Manchester United laboured to a rare away win, this time at relegation-threatened Norwich City thanks to a good finish from Juan Mata. The win took Louis Van Gaal’s side closer to their rivals Manchester City, now only one behind with the latter set to play third placed Arsenal this weekend. It was another dire, uninspiring performance from the Red Devils where the stale nature of the way United played overshadowed what was, in context of the league, a hugely vital win.
United started on the back foot even before the whistle was blown after being forced to enforce a change due to injury in the warm up. Ander Herrera found himself in the starting line-up instead of Anthony Martial who was left out as a precaution on the back of a tight hamstring which turned out to be a shrewd move, considering the looming midweek game against fellow top four contenders West Ham United at the Boleyn ground farewell.
The two Spaniards were at the centre of United’s attacking play although it was all cagey and tentative for large portions of the game. With 22 passes between them two making it the joint highest pass combination in the game (alongside Mata and Valencia), United were more threatening from the right than their usual stronger left-hand side. The lack of aforementioned cutting edge should be attributed to another poor display from Memphis Depay who failed to stake a claim for a start in the remaining games by looking well short in confidence and conviction.
The goal came in the 72nd minute owing to a Bassong error in judgement which left Rooney with acres of space to run into between him and the keeper. He managed to turn and find Mata unmarked and the number 8 caressed it into the net to score his 6th goal of the season in his 36th appearance. It’s not been a stellar campaign by any means but Mata has the knack of scoring the odd goal in a must win game and Van Gaal would have been pleased to see that trend continue on Saturday.
Louis Van Gaal was pleased to see his team win though with the manager patting himself for the decisions he made which according to him, led to what in his opinion, was a comfortable win. In the post match presser he touched on the importance of rotation, especially given the scale of United’s next tree games – three cup finals by all means which can make or break their campaign under the Dutchman. He said,
“I’m a manager who is not taking risks. Especially not in his situation and I said this to Anthony because he has played most of all the matches, like Daley Blind and Chris Smalling. He is 20 years old. I have to take care of him so he didn’t play and Wayne had to play in the striker’s position. He gave an assist to Juan Mat and it has been solved very well”
Though the win could not have come at a better time for United, their fate is still not in their hands as to whether or not they will finish fourth by the end of the season. Much depends on how the Manchester City game against Arsenal pans out on Sunday and the result at the Etihad will be as crucial to the Red Devils as their final two games are (West Ham away and Bournemouth home), to deciding not only their future in Europe but also that of their manager.