After such a breathtaking start to the season, it may be fair to say the sprint start has slowed up slightly this past week with a couple of unconvincing performances against Stoke and Basel in the Champion’s League, both games which could well have been lost, but ultimately were fortunate to come away with draws. Many had hoped there would be some respite with the visit of Norwich, a fixture that could have been seen by many as a “business as usual” game, but with others recognising the potential for an upset. Indeed for parts of the match the latter case could well have been the outcome, with another far from convincing performance, particularly defensively. Throughout the first half United struggled to create truly meaningful chances, and it could be said that a valiant Norwich deserved a goal or two themselves, unfortunate not to find the net on a couple of occasions. However, it was the Old Trafford faithful who went home the happier set, as the deadlock was finally broken when, after Nani and Hernandez made way for Giggs and Welbeck, Anderson popped up to head home from close range from Rooney’s head forward in the box. Despite this, the situation felt precarious but United wrapped up the 3 points when good play between Danny Welbeck and Ji-Sung Park led to a clean break for Park to unselfishly play across for Welbeck to finish and giving his side the 2 goal cushion going into the final stages of the match. It may be felt that the international break is well timed, as a chance to regroup before the big matches against rivals Manchester City and Liverpool in the coming weeks. So, with that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) It was good to see Lindegaard get a game
With his “Cantona-esque” statement on how he was not at Old Trafford to pick his nose, it was a positive to see the young Danish goalkeeper, Anders Lindegaard, given his Premier League debut and to let Sir Alex Ferguson know that he is not to be forgotten. THe reason for De Gea’s absence was explained, in that De Gea has games for Spain coming up and with Lindegaard not having such priorities it was important to give him some game time. I believe it is important that he is given opportunities throughout the season, partly because as it is De Gea’s first, at such a young age the prospect of playing every match through a season may prove counter productive for some not yet used to the demands of the Premier League, and also because Lindegaard himself is clearly quite talented himself and is hungry to prove himself worthy as a main goalkeeper at United. Saturday’s game against Norwich proved to be a test, with the Canaries allowed through on more than one occasion, and he was perhaps lucky to come away with a clean sheet, particularly after a couple of fortunate deflections and shots off the post. But overall it was a solid performance, in which the defence in front of him did him few favours whatsoever.
2) Anderson – hot and cold
Part of United’s blistering start to the season was due to the blossoming midfield partnership of Anderson and Tom Cleverley. In recent weeks, however it could be said that the Brazilian midfielder’s form has dipped slightly, proving more wasteful with his passing, giving the ball away far more and not asserting himself on the game as people might have hoped to expect. If one were to look at the twitter timeline during the game, there were plenty of people cursing his wastefulness through the game, until of course he nodded the opening goal in, at which point the zero of the day was now the hero. This seems to sum him up as a whole recently, although performances have been improved, and he was not terrible against Norwich, he still has an inconsistency about his play, something which Nani has managed to take away from his game.
3) Valencia works at right back at times, but not all the time
I have stated in the past, that Antonio Valencia is a more than capable stand in when short of options and in need of a right back . Looking at the line up, it was understandable then that he would have to fill in once again. However, we may be starting to see the shortcomings of this, with aspects of his play lacking for someone defensively minded. Yes, he does provide adequate cover and rarely does he stray from position, but there were times when he was caught out, and was lucky not to be punished for this as he was dispossessed by Pilkington who was left through on goal but could not finish, putting his effort wide, much to the relief of United fans.
4) Phil Jones – impressing with every performance
The player that most would agree deserved man of the match with yet another rousing performance was summer signing Phil Jones. Throughout the game he threatened in attack and performed his defensive duties superbly, making final tackles to prevent Norwich’s own attacks as well as making runs and showing his strength in keeping the ball. Although all signings have shown good qualities in justifying their price tags, for many Phil Jones will be considered the best of them, showing consistency in his play and settling in to the side with relative ease. However, it appears the defensive unit as a whole is lacking organisation. Far too often, Norwich were allowed to create chances, and had it not been for their wastefulness, it could well have been them who went away with 3 points. The main reason for this is most likely due to Nemanja Vidic’s absence, the lack of a true experienced leader in the centre of defence, and fans will hope that his injury lay off does not last in the way that has been intimated.
5) Norwich were well organised
Proceedings were certainly made more difficult by the approach in which Norwich played the game. Well organised in getting behind the ball they made it difficult for United to cut through and create anything meaningful, particularly in the first half. As well as this they were swift in getting the ball forward catching United on the break and creating difficult situations for them to deal with. An all round good performance by Paul Lambert’s side, but their wastefulness and lack of fortune in other aspects gave United a chance to exploit their shortcomings and come away with a hard fought victory.