Yesterday saw Ryan Giggs make his first appearance as interim United manager. This week he has looked and sounded the part and the hosting of Norwich at Old Trafford was the first chance to see whether he could act the part and “walk the walk”. First off, his team selection. He was brave, and made decisions that shocked a few people. I personally believe it was a touch of class, to give players who had been on the receiving end of some unfair criticism a chance to prove themselves. To demonstrate from the outset that it was the style/philosophy of Moyes that had the players failing to do what they do best. He brought Cleverley, Rio & Vida back in, stuck with Welbeck up top (dropping Mata to the bench) and reverted to a 4-4-2. Januzaj didn’t even make the bench, which was perhaps the only thing I would’ve changed. Readers know how I feel regarding Valencia & Young and for me, Januzaj would’ve been on the right, with Valencia on bench, relegating Young to the reserves.
Anyway, the game started and whilst some have said we were lethargic and poor, I think credit had to lie with Norwich for making it difficult for us. They closed us down quickly and made it hard for us to play the game how we wanted. However, there was a huge difference for those who sat back and looked objectively. We played pretty much the whole game in the opposition half. We were committing players forward and were trying to keep the ball on the floor in and around the box when possible. Valencia’s crossing was terrible again and it never fails to amaze me how a winger can have a weakness that is such a massive part of his role. However, you could sense from around 15 mins that we were building and it always felt like a goal was coming, but for a little rustiness and sloppiness in the final 3rd. In the end, it took a little luck to get the first goal just before half-time. Welbeck was brought down after a bizarre series of deflections put the ball on a plate for him 6 yards out. Contact was minimal but it was enough and Rooney dispatched the penalty with ease.
Half-time Giggs obviously had some harsh words for his players, and clearly urged them to up the tempo and commit to taking the game to Norwich. Like I have said previously, movement off the ball is just as important as movement with the ball. If you don’t commit men forward and have people making runs, defenders can sit in and hold their positions. A good run can create an opportunity for the player with the ball that, without out the run, would be closed down. That’s exactly what happened with Rooney’s second. A great little run from Kagawa dragged defenders away and opened up the goal for Rooney. He got a tad lucky but his strike found the far corner perfectly and United were 2-0 up.
This is where Giggs proved he thinks differently to Moyes – that he understands the United way, to build on leads. This season, we have seen bizarre decisions to try and defend a 1-0 or 2-0 advantage, with changes like taking off a striker and dropping Rooney into midfield. Each time it allowed the opposition back into the game. Giggs didn’t do that, he decided to introduce Mata and took off Welbeck. His impact was almost immediate and within 3 mins of being on the pitch Mata had a goal to his name. United were flowing with confidence and looking dangerous on every attack.
At 3-0 up, did Giggs then go defensive? No, he was positive again, choosing this time to take Cleverley off and put Chicha on the pitch. Chicha’s movement was superb and defenders were struggling to cope with him. It was no surprise that his little run created an opportunity at the back post for Valencia to deliver the ball in the danger area after it had found him on the back post. For the first time in the match, Valencia delivered and Mata had ghosted in to find himself with a simple header from 2 yards out.
The final chance of the game fell to Chicharito after a lovely move saw Mata play him through one-on-one with the goal keeper. Unlike what we have come to expect from Hernandez and more like a man who hasn’t seen much football, he slotted a ball wide of the post when in any other season we’d have been celebrating a 5th goal.
It was a great second half in particular and the stats showed we had more attempts than in any other Premier League game this season, more on target than in any game since Dec 2012 and we secured our biggest home win of the season. Cynics are already saying “any new manager always gives the team a boost” and doesn’t mean anything. Truth is, with Norwich fighting for their lives, it could easily have been a different game. I personally believe had Moyes been in charge the result would have been very different.
After the game, Giggs fielded questions like he’d been in the job for years. He talked about how he “believes in all of the players” and “could’ve picked 2 teams”. He said the 1st half wasn’t as high a tempo as he’d have liked and he let them know that at half-time. He explained why he’d gone for the players he had, and that he’d spoken to each player who was dropped in person, individually. He commented on how, although disappointed, each of them had been professional and “not sulked” and Mata was singled out for praise for his professional response. All of a sudden, things appear to be on the right track once again at United. I don’t know if he’ll get the job full-time, but if the club genuinely want stability and continuity then they could do far worse than appointing a player who has spent his whole life at the club and is respected by almost everyone inside the game. For the first time this season I’m looking forward to our next game. Roll on next week-end