By the time Shinji Kagawa effortlessly rolled the ball in the back of the net, doubling up his tally and putting United two goals ahead, every mind inside Old Trafford, bar those of the away fans and the Norwich players, turned towards the huge clash against Real Madrid on Tuesday night.
Those who remained focused were treated to two of the best goals Old Trafford has seen this season, an exquisite little chip with which Kagawa secured his hat-trick and a trademark long-range effort from Wayne Rooney, the United number 10 securing a well earned moment in the spotlight after an afternoon in which he had worked tirelessly for his team-mates.
With the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema and Mourinho looming large on the horizon, the game against Norwich could have run the risk of flying under radar, thus becoming a potential banana skin on United’s path, but there was little room for turnover for Sir Alex Ferguson. Smalling for Rafael and Anderson replacing Tom Cleverley were the only changes, as Ryan Giggs was made to wait for his 1000th professional appearance, while Shinji Kagawa was deployed wide on the left.
Norwich, still looking for a first Premier League win at Old Trafford, were the last team to beat United in the Premier League. Since that 1-0 defeat at Carrow Road in mid-November, the United machine has been ruthlessly churning away, picking up 13 wins in the last 15 league games.
The numbers made for ominous reading for the Canaries, whose game-plan wasn’t as much a case of parking the bus, rather of a bus whose engine has broken down on the edge of the box. Having huffed and puffed for the first 45 minutes trying to unlock the visitor’s disciplined rearguard, United were rewarded on the stroke of half-time as Shinji Kagawa pounced on a loose ball in the box to slot the ball past Bunn with the outside of his right foot to give United the lead.
The Japanese had been United’s busiest man in the first half, constantly trying to find space behind Norwich’s defence and some of the passes between him, Rooney and Van Persie were absolutely superb, an apt reminder as to why Sir Alex Ferguson had decided to lure Kagawa away from Dortmund.
Having started the second half more positively, Norwich were denied a good chance by Nemanja Vidic, whose timely challenge on Robert Snodgrass prevented the Scotsman from testing De Gea. For a former Leeds player, playing at Old Trafford is never easy, but Snodgrass’ horrendous challenge on Patrice Evra did nothing to win him any friends, and the Norwich number 7 was lucky to remain on the pitch.
Welbeck and Cleverley replaced Van Persie and Anderson as Sir Alex wrapped up his prize asset in cotton wool ahead of Tuesday night, much as Jose Mourinho did against Barcelona.
The last fifteen minutes were an advert for one touch football. With 76 minutes gone, the outstanding Michael Carrick delivered a sumptuous ball to Wayne Rooney who, having held off a challenge from Bassong, unselfishly picked out Kagawa in the middle of the box, allowing the Japanese to roll the ball past Bunn with consummate ease.
Ten minutes later, the Japanese was both orchestrator and finisher, as he picked out Welbeck’s run before rushing in the box to receive Rooney’s first touch pass, set himself with a sublime first touch that took him past Garrido and Bassong before beating Bunn with an exquisite chip.
Injuries have blighted Kagawa’s first season in a United shirt, but the diminutive Japanese seems to have finally come to the party, giving Sir Alex a selection trouble ahead of Tuesday night, for the former Dortmund’s vision is an asset Fergie isn’t likely to be willing to part with.
Having assisted two goals, Wayne Rooney put his name on the scoresheet with a superb curling effort from 25 yards out that left Bunn no chance and was also Rooney’s first ever goal against Norwich. A fourth consecutive clean sheet and the gap on City momentarily restored to 15 points were undoubtedly pleasing stats but as fans streamed out of Old Trafford, only one thought would have occupied their minds: “Roll on Tuesday night”.
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