Manchester United vs. Norwich City Tactics – United Gifted Space to Exploit in Second-Half

Manchester United defeated Norwich City one-nil on Saturday in what was a very scrappy triumph for the Red Devils at Carrow Road.

United struggled to break down Norwich’s compact structure and we look at how the match turned around in the second-half.

First-half Overview

The first-half was played at an extremely slow tempo. Both teams were reluctant to press and wanted to avoid an early goal.

Norwich in particular, were very negative without the ball. They sat deep and let United play. Chris Hughton wanted his players to tighten the space in between the lines. So they set up two banks of four with not more than two to four yards of space between them.

United dominated possession (77 percent in the first ten minutes) but couldn’t penetrate. Norwich’s pressing, although not aggressive restricted United. One Norwich player pushed up to press his respective marker at a time, while someone else filled the gap vacated. For example, if Leroy Fer pressed Tom Cleverley, Wes Hoolahan filled for his colleague by dropping deep.

The addition of Ryan Giggs and Shinji Kagawa meant United had four passers at times in the middle of the park. Kagawa started on the left but was continually swapping position with Giggs and eventually both landed centrally. So, Robert Snodgrass plucked in from out wide to nullify United’s extra man.

Owing to the above, it became difficult for United to play through the centre and transfer the ball from the midfield third into the final third.

Also, all of United’s midfielders took time to settle on the ball and control play. Ryan Giggs was having an off-day and Kagawa isn’t suited to a possession-based game. He completed 98 percent of his passes but failed to create a single chance. Cleverley lacked ideas, while Carrick took about fifty minutes to get going. So the circulation of ball was slow.


Carrick played one pass each in between the lines to Kagawa and Cleverley in the first 23 minutes but both lost the ball after receiving it. No one could continue the flow of the attack like Rooney does.

This ultimately forced United out wide. There was space for the full-backs as the centre was congested.

But there were several problems.

First, United’s switch of play to the wings was slow and Norwich moved very quickly to sniff out any danger. So the “space” available was gone as soon as a side-way pass was played to the wingmen. The latter needed to create space, but failed to do that.

Second, if space was available, the final product was lacking. United had just one accurate cross from 13 attempted in the first-half. Chris Smalling lacks the attacking fair of a right-back Evra lacked support or didn’t get the pass at the right time or his decision making was poor.

United tried to stretch Norwich but the hosts “shifted” very well, not leaving any space in the centre as shown below.


In the first-half, United were passing from flank to flank, looking for an opening. There was space during breaks, but United’s passing when counter-attacking lacked sharpness.

Second Half

Second-half saw three things.

First, Norwich players started to run out of steam. Hughton had made only three changes from the team that lost to Fulham about 48 hour ago and all the four midfielders started. So, the latter started to mess up their pressing and United got ample space in between the lines.

Second, Moyes brought on Danny Welbeck for Giggs. Welbeck was exactly the kind of player to trouble Norwich’s tired midfielders. He can hold up the ball, make runs behind the midfield and take on defenders.

Third, Carrick finally settled into the game and supplied Welbeck with lovely passes in between the lines.

49th minute- Cleverley drags out Johnson by dropping deep, opening space for Young. Cleverley passes to Smalling who releases Young. The latter breaks into the space, runs at the Norwich’s defence and gets his shot away.


52nd minute- Young runs down the right wing and tries to take on Martin Olson. Johnson moves out to the left to create a 2-versus-1 situation. Young gets fouled but the ball somehow lands on the feet of Welbeck, who has space to exploit, thanks to Johnson moving wide. He combines with Kagawa, who almost plays through Hernandez.

53rd minute- Carrick plays a direct pass to Welbeck in between the lines. Welbeck is allowed to run at Norwich’s back-four. He spreads the ball to Young but the Englishman’s cross is horrendous.

57th minute- Smalling’s throw-in lands on the feet of Hernandez. He links with Welbeck in between the lines. Welbeck loses the ball but the striker charges down the clearance by Ryan Bennet. The ball takes a touch off Hernandez back to Welbeck and he scores.

59th minute- United break via Welbeck down the left-wing. He takes on Bennet, wins a free-kick.

To put it simply, as soon as United got a better player to operate in between the lines and more space, they took control of the game.

Norwich failed to regroup properly after the interval. Their tackles were mistimed and they didn’t cut off United’s passing options in the middle of the park.

On the other hand, United responded well. Carrick and Welbeck combined regularly. Welbeck injected the required pace and increased the tempo of United’s play.  But it was more of Norwich gifting United space rather than the Red Devils creating it.



About Surya 32 Articles
Surya Solanki is a freelance football writer covering the Premier League and African football. Being an avid Manchester United supporter for the past ten years, something always motivated him to go beyond just being a spectator, and gradually he began blogging about his views. He is currently a Manchester United critic at and a correspondent for


  1. Carrick is a very good player but he as to join in and time his runs we don’t need him protecting two central defenders that at times only have one striker to mark he must have learned from the master PAUL SCHOLES

  2. Carrick had the chance a couple of years ago to take on Scholes’ role. Ferguson gave him the opportunity whilst Scholes was out injured. Carrick wasn’t up to it.

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