Manchester United were predictably leaky at the back at Carrow Road, but surprisingly had little in response after going one goal down against an attacking Norwich side. Norwich continued to gain strength as their familiarity with Chris Hughton’s system increases. The Canaries have gone 5 matches without losing or conceding more than one goal.
The match mirrored United’s win against Villa last weekend. The major difference was the lack of an impact substitute. Javier Hernandez started the match rather than appearing in the second half. Against Villa the Mexican’s pace and movement accelerated United’s attack. Against Norwich, the striker did not have the same impact playing the full 90 minutes.
United took 62% possession to Norwich’s 38%. Despite this, both teams created 10 chances in open play. The dividing line between the two teams was how they took their chances. United did not have any convincing cracks at goal, whereas Pilkington slotted home a fantastic header. Norwich could have easily gone up by two goals had Jonny Howson not squandered a fantastic break on goal in the 90th minute.
The midfield was dominated by Michael Carrick. Carrick was United’s composed operated on the ball. He made the most passes with 99 completed attempts, and 121 touches on the ball.
Another parallel between this match and the Villa game was United’s slow build up. The midfield was occupied solely by Ryan Giggs and Carrick. Both midfielders played very centrally, usually occupy space near the center circle. In the final third, the ball was spread to Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia.
Young and Valencia were the crux of United’s attack. Rather than playing balls over the shoulder of Hernandez or Robin van Persie, most balls were directed the wings. Young and Valencia contributed a total of 23 crosses, but only completed five of these crosses. United were quick to place numbers in the box, but Norwich’s defense did a fine job of repelling aerial threats with a total of 12 successful header clearances.
Throughout the match, United’s defense looked susceptible to Norwich’s overlapping fullbacks. For their attacking prowess, Rafael and Patrice Evra had difficulty tracking the combined runs of wingers and fullbacks. Garrido and Whitaker both had a fair share of influence down their respective flanks. Norwich’s goal came from a superb cross played by Garrido on the overlap.
The goal that United conceded was quite similar to the first goal conceded against Aston Villa. The ball was spread to United’s right flank, and the ball was played in to a winger cutting inward from the left.
The primary creative engine in Norwich’s attack was Wes Hoolahan. The Irishman acted a hook between the midfield, width, and attack. Hoolahan would collect the ball from both the wingers and central mids, and then act as the primary connector to Holt in attack. Hoolahan completed 47 passes, more than any other Norwich player. 60% of these passes were directed to the left or right of the midfield. The rest of the midfielders remained deep, and played balls from the defensive third up to Hoolahan.
The majority of Norwich’s looks at goal were from a distance. Seldom did they create chances within the penalty area. Their wingers stayed wide when in possession, electing to pass rather than dribble to the byline. This contrasted harshly with United, who worked to create chances with the 18-yard-box. This difference in play is reflected in the corner count, as United created 12 corners while Norwich received 0.
After going a goal up, Norwich did a fine job of suppressing United’s attacks. Their midfield collapsed deeper, absorbing pressure. Their attack became composed of only Holt, Pilkington and Snodgrass, who looked to receive balls from deep. The primary focus shifted to breaking up United’s attacks in the midfield. This deeper focus actually gave Norwich more time on the ball than any other point in the match: in the 70 to 75th minute range, The Canaries carried 64% of the possession.
In response to going down, United pushed higher and shifted their focus to attacking. Young started to drift farther inward to increase numbers around the penalty area. Giggs drifted wider to the left side on more occasions.
This failed to be a game changer, and Norwich successfully ground out the last ten minutes of the match without much fuss. The closest United ever looked to equalize was when Bassong mistakenly headed a corner dangerously toward goal, forcing a great save out of John Ruddy.
Sir Alex Ferguson should look at this match in contrast to their trip to Villa Park. At Villa, Hernandez turned their two goal deficit around in a fantastic substitute appearance. As a starter at Carrow Road, his pace and movement did not have as a great an impact as they did against Villa’s tired defense. Hernandez ended without a single shot at goal, and was decidedly mediocre throughout.
While on paper it may look like a smash-and-victory, United did not have an easy time against a Canaries side that worked hard to create solid chances. Hughton’s side is definitely in flying form as they become comfortable in his quick system.
All images taken from the excellent FourFourTwo StatsZone iPhone App.