8 points on how Manchester United lost to Norwich this weekend
1. United failed to capitalise on a strong start
Despite Jermaine Jenas’ claims on Match of the Day that Norwich’s gameplan was executed well from minute one, in truth, United looked hugely superior for the first twenty minutes of this game. Van Gaal instructed his defensive line to push high, with Ashley Young and Anthony Martial appearing to be a focal point of their possession, targeting the timid Norwich left-back Martin Olsson down the right.
The fear factor of playing in the grandeur footballing palace clearly bedazzled Norwich’s star-struck eyes. An early United goal from the sustained pressure and it might have been a cricket score. Norwich held out, and United never maintained that intensity there on in.
2. United don’t know how to score goals
This is a wider conundrum, beyond this particular game, that Van Gaal deserves criticism for poor forward planning and management. Granted, Wayne Rooney looked mediocre, but nothing came through the middle of the pitch for him to truly build upon.
Amy Lawrence of the Guardian argued that both United and Arsenal spent all summer looking for a no.9, and in the end United settled on an £80m 19 year old. If market supply is thin and European demand high, why one earth were Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck allowed to leave with no adequate replacement? Welbeck’s departure remains an iconic shift in ideologies from the Ferguson era.
3. Anthony Martial probably shouldn’t have started on the Right Wing
Criticism could be levelled at shifting United’s no.9 (Martial) out to the flank and placing United’s no.10 (Rooney) in the no.9 role. Sympathy for Van Gaal might be seen here, based on how Gerard Deulofeu tortured Norwich’s Olsson down the right last week in Everton’s 1-1 draw at Carrow Road. Still, Norwich coped with Alex Tettey shuttling across to support Olsson.
Placing Martial on the shoulder, centrally, would have posed far greater problems for the languid combination of Ryan Bennett and Sebastien Bassong, both of whom are slow. United looked wide before committing attacks, when they should have tried to penetrate Norwich’s centre. (More on this later).
4. Fellaini’s role was confused
Marouane Fellaini’s role has become interesting at United. Versatile in that you could play him anywhere in the centre of the pitch (even defence or attack), his role in this game was to tear off Norwich’s midfield rearguard onto Russell Martin (Norwich’s right back) to win long diagonal balls. When United effectively worked the ball down the Young/Martial right, he would then become a target man. Unfortunately, Martin was on point and dealt with the threat well. When United were chasing the game and Fellaini had been withdrawn for Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling resumed this role, nearly scoring in the last play of the game.
In truth, Fellaini should have come on later when Norwich were sat deep. It was his upward pushing that exposed his side’s back four for Norwich’s opener, and a more defensive minded partner for Michael Carrick would have prevented this.
5. Possession and penetration, no vertical runs, no long shots
Heaps of possession, ball hoarding, and lateral passes. The result? Two shots on target. The first was United’s goal, which- arguably- Norwich should have dealt with much better, and the second was a Juan Mata free kick which Norwich keeper Declan Rudd fended away with ease.
United’s game plan was fairly straightforward: work an overload on a flank, and get the ball into the box. This is where Rooney deserves sympathy; barring the 2009/2010 season where he scored 26 goals, he’s never been famed for an aerial threat. He often received the ball with his back to goal, with no player making a vertical run beyond him behind the Norwich defence. United’s play became predictable and slow.
Van Gaal’s determining to not squander chances also meant that no players ever attempted a long shot. Every play had to be patient, well conceived and elaborately thought out. Declan Rudd, Norwich’s keeper, was playing just his third Premier League game of his career. Forcing him into a save or two might have exploited a Norwich vulnerability.
6. Carrick’s isolation on the break
The pressure of not scoring and the wide ranging criticism that Van Gaal has received may well have shown for the first time in this game, primarily because Morgan Schnierderlin did not start. Both of Norwich’s goals, if you watch them, come from defence splitting passes from deep, and quick transitions. Fellaini and Memphis are both woefully out of position for Norwich’s first. When that happens, you count on your no. 6- in this case Michael Carrick- to break up the play. In both instances, he failed.
Carrick was beaten too easily for both goals, and a more dynamic, aggressive defender would probably have broken up both Norwich attacks.
Van Gaal looked for creativity from deep, and was punished. Schnierderlin would have made a difference.
7. No United onslaught
Every cliche in the proverbial book surrounds a Manchester United onslaught when they’re chasing a losing game. Fergie time and hairdryer treatment are both born from methods of Sir Alex to galvanize a team and seize a result.
No such reaction existed in this game, barring a Chris Smalling header in stoppage time. In the five minutes after Martial’s goal, Norwich might have waned under the glare of United’s pressure, but none really came. That reflects badly on a team trying to embody the core principles of a club infamous for such enriching qualities.
8. Louis Van Gaal is practically sacked
Probably not a difficult call to make, but reports in the Independent today stated that a loss against Chelsea or Stoke in United’s next games will result in Van Gaal’s immediate termination. Ian Ladyman in the Mail reitered this, as did Jamie Jackson in the Guardian. When multiple news agencies report on hidden speculation, it usually suggests that a club source have briefed them.
Barring remarkable victories in those respective games, the lure of Jose Mourinho is insurmountable for a club desperate to end a three year barren trophy spell.
Van Gaal’s demise has been remarkable. Just as Jurgen Klopp’s availability saw off Brendan Rodgers, Van Gaal will likely be the victim of external factors.