Not for the first time this season, we were outplayed by our opponent who was more determined and more willing to get the points at stake. But for the first time in a while, we could not come back from a goal and we fell to our third loss of the season. The only thing the result left the Manchester United faithful were a few things to chew on.
1. THE MIDFIELD SELECTION WAS POOR
Playing Robin van Persie and last week’s hero at Aston Villa, Javier Hernandez was not wrong at all in theory. They are both tested goal getters and in van Persie, Manchester United were assured of other great qualities such as good link up play and the ability to set up other scorers. The problem, however, was in midfield. Carrick was always going to be a starter but who was going to partner him? Surely, the young legs of Anderson and Cleverley would seemed logical especially against an equally young Norwich side that had Alexander Tettey ,who had been very key for Chris Houghton against Arsenal, playing in midfield to try and stop United from thinking and creating. Or Fletcher would have another game to help him in his recovery? The manager chose Giggs. Giggs’ creativity is well documented but in his late 30s, pace and strength are not readily available to carry the genius through. As a result, the team looked flat and without poise when going forward. The forwards had a very difficult time playing as the delivery through the middle was not good enough. Rooney’s worth and ability was sorely missed on Saturday and it is not as though, a player like Kagawa will return soon to take up the creative duties when a player like Rooney is absent. It is becoming (if it is not already) clear that Giggs cannot compete against the younger legs and maybe his involvement in the Premier League should be minimized and he should be used more in the Cup games. His inability to cope with the intensity of the League is beginning to cause a few worrying moments for the team and something must be done about that.
2. THE FLANKS WERE VERY INEFFECTIVE
Manchester United thrives on a lot of wing play as past seasons have demonstrated and even the current season has shown the same feature. So, the output of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young must always be on the high side so that the team’s natural rhythm can be found and exploited. However, the wingers put out very low performances against Norwich. For the second game running, the wide men could not really deliver telling crosses for the forwards to feed on. Both Valencia and Young threw lots of doubts on their abilities at Carrow Road with their constant decisions not to take on and beat the opposition’s players in order to deliver a range of crosses. It was quite amazing to see Van Persie drifting into wide areas to provide crosses into the Norwich penalty area with the hope that something might happen. Norwich were very comfortable dealing with such crosses as they had no targets to mark even with a lot of United players in the danger area.
The wide men must begin to give off their best in coming games. It is as simple as that. Defensively, the team is still weak and hopefully, playing together (in the case of Smalling and Ferdinand) and the eventual return of Vidic should stem that one. But to grow blunt offensively only complicates everything for the team as the season gets more and more challenging.
3. THE ENTIRE TEAM PERFORMANCE WAS POOR
Man United’s escapes in the last few weeks have all been marked by one thing. A certain spell of improvement in the general team play that ultimately leads to the goals and the turnarounds. Unfortunately, last Saturday’s trip to Norwich did not produce any period that was marked by some good play from Man United. Players may have looked active and they wanted to get something out of it but no player stood out and led by example. The front men looked out of it and that led to Hernandez being hauled off for Welbeck, the midfield quartet was very flat in both the offensive and defensive phases of play and the defence still looked very shaky. The sum was what we all saw and not even the manager’s changes in Scholes and Anderson could spark life into the team. It is highly important that the team gives off a certain minimum level every time to enable a comeback if possible. Players must be willing to do a bit more for the team and really show that they are worthy of wearing the jersey.
Clearly, a bad day at the office but credit must be given to Norwich City. They deserved the points. They worked harder than the visitors all round. They were more precise when attacking and in one of such moments, they scored a lovely goal. Defensively, they were solid and braver and even when they were under pressure from United late on, Ruddy kept the scores as they were. For United, the team must simply improve all round and get back to winning games and this time, in more convincing fashion. The gaffer must also get the team selections right. I understand that there may be absences in key areas but making the right choices can make a world of difference in a game and ultimately, for the rest of the season.