Shinji Kagawa proved a point on Saturday with an aesthetic hat trick as Manchester United beat Norwich 4-0 at Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney later rounded off the victory with a deceptively easy looking strike from distance.
Few will have predicated any other result to this match. Norwich recently turned out a poor streak with a win against Everton, but walking away from Old Trafford with any points would have been a Herculean task. They beat United earlier this season, but a match at the Red Devils’ home ground is always a different story altogether.
Manchester United are now 15 points ahead of City. If their form in this match continues, they’ll sweep the league with ease.
This match can be succinctly summed up by looking at the shooting statistics. Manchester United had 19 total shots while Norwich only mustered 1, which was outset of the penalty area.
Possession was no less telling, with Manchester United taking 65.2% of the possession to Norwich’s 34.8%.
There was also a significant gulf between the two teams’ passing. United completed 590 passes at a rate of 89% accuracy; Norwich had only 262 at a rate of 74%.
Manchester United’s Formation
Manchester United played with a consistently high line throughout the match. Evans and Vidic were both allowed freedom to support attacking movements and pressed close to the halfway line throughout the match. Evra and Smalling both provided width, allowing Kagawa and Valencia license to roam.
Valencia played the role of touch-line hugging winger as he usually does, but Kagawa used this freedom to a greater effect. He popped up all over the pitch, coming deeper and narrower when out of possession and making runs through the center during counters.
Carrick and Anderson looked to spread the ball to wide players during the match and offered deep outlets for attacking players to pivot around.
Carrick was very busy on the ball, completing a highly impressive 112 passes over the course of the match and having the most touches on the ball. It is also interesting to note the attacking quality of his passes. His 38 passes in the attacking third marked the highest tally for him this season.
Rooney reprised his role as an attacking midfielder to great effect. He covered the length and width of the pitch, and his energetic runs created significant space for other players to exploit.
Norwich’s formation was fairly rudimentary. In the first half, they enjoyed precious little possession, keeping the majority of their players tightly narrow and deeply positioned. Hoolahan usually operates as a connector in the midfield, joining midfielders and wingers to increase support for Holt. However, Hoolahan was driven deeper by United’s constant pressure. As a result, Holt was isolated during the match, with little support and little opportunity to score.
Ultimately, Norwich’s game devolved into a series of long, hopefully passes as they attempted to relive pressure on their back line. They were pinned in too narrowly by United’s pressure, and struggled to find width to exploit.
Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney
United’s performance in this match will be defined by two fantastic individual performances by Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney.
Kagawa was in great form, as illustrated by his 3 goals. These 3 goals were his only 3 shots across the entire match. Focusing exclusively on his goals is unfair however. His pass completion rate was 92% with his 70 completed passes being the second highest tally amongst United players. He was a very busy attacking player throughout the match, with his passes covering an impressively expansive area in the final third:
However, it would be easy to name Kagawa man of the match based on the merit of these goals, but this glosses over the superlative performance of Rooney. He provided 2 assists for Kagawa in addition to his own great goal. In total, he created 3 chances in open play, all of which were clear-cut opportunities to score. His work rate more often than not is what opened up the space for other attackers to join, and ultimately, what allowed Kagawa to score his hat trick.
Ultimately, I find it difficult to separate the performances of Kagawa and Rooney. Both players had fantastic matches in no small part due to the other. They worked in seamless tandem with each other. Kagawa’s late arrivals into the box paired well with Rooney’s high work rate and ability to hold the ball up. Rooney’s movement and ball retention would frequently demand attention from multiple Norwich defenders, leaving massive space to exploit from deep runs.
This is a partnership with a dangerous attacking capacity. This match indicated that Kagawa and Rooney may well possess playing styles that compliment each other efficiently.
Possessing the ball allowed Manchester United to severely atrophy Norwich’s defending prowess. When they went a goal behind, the game was always going to get worse for Norwich. They attempted to come out and increase their attacking threat in the second half, but ultimately allowed a wealth of space for United to exploit. This allowed Kagawa’s deep runs and Rooney’s work rate to work in terrific tandem.
This was a strong possession win, illustrating what constant ball retention and constant pressure can do to sides that defend well. Norwich simply were never allowed a rest, and they exhaustion got the better of them in the second half.