooney at doing this job.
The most intriguing thing about the midfield selection was who was left out. Cleverley had played an hour for England midweek and Fergie is keen to protect him. Anderson however, was not on international duty and has played well in recent weeks. In fact, Fergie has even said he needs to play Anderson more and feels bad for him for not doing so, therefore this seemed like a good time to pick him.
Fergie plans and picks his sides a couple of weeks in advance. With a dead rubber of a game in Turkey midweek, the sensible fan would have probably expected to see Giggs play then, helping some younger players get through a tough game at an intimidating stadium. It seems almost a waste if Anderson or Cleverley play in that game when their energy and dynamism are needed more in the league.
Norwich’s tactical plan
Chris Hughton had set Norwich up like almost every team does to face United these days – which only makes it more baffling that we still haven’t found the perfect way to counter it. Three in the middle including Hoolahan who’d have license to roam and float when Norwich had possession; a big man up front; wingers who’d tuck in and help fullbacks; and a solid back four.
When Norwich didn’t have the ball they’d have men back, working hard to keep their shape and close United players down. Red wingers would be doubled up on and Carrick-Giggs pressed and forced to play high risk balls forward or ‘safe’ passes sideways and backwards. Norwich were disciplined and executed a perfect tactical plan. Like Villa last week, they were quick on the counter and late on could have and should have scored at least one more goal to seal the win.
Fergie’s strange substitutions
In recent weeks, Fergie’s hand has been forced when it comes to making substitutes – United had fallen behind and he’s had to react. United hadn’t been playing well but it still took Norwich to score for the boss to make any kind of changes. In fact, Norwich scoring later on in the game meant that United didn’t have as long as they had at Villa to turn things around. For some reason though, Fergie was choosing to be reactive rather than proactive.
When the subs came they were a tad bizarre – Scholes and Welbeck replaced Hernandez and Valencia. Hernandez had very poor service but it meant that United were not going with an extra striker on the pitch as they had done at Villa. More to the point, if we were to create a chance, you’d probably want Hernandez on the end of it.
Things then got desperate at the end – Anderson on for Ferdinand. Space would open up at the back but at long last we had a third central midfielder on (Giggs had started to drift left with Scholes on). It was too little too late though – United needed to be matching Norwich’s three man central midfield earlier and actually get a grip on the game. It’s not that Norwich were all over United but it was just simply too easy for them.
Wingers out of form – diamond time?
Width has always been an important part of United. It’s where most of the creativity comes from and is often a source of assists and goals. However, with only three wingers at the club, an injury (as we have with Nani) provides very little competition for places. With Valencia badly out of form and seemingly confidence, and Young doing ok but not outstandingly, it’s an issue.
There is potentially a deeper problem too. At U21 and U18 level, United generally play without natural wingers. Robbie Brady’s not good enough for United and is out on loan; Van Velzen is still young and also out on loan; the rest are generally flexible forwards or midfielders. If he was fit, Joshua King could expect to maybe make the bench as he can do a job out there (if he’s recovered maybe he’ll feature in Turkey). If there’s no width in the academy, do United need to sign a winger or move away from this kind of football?
The diamond was used in a couple of games, quite successfully. This is probably a good time to revisit it. Of course players can only find form if they’re selected but right now, Valencia and Young are more of a hindrance than anything. Kagawa’s due back from injury soon and Anderson-Cleverley have earned more minutes. Now is a good opportunity to try and accommodate a diamond and let the wingers know they need to improve.
Hernandez – best as a sub?
A big part of being a successful forward depends on the service you get. Yesterday neither Van Persie nor Hernandez had particularly good chances (although Giggs did play one sumptuous ball through to Robin). After some excellent performances off the bench, Hernandez started this one with many hoping for a similar kind of impact. The reality is that it’s sometimes easier off the bench. Hernandez’s pace, movement and sharpness are suited not just to facing tired legs but for when United are chasing. Of course there will be games where he’s lethal from the start too but the way United usually try and play at the beginning of games (with patience and slow build-up trying to find gaps) doesn’t always sit best with a guy who likes to play off the last man. Arguably, he’s best from the bench, but when he does start we need to ensure that we try and play slightly more directly, and the service has to be better.
Bizarrely, United still haven’t drawn a game this season but defeat at Norwich was their third of the campaign. A fantastic glancing header by Pilkington (formerly and very briefly of United) was enough to win the game but Norwich should have had at lest one more. United created little but Van Persie and Welbeck both had decent chances and Ruddy produced a fine save from Young.
Neither Rooney, Evans nor De Gea were fit to play but Jones was back on the bench after a long lay off. United were flat though and struggled for both inspiration and quality in the final third. Norwich were deserving victors and Hughton can be proud of how well his team executed his tactics. Fergie was quick to praise Norwich rather than criticise United after the game but the fact that no players did interviews with MUTV after the game says it all.
Next up, United go to Galatasaray midweek having already won their Champions League group, before bottom side QPR come to Old Trafford next week. QPR are yet to win a league game… sounds ominous…