1. Ahead of kick-off against Norwich there was the promise of extending our lead to 15 points clear at the top if we won. However, with Real Madrid to play on Tuesday, you had to wonder what sort of team Sir Alex Ferguson would go with. It was great to hear what an experienced side had been picked when the team news was announced. To put out such a strong side for Norwich at home proves just how much the manager wants the title this season. After losing to this lot away from home, Ferguson ensured we wouldn’t have a repeat of that, and 4-0 is exactly the kind of scoreline we should be managing against a team like Norwich.
2. Shinji Kagawa was likely included in the starting line-up as the manager intended not to play him against Real Madrid. Ryan Giggs, who was set the make his 1000th professional appearance, was rested instead. With a hattrick, something no other Asian player has achieved in the Premier League before, Kagawa is certainly sending a message to the manager about his inclusion on Tuesday. His first goal came at just the right time, in injury time of the first half, to give us a lead to build on in the second half. Valencia crossed the ball in with his left foot, Robin van Persie flicked it on, and Kagawa used his outstep to beat the keeper. The second goal was one of my favourite finishes of the season, with him so casually putting the ball in the back of the net, almost pushing it in with his foot. “The boy plays like an angel,” Kagawa’s former team mate, Nuri Sahin, has said of him. Sahin his obviously seen him score goals like that second one before! The third goal wasn’t too shabby either, with Kagawa dinking the ball over the keeper, completing his top quality hattrick. It wasn’t just his goal-scoring that should have us singing his praises, but his passing too. He completed 70/76 (only Carrick completed more) which is a 92% passing accuracy. In the final third, it was 31/37, again, with Carrick the only player with more, and he created three chances for his team mates to score. Surely he has to start against Real Madrid now, with Ryan Giggs replacing him in the second half to make that 1000th appearance?
3. Whilst Kagawa bagged a hattrick, it was Wayne Rooney who scored the best goal of the day, with a long range effort leaving the keeper with no chance. I’m struggling to think of the last time he scored a goal as good as that. All in all, Rooney had a mixed game. In the first half he was very poor, losing the ball time and again, failing to beat his man, and struggling to make the simplest of passes. By the end of the game his passing completion rate was just 79%. In the second half he upped his game. Carrick played forward a great ball, which Rooney controlled well and turned to set up Kagawa’s second goal. He also played in Kagawa for the third after Danny Welbeck brought the ball forward. There’s no doubting his work ethic. He is all over the pitch every game. But it just isn’t quite clicking for him at the moment. Still, if he can score a beauty and set up two other goals when he’s playing badly, we can look forward to what difference he can make when he’s playing well.
4. When you win 4-0 you can’t have too many complaints, but the most irritating thing of the day was the performance of Mark Bunn, the Norwich goalie. He was wasting time from the first moment he got the ball. In the first half, as Robin van Persie tried to get on the end of a lovely one-two with Rooney, Bunn stayed down for some time. It didn’t look as though there was much in it and most of the crowd weren’t prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. In the second half, he did exactly the same thing, and again, there appeared to be limited, if any, contact. Just two minutes of added time were allocated at the end of the first half, despite Bunn’s lengthy treatment, much to the frustration of the home fans. It turns out that two minutes was all we needed though, with Kagawa scoring 56 seconds in to injury time. It was satisfying all the same, given the time Bunn had wasted. It was only upon returning home that I was informed that this Bunn was at Blackburn the season before, and when they came to Old Trafford he was the most frustrating keeper I’ve ever come across. The fact the result went against us that day probably didn’t help our irritation any but his time wasting that day was unbelievable, and it was no surprise when the following week he was booked after just half an hour for time wasting against Newcastle! Complete joke.
5. Grant Holt didn’t do anything to endear himself to the Old Trafford crowd either, as he chugged about the pitch, cutting the figure of an oversized and overweight budgie, fouling and shirt-pulling whenever presented with the opportunity. In the second half he put both his hands on Evra’s shoulder to push him down as he rose to head the ball back across the box. Russell Martin was presented with a sitter but somehow managed to clear the bar from a couple of yards out, not that it would have counted, after the linesman flagged Grant’s foul. The striker went tearing after the referee, the quickest he moved all day, as if it made any difference. De Gea took the resulting freekick, instead of the goalkick we would have had if the ref hadn’t seen the foul, and that was that.
6. De Gea had nothing to do all game, with the exception of a misplaced place which he had to collect in the first half. However, his best moment of the game was when he saved us from a corner following a dodgy back pass. The agility and ball control to keep it in was fantastic. In the eight games since conceding three against Newcastle we’ve had five clean sheets and conceded just three goals. De Gea is coming in to his own, Nemanja Vidic is making a great difference in the air, Jonny Evans is going from strength to strength and Rio Ferdinand is enjoying great form. It certainly gives the manager a headache over who to pick on Tuesday in between Rafael and Evra.
7. Carrick bossed the game, which is something I seem to be repeating every week now, with him playing great balls forward and controlling the centre of the pitch. Norwich offered very little, so it was an easy game for him, but impressive enough all the same. The players left the pitch to “it’s Carrick, you know, hard to believe it’s not Scholes” being sung on repeat from the Stretford End. Whilst there are plenty of differences between the two, and in truth, Carrick is nowhere near as good as Scholes was at his peak, it’s likely that Carrick is just embarrassed as Scholes would be of all the attention. He thoroughly deserves it though.
8. Another game crossed off and another three points in the bag. We’ve got just ten games left to play now and the pressure is back on City to get a win at Villa Park on Monday. All the neutrals are already saying it’s United’s title and we would be too if not for last season. City have to win every single game and you imagine that if they drop any points over the next few weeks, even in a draw, that it will all be over. It’s a strange feeling at this time of the season when we’re in this position. We should be lapping it up, revelling in our league position and dominance in games, but instead, I’m just wishing for it all to be over. What for? When it’s over, we only have to start it all over again, and won’t have the promise of being 15 points clear. So as much as I can, I’m trying to enjoy this period, but still silently celebrating every passing weekend that we keep the gap in tact. Roll on Real Madrid!
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