Norwich City 0-1 Manchester United
With Valencia suspended, Rooney nursing a groin injury and Welbeck and Januzaj on the bench, United’s starting line-up lacked many of the players responsible for the recent resurgence, and it showed as the Reds made hard work of defeating one of the Premiership’s weakest sides. Ultimately, it took the introduction of Welbeck to seize victory from a tight game against a Norwich side who, while enduring a run of poor form, lacked nothing in spirit.
Although United had much of the early possession, we increasingly looked ponderous and lacking an attacking edge and, aside from the occasional speculative effort and semi-decent cross, there was little to trouble a home side who were allowed to grow in confidence as the half progressed. Norwich duly created chances as De Gea was forced to make a smart save from Martin, who cut inside from the right, and Hoolahan failed to take advantage of the rebound. De Gea was called into action again five minutes later when he kept out Hooper’s shot, and there were further moments of panic in the United box before the half-time break. But for the stubborn calmness of Vidic, back in central defence, United might easily have gone in a goal down
The half ended with Young’s through ball finding Chicharito, who produced only the Reds’ second shot on target when his near post effort was smothered by Ruddy. The move ended a toothless first half performance in which Carrick’s lack of recent action was all-too evident in midfield, Evra was frequently exposed by Snodgrass on the Norwich right and Kagawa looked anything but an effective stand-in for Rooney.
Giggs had also struggled to make any impact from his wide position and there was little surprise when he made way at half-time for the in-form Danny Welbeck. The change immediately brought more penetration as United immediately benefited from an extra option up front, Kagawa began to find room in a deeper role and Young benefited from much better service. Fittingly, it was Welbeck who gave the Reds the lead in the 57th minute, tenaciously chasing down the ball to round the keeper and finish from close range.
United generally controlled a fairly drab second half although there will be concerns about the number of occasions the ball was given away cheaply. Ultimately, however, this will go down as one of those tight 1-0 wins from a scruffy game that have been in short supply for United this season. Along with further evidence that Welbeck is beginning to develop into the kind of attacking threat that provides a genuine alternative to an absent Van Persie, and this will leave Reds fans looking at the new year with renewed optimism.