Norwich City 1-0 Man United – perfect tactics beat insipid Reds

Anthony Pilkington heads past Anders Lindegaard to score for Norwich City

Author: Doron

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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.

Team selection

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…

12 Comments on Norwich City 1-0 Man United – perfect tactics beat insipid Reds

  1. The main problem was the lack of tempo in the attacking play which is uncharacteristic of this season. The time & space afforded to the Norwich midfielders made them look like they play for Barcelona.
    Its easy to point at Giggs as the scapegoat but sometimes football is that simple. Carrick did his usual work covering the back four & maintained possession but we really didn’t get anything from Giggs that was needed. Giggsy still has a little to offer interms of dropping a shoulder and feeding through a clever little defence splitting pass from the bench but from the start you need to earn control of the game.
    Gaining control can be done either with the more dynamic movement & running of Cleverly or Anderson or alterntivly the quick feet an speed of though of the ginger prince.
    Personally I thought the wingers played poorly but this for me was in part down to Scholes’ absecnce. Had he been on the pitch earlier both wingers would have received ball a lot quicker with the opposition on the back foot.
    In all United were just way too predictable attacking in straight lines.

  2. Very good analysis. If the majority of United fans see that Carrick and Giggs cannot be paired on their own in midfield why the hell can’t Fergie and his two muppets see it??? Giggs is still a better than an average midfielder but he’s not good for United anymore. He’s slow, predictable and does not contribute dynamism and creativity in the engine room. How can Anderson be left on the bench in favour of Giggs, God only or should I say Fergie knows! Our wingers were pathetic yesterday with Young playing much better on the right wing. I have claimed for years now against public opinion that Valencia is a very very average winger. He can’t dribble consistently on the outside, often cuts inside and does not know what to do with ball as he’s got a useless left foot. His crosses at best are approximate and hopeful. In fact he’s a better right back than a winger and that says it all ! At least when Young shifted on the right he consistently passed on the outside of his marker but his crosses were approximate as well rather than pinpointed. The biggest United problem in my opinion is its position in the table. It gives the false perception that United are a good side which they are definitely not.

  3. As badly disappointed I am about yesterdays result, its actaully quite laughable how bad a football team we are at the minute. Absolutely clueless. And that goes for the manager,coaches and staff. What a joke! Have no hope and faith in this team whatsoever! 1 more slipup and citeh will run away with the league. No heart, passion, determination! Zip!

    Midfield atrocious! When will SAF learn he can’t start giggs or scholes alongside carrick?!?!?! Ando and Cleverley would have been the prefect pair imo and they should have played. Carrick was woeful I have to say and based on his current form, I’d drop him for our next game. Giggs wasn’t that bad to be fair but its obvious that him and carrick would be overrun. Wingers absolutely clueless! Valencia disgrafeful! What’s happened to that lad? I won’t even get started on Young. Should have never bought the lad to begin with. Simples.

    The player we missed most though was Rooney it has to be said! Whenever he doesn’t play, we just don’t look like a team…

    Gutted! Huge oppurtunity missed! We were outplayed by an average team!

  4. Chicharito can’t score if he doesn’t get service. Taking him off and bringing on TheGingerNinja was not just “strange” it was bizarre.

    Neither of the two starting midfielders – nor Scholes – pushed-the-game by running at the opposition which would create space for our forwards in their defence.

    BOTH of the wingers were just awful – for Ashley Young that is, alas, par for the course; for AV7 it’s the result of his one-footedness which makes him predictable and relatively easy to mark – not helped when he receives the ball, stops, and only then tries to beat his man on his right foot.

    Nani might be the place where the ball goes to sleep, but he is a bag-of-tricks compared with the pedestrian Ashley Young or the man-in-the-number-7-shirt-who-used-to-be Antonio Valencia.

  5. fergusson gets sillier with every game past – sad to see once great manager plunge in such deep shit, he haven’t got a clue any more – giggs and carrick , fucking hell. i think it’s better to forget trophies for this year, not with that lunatic and his two muppets at the wheel+his buddies glazers in charge of financial side..

  6. It is just staggering that Utd’s coaching staff is incapable of seeing what we can all see. And then you switch a TV on on Sunday to see Pogba playing for Juve every week. While we play Giggs, Carrick and Scholes. And 4-4-2 with wingers who stand still or go backwards. With Powell – a good diamond tip, yes? – not even in the squad, and Cleverley and Anderson on the bench. Just staggering. Handing the title over. Why?

  7. Let me first say that I am a Norwich fan so you know from where this comment comes….

    For my money, Giggs is still good enough for at least 45 minutes, but I have never regarded him as a player for the middle of midfield (even 20 years ago). He is a natural wide player, so why play him anywhere else? With the wealth of talent available to Sir Alex, I am curious to say the least. Further, it makes no sense to me that both Scholes (who imo is also still good enough, and still one of the best at controlling the pace of a game) and Giggs are so important to Man Utd. Far be it from me to criticise you who are so successful, but if they haven’t been replaced by now, with the resources available, there is a problem. I realise that Keanes, Vieras and the like don’t come along too often, but I’m sure there are some candidates out there. On current evidence, none of them seem to be at OT though.

  8. it still goes back to the age old question of how are we going to sort out our midfield,i take it kagawa is out either through fitness,form or saf doesn,t think he,s up to it yet.i said at the end of last season that utd should put a bid in for fellaini.he,s big,strong and score goals,our answer to toure at city.seriously we are missing something in the middle and the way other teams set up against us leads me to believe we cant cope with the game plan other sides use against us whilst in game play.i cant put my finger on it but you cant keep relying on the old guard to get us out of trouble.

  9. Minimal: “i think it’s better to forget trophies for this year, not with that lunatic and his two muppets at the wheel+his buddies glazers in charge of financial side..”

    Actually, the “financial side” of things seems to be hunky-dory as the mushrooming growth of commercial revenues and TV-money is making money hand-over-fist. Alas, it’s the on-field product that’s becoming problematic.

  10. @spyder_Kelly agree with everything you say there, except that tempo has been okay up to know. For me tempo has been poor for last four games. Central midfield pairing didn’t work here and the wingers were completely ineffectual. This was just a rank bad performance. Fairs fair Norwich e ecuted their game plan superbly.

    Don’t share peoples pessimism about our chances this season though. We do need to improve, but I don’t thnk we are that far away from clicking into gear. We need to stay in touch with stockports finest, but if we do and improve we have a very good chance.

  11. There is a continuing thread here-incomprehension of the tactics SAF-and his supposed cohorts-are employing.

    A lack of energy and pace in midfield-a defensive midfielder who sprays around more passes than other players statistically-but never passes that open up defences or lead to scoring opportunities-and a midfield that allows opponents to flood through at pace which is one reason so many goals are conceded.

    I fear that SAF lost the ability to empathise with younger players particularly if they are from abroad-Pogba was not in awe of a great manager-he wanted to play and was not afforded the opportunity.There are other younger players who just decided they were never going to get an opportunity-Shawcross for example.Joshua King is moving on and has never been given a chance and had some inappropriate loan spells-you could say the same about Macheda.-what is happening with Fabio-is Chicharito being used properly.

    Poor team selection,a muddled transfer policy and a reliance on older players will cost us trophies this season-we need new blood alongside SAF-someone with vision and an understanding of modern football tactics.

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