Ryan Giggs’ first match in charge as interim player/manager of Manchester United ended with a comfortable 4-0 victory over the struggling Norwich City as the gloom at Old Trafford finally lifted.
The sacking of David Moyes may have come as a surprise to some, but United looked like, well, United under their new leader.
Opposition considered, sure, but the football that the Red Devils played was reminiscent of the style that used to make Sir Alex Ferguson emerge very slowly from his seat in euphoria.
It took the hosts 40 minutes to get on the scoresheet, with Wayne Rooney converting from the penalty spot after Danny Welbeck was fouled, but in the second half, the gulf in class finally told.
Rooney added his second of the match just three minutes after the interval before Giggs made the first inspired substitution of his tenure.
The veteran winger brought on Juan Mata on the hour mark and saw the change pay dividends just a few minutes later as the Spaniard put United into a commanding lead.
Mata then added his second of the match and United’s fourth to put that extra bit of gloss on the result and kick the new era off in style.
5 - Juan Mata has scored five times in his last four Premier League matches for @ManUtd. Sparkle.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 26, 2014
Though Norwich desperately needed points from their trip to Old Trafford with the threat of relegation looming large, they never looked like troubling a United side that were perfectly organised from first minute to last.
Following the match, Giggs reflected on a perfect start to life in charge of his beloved club during an interview with Sky Sports, as reported by BBC Sport:
I enjoyed it. 4-0 is a dream day for us, I'm really pleased with the performance. It's good to end the day as we did; scoring goals and creating chances. I reminded the players the tempo needed to be quicker at half time and they reacted well to that. I didn't sleep last night. Leaving the likes of Juan Mata out of the starting XI was difficult and a position I've never been in before. I'm also one of their teammates. I told them all individually and some of them were upset, but they didn't sulk. You saw the reaction of Juan, he's a true pro.
Giggs went on to say that taking the managerial role on a permanent basis isn’t going through his mind at all; he's merely focusing on the task at hand:
I'm not thinking about anything other than these four games. My next job is to get the players ready for Sunderland. I could have played two teams because the response of the players has been brilliant. I trust them all. I wanted experience in the team today because I knew it would be emotionally charged and they didn't let me down. All of us have let ourselves down this year, we haven't played to the quality we are capable of but we did that today. The standards they set today, they need to keep for Sunderland. I've not had time to train this week but I'll train again on Monday and I can't wait to get back on the pitch.
Giggs has three more fixtures from which to underline his credentials as a potential Manchester United boss, with Sunderland and Hull City visiting Old Trafford before the Red Devils travel to Southampton on the final game of the season.
If the Welshman can once again find a way to make United play in the manner that their champions tag deserves, then he could make it four wins out of four in the United hot seat and give the board something to really think about.
While the next three matches will outline Giggs’ credentials as a possible full-time replacement for Moyes at Old Trafford, the role is still very much up for grabs with several big-name bosses reportedly in the running.
However, according to BBC Sport, two-goal hero Mata said that he enjoyed playing under the 40-year-old’s guidance, and it certainly brought the best out of the Spaniard:
"For me it is a pleasure to play under this manager. When I was a kid I remember him playing and he is a proper Manchester United person. But the decision (of who the next manager is) is not down to us and we have to enjoy him being in charge."
Juan Mata has scored 5 goals in the Premier League in 2014, already matching the same number he scored in 2013. pic.twitter.com/0qj6enPK6Y— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 26, 2014
Saturday saw the battle of the interim managers at Old Trafford, but Norwich City’s temporary man in charge came off far worse as his side slipped ever closer to the Premier League trap door.
Speaking to Sky Sports after seeing his side outplayed, Neil Adams said that his team's second-half performance simply wasn’t good enough and looked on to the impossible mission in front of him—via BBC Sport:
I think we did really well in the first half and frustrated them but then five minutes before the break they get a penalty. There is minimal contact and that changes the game. In the second half we were not good enough. We allowed Wayne Rooney too much time and space to get in a shot and we did the same last week against Liverpool when Raheem Sterling scored. We had a go after that but it is difficult when you are 2-0 down away from home.
I felt we should have done better. We have got two games left and probably have to take points from them. Overall, it wasn't good enough but we are still above the [relegation] line. What we can't do is beat ourselves up. We have to believe in ourselves and give everything we have got for the last two games.
With a trip to Stamford Bridge and a home match against Arsenal to come, the Canaries look in deep trouble, sitting just one point above the drop zone.
Adams must take a leaf out of Giggs’ book and find a way to bring the best out of his players, or Norwich could be reaching the end of their Premier League journey.
For Giggs, though, everything is on the up. With the class of ’92 supporting him on his management mission, the reputation of the Old Trafford icon is going nowhere but skyward.
The question remains, though, is he the ideal candidate to take the Manchester United reins on a permanent basis?