MANCHESTER UNITED VS NORWICH CITY
26.04.2014

After an eventful week this game couldn’t come soon enough for many. With a new manager in post, (albeit a caretaker), there was a wave of optimism that United could at least end the season on the up. The challenge for Ryan Giggs is to put a smile back on the faces of United fans in the last four games.

PERSONNEL

In: Giggs, (manager), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Cleverley, Valencia and Welbeck.
Out: Moyes, (manager),Smalling, Buttner, Fletcher, Evans, Nani and Mata.

KEY POINTS

  • In an impressive pre-match press conference Ryan Giggs had stated that he wanted United to play at a higher tempo, be positive, tackle, to take people on and above all attack. That is what we got.
  • United’s football was not always slick; in the first half it was disjointed at times, but there was far more energy about the side than we have seen recently and this positive approach was enough to overcome a struggling Norwich side. Against better opposition United will to play to a higher standard. But this was a boost.
  • United improved as the game progressed with Giggs later revealing that he asked the team to up the tempo after half time. The shape of the side also changed after substitutions from a 4-4-2 for the first hour to a 4-2-3-1 in the 1st half hour. This flexibility was welcome.
  • Kagawa and Cleverley were the two players who seemed to struggle most with the new approach. Perhaps Giggs saw this as these two were two of the players substituted in the second half. Rooney had a difficult game in the first half and struggled a little when moved into midfield but he worked hard and stuck to his task.
  • Mata is a class act, and his introduction saw United create a greater and more controlled attacking threat. After he had got to the pace of the game United looked like they would score every time they came forward.

FIRST HALF

United started in a 4-4-2 shape with Carrick and Cleverley in central midfield, Valencia to the right and Kagawa to the left. Rooney and Welbeck started as an attacking two.

1st halfUnited’s first half shape

Initially United started initially at a fairly high tempo moving the ball quickly and with people moving off the ball to provide passing options. The tempo slowed after the first few minutes, but United’s play remained far more positive than in most games this season. Giggs had talked pre-match about players being brave, putting tackles in and making runs ahead of the ball. United did all this throughout the first half, but their play was disjointed for most of the half.

United didn’t score until the 41st minute and whilst this wasn’t a great first half performance a number of notable points are worth making.

As is often the case Kagawa came fairly narrow on the left. Cleverley was full of energy and whilst he was fairly mobile pushing on at time to join the attack he tended to slow the game down. Cleverley was playing more to the left and the consequence of all this was that United’s attacking play on the left hand side was poor. There was a lot of space in front of Evra and whilst he occasionally ran into it, with Cleverley’s movement and Kagawa’s positioning Evra tended to be isolated. United’s attacking play on the left tended to slow down or break down.

In contrast on the right Valencia stayed wide and Jones pushed forward at every opportunity to support. Welbeck who was playing more to the right also dropped deep and United’s play on that side showed more urgency and menace. A number of good chances came from play on the right with Welbeck and Valencia both taking opportunities to cut inside and make early shot whilst a number of crosses from that side caused problems, (with one eventually resulting in  penalty).

Another issue was that the 4-4-2 shape stretched United front to back. Rooney and Welbeck were both quite high and they were a little isolated from the rest of the team. As a consequence United ended up playing too many early long balls forward and the midfield four struggled to get close to them in support.

Also notable was the spontaneity of United’s play. Carrick and Cleverley both took opportunities to run ahead of the ball and create passing options. Players seemed keen to close opponents down and attempt to get crosses in, (whereas previously this year they have tended to fall back into a defensive shape and so have not put pressure on the ball). Players also seemed more confident about moving off the ball generally and making quick early forward passes. It just seemed as if they had been freed, encouraged to try things. United were moving the ball quicker and so asking questions of Norwich. There play was disjointed so Norwich survived but United were very much on the front foot.

The United scored after 41 minutes – Boom! This goal came from a low hard cross from the right by Valencia. This cross seemed to go through a series of legs before reaching Welbeck at the far post. He was tugged down by the arm and although he tried to get up and get a shot away with the keeper out of position the referee had already awarded a penalty. Rooney dispatched with ease.

SECOND HALF

Almost before any real pattern had been established United scored again – Boom! Kagawa and Rooney had switched positions and Rooney received the ball out on the left. He cut inside and Norwich were very slow to close his down. As two Norwich players realised what he was about to do Rooney shot from about 24 yards and beat the keeper with a low shot which went in off the post. This goal came on 49 minutes.

Perhaps filled with confidence from the second goal United looked much more composed now. The tempo of their play rose, (it was later revealed that Giggs ask for this at half time), and for about ten minutes United played some excellent attacking football. Good early passes, excellent movement on and off the ball. The one thing that let United down was the final pass and a seeming reluctance to shoot.

2nd half aUnited after the introduction of Mata

Now on 60 minutes Giggs made his first substitution. Welbeck was removed and replaced Mata. United also changed shape from the 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 with Mata playing behind Rooney. This shape appeared to suit United more than the 4-4-2. Initially Mata was a little off the pace and was caught in possession a couple of times but United scored again almost immediately after his introduction. Another low cross whipped in from the right and this time Mata was on hand to tap home from close range – Boom!

The game of course was now effectively over and again Giggs made a change, this time removing Kagawa and introducing Young. This time the shape didn’t change. United were now on top and confident. There play was less disjointed than in the first half and once Mata had picked up the pace of the game he began to dictate the game. He was everywhere, dropping deep, running high, and switching play. For about fifteen minutes he was almost unplayable and with most of United’s attacking play going through him they looked like they were about to score from every attack. In this period United play was adventurous, dynamic and aggressive so it wasn’t a surprise when they scored again on 73 minutes. Deservedly Mata scored again. Mata fed the ball out to the left to Evra. He crossed to the far post where Valencia hit a cross shot across the face of the goal. Mata headed home from close range – Boom!

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Just before this goal Giggs had made his final change. This time he removed Cleverley and introduced Hernandez. The shape remained the same but this change saw Rooney moved back into midfield with Hernandez as the furthest forward player ahead of Mata. United continued to push forward and Mata fed Hernandez for one great chance. The timing of Mata’s pass was perfect to allow Hernandez to race clear one on one with the Norwich keeper Ruddy. But he shot wide. The game ended 4-0.

2nd half b United late in the game

CONCLUSION

This was a far better performance than of late with a greater sense of positivity. Players had clearly been told to try things and freed to express themselves they gave a far more dynamic if a little disjointed performance. United’s play improved significantly after the introduction of Mata. He provided the craft and control to direct the attack.

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After a difficult week this was a morale boosting result and Giggs achieved his stated aim of putting a smile back on the faces of United fans.