Manchester United vs. Norwich City: 6 Things We Learned
A week ago, Manchester United vs. Norwich City did not look like a game that would likely live long in memory. Fate, and the Manchester United board, intervened, and instead of a drab encounter with little at stake for United, the tie marked the managerial debut of one of the club's favourite sons.
As Ryan Giggs strode out along the touchline, resplendent in his club suit, United fans erupted into noise.
In the ensuing sound were pride, excitement and relief. The future remains uncertain for United, but Saturday was magical.
Here are six things we learned from Manchester United's 4-0 victory over Norwich City.
Ryan Giggs Likes a 4-4-2
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that he was the left winger in one of world football's most effective 4-4-2 formations, Giggs' first outing as manager saw him choose to line United up in one.
There were some eyebrows raised at the selection—Juan Mata wasn't in the starting XI and Adnan Januzaj was absent from the squad altogether. Additionally, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley operating as a pair in the centre of midfield has often been a cause for anxiety this season.
However, Giggs trusted his players to do the job in that formation, and given the 4-0 scoreline and its fair reflection of United's dominance, few could argue with his approach.
Ryan Giggs Made a Difference During the Game
In the first half, there were periods where United looked a little lacklustre. Giggs, speaking to Sky Sports after the game said, "The first half we were a little bit slow, so I just reminded them that the tempo needs to be quicker and we need to be a little bit faster. They reacted well to that."
That pep talk made a difference, as United scored three in the second half. As well as whatever impact his speech had made, his substitutions bore fruit, as Mata came on to score two goals.
Tom Cleverley's Future at Manchester United Must Be in Doubt
Cleverley made his first start since the game against Manchester City on 25 March.
If statistics were all that mattered in football, his 50 of 53 passes completed, per Squawka.com, might suggest that he played well, but I suspect few at Old Trafford would agree with that assertion.
He looked off the pace. He only completed three of his attempted six tackles, per Squawka.com again, and none of his passes were key.
There is an intangible lightweight quality to a United midfield of Carrick and Cleverley.
If Cleverley is to have a future at United, it should not be as one of a midfield two.
Shinji Kagawa's Future at Manchester United Should Be in No Doubt
Shinji Kagawa's gift for the unexpected was on thrilling display in this game. He gave a qualitatively excellent performance, if not a quantitatively excellent one.
His touch was electrifying, exciting the crowd and conjuring up the sense that something great could be just about to happen. His performance was an absolute pleasure to watch, and it would be a terrible mistake for United to let a player of Kagawa's quality leave without a fight.
The Old Trafford Crowd Were Ready for David Moyes to Leave
If the joy that greeted Giggs' emergence from the tunnel could be ascribed to United fans' pre-existing affections for him, there were plenty of signs that the Old Trafford faithful were reasonably delighted to be entering a new era.
Within five minutes of kick-off, the Stretford End burst into a chant of “Attack! Attack! Attack Attack Attack!” The subtext of that chant should be reasonably clear—United fans want to see attacking football, and there was a lack of belief that David Moyes would ever deliver on that.
It is entirely subjective and may be in part a projection of my personal feelings, but the sense of relief at the ground felt palpable, amongst both fans and players.
That a performance emerged that was worthy of the occasion was icing on the cake.
6. The Squad Is Not in Need of 'Fundamental Rebuilding'
It was "only" Norwich City, whom United would always expect to beat at Old Trafford. However, the performance, the options available for the bench and the quality of those absent through injury all point to Moyes being disingenuous or at least incorrect when he said United needed "fundamental rebuilding," per a statement from the League Managers Association (h/t The Guardian).
With a couple of key additions in midfield and perhaps at the centre of defense, United's squad may well be good enough to challenge for the league title.
After all, this time last year, they were champions.