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Dec 292013

Norwich City 0-1 Manchester United
1545202 562898357130535 1461771227 n Welbeck Nicks OneIf there was any one thing David Moyes made Everton good at, it was the art of smash and grab. Even when there was no money and a dearth of talent, the Toffees were always good for nicking at least five wins a season they didn’t even come close to deserving.. On an afternoon where it was clear that Wayne Rooney has been carrying the club on his back, his absence made itself conspicuously felt throughout proceedings. Wazza may indeed never be loved as much as he deserves to be, but, to malapropize Niccolo Machiavelli, “it’s better to fear losing him than loving him after he’s gone!” With Rooney left to sit at home in Cheshire to rest what the manager called a “minor groin strain” and the double-threat of Adnan Januzaj and Danny Welbeck left on the bench to, hopefully, get some rest, United put out a physically small, weakened line-up against a desperate backs-to-the-wall Norwich City club who are in the midst of plummeting into and then propping up the relegation zone.

Led by the doubly anemic Javíer Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa, United lacked any attacking threat whatsoever throughout the first half. Hadn’t Kagawa scored a delicious hat-trick against the Canaries last season to announce himself to the Stretford End faithful? Well, this time the Canaries’ manager Chris Hughton played a high line and fed the Mexican striker a diet of tight marking and relentless petty fouls. At any rate, both Shinji and Chicharito were easily physically dominated by mediocre players, although Phil Dowd’s usual desire to let his capricious personality run a game–in a style which is second only to the megamaniacal refereeing of Howard Webb–didn’t help much either. Norwich dominated casually. Not through any brilliance, though. The fact that a couple of hack ham-and-eggers like Robert Snodgrass and Wes Hoolahan dominated possession was more a tale of the dissipation of a once-great Patrice Evra and the utter dysfunction and disinterest displayed by Tom Cleverley than anything. Exhausted from appearing in four matches in a row, Tommy Boy made it clear to all and sundry that he had no interest whatsoever in the night’s proceedings. Truth be told, leaving a fresh Anderson and Fabio Da Silva on the bench seems rather foolish, but second guessing one more stubborn Scotsman when you win is pointless, right?

Early on, Norwich’s crude but patient passing game saw, first, Robert Snodgrass slipping the ball into the path of Russell Martin, who squeezed behind the peripherally challenged Patrice Evra. Martin’s vicious shot was well gathered by De Gea as he dived, cat-like, to his right. Gary Hooper, swiveling in the penalty area, shot straight at De Gea, and Robert Snodgrass, cutting in from the right, curved his effort wide. Then, after Giggs was booked for upending Snodgrass, a Sebastian Bassong header was the next to keep De Gea busy. Indeed, when Hoolahan created space in the penalty area, only to fire a soft powder-puff of a shot against the legs of Evans, it became very clear that the Canaries were toothless at best. United fans only had to worry about own-goals with such comical impotence in ascendance for Norwich. Only Michael Carrick, shooting high from outside the Norwich box, bothered Norwich’s goalkeeperJohn Ruddy at all.

It was only in the second half, once Moyes brought on Welbeck for an already leggy Giggs, that United began to play with any sense of honest fluidity. A clearly tired Ashley Young, his crossing radar mostly duff, now had a capable partner to accompany him in his speedy foraging along the flank. Instantaneously better, Young drove just over the bar in the 47th minute. Yet with Martin and Snodgrass still repeatedly skinning Evra, Norwich predictably and repeatedly kept pumping balls into the space created as Evans tried to close off the gaps created by the desperately static Frenchman. A bad pump upfield from Bassong went wrong, however, and Smalling fired it directly back. Ryan Bennett should have cleared, but Welbeck closed him down quickly. The bounce put the ball at Welbeck’s feet and he was able sprint around Ruddy and fire the ball at an angle past the spreadeagled custodian for the only goal of the match in the 57th minute.

The rest of the night’s proceedings were dull and only Norwich’s Josh Murphy came close to an equalizer as his shot flew high over the goal. Interestingly, Moyes’ tactic of holding onto the ball and running down the clock put a lot of faith in the brazen determination of both Januzaj and Young to keep possession and draw fouls. It worked well, although it often has not. Another good sign that the lads are getting used to Moyes’ tactics.

Some games, as I said in my intro, just have to be a grind. Moyes is actually better at this kind of thing than Ferguson. What I’m wondering after this game, however, with the transfer window about to open up, is just what he will do about the unreliable Patrice Evra. With an error-prone Alexander Büttner clearly too impatient to stick around and an unwillingness on Moyes’ part to pick the injury-prone Fabio Da Silva, the left-back problem is bound to bite us back by the time the season’s late run-in begins. This connects to tonight’s return of Michael Carrick. The anti-freeze-blooded Geordie midfielder was a happy sight to see after recovery from achilles tendon surgery. He is, however, meant to be metronomic passing machine, not a box-to-box midfielder. Without Rooney, too much responsibility is heaped upon Carrick’s shoulders. With Evra and Cleverley all but redundant, Carrick, a Rolls-Royce of a role-player was forced to run long distances to plug holes like a poor man’s Lambretta. This is just plain wrong!

Did Nemanja Vidic convice today? He was splendid for much of the match, but looked withered by exhaustion at the end. Really well and truly scorched! Getting Phil Jones back to accompany Evans will be awesome. Getting by till the end of the season at center-back with Jones, Evans, Smalling, a fading Vidic and the burnt-out case which is Ferdinand would be miraculous!

Clearly we all look forward to the New Year’s Day test against Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs have spent lots of dosh, but still not been able to compensate for the loss of Gareth Bale’s ruthless goalscoring habits by being overloaded with youthful midfield talent. How Moyes deals with the threat of Moussa Dembele and Sandro in Midfield and the passive/aggressive threat of the eccentric Emanuel Adabayor should make for an interesting holiday contest.
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Ivor Irwin

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