Manchester United are into the FA Cup semi-finals. Only just. It took an extra time goal from Harry Maguire to get us there.
Here is a look at five things we learned from the fixture…
We got away with that one
United cannot stand here and say we deserved to win. We were strictly average and this was a sloppy to poor performance.
Even when we dominated extra time, there was no incisiveness. This was not one of Bruno Fernandes’ better games.
At 1-0 up we had this game in our hands and eased up. That was a mistake.
All that matters ultimately is making it into the next round, and we have done that. Now we have a semi-final to look forward to. Our chances of silverware is still alive.
It took more effort that it should have though, even with all our firepower on the pitch at the end against a 10 man Norwich in extra time.
It’s nice to see this squad have the character to secure big wins late on, but this was a really painful watch. Harry Maguire stepped up showing shades of Steve Bruce as captain in his heyday to score a decisive late goal.
We did not fancy penalties against Tim Krul, so it was a relief we got the job done in extra time.
Debate over quality of second string continues
For many there is no debate. Manchester United’s second string is nowhere near as good as the first XI.
To be kind to players like Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard, this was their first start since the lockdown. So it was always going to take them time to get up to speed.
There was a lack of pace in United’s starting attack, with Dan James not involved and United’s normal front three all on the bench. Nobody was asking enough questions of Norwich’s backline, until Marcus Rashford came on.
This may also have been a game for Tahith Chong, considering the lack of width. United didn’t even include him on the bench. Lingard out wide certainly did not work.
This was a case in point to emphasise United need to strengthen this summer. A large squad is required to compete on all fronts, and United just need better back-up options.
We may find though, that in coming games, the players who featured today will put in better performances, having got this one under their belts.
Ighalo’s run continues
This was Odion Ighalo’s fourth start in a Manchester United shirt, and he has now scored five goals, netting in each of them.
This was what United signed him for, as a rotational option who can deliver, so Anthony Martial is not asked to start too many games at the expense of his fitness.
Ighalo did not get too much service in the first half, but when he did get a chance, he took it, scoring with his first shot at goal.
There are more goals ahead from the loanee, and he may have a case to start in the semi-final, having netted now in the fifth round and quarter-final.
Defensive sharpness helped to an extent, but wasteful in attack
United allowed too many opportunities to Norwich, with our disjointed start giving the Canaries confidence.
It was only thanks to particularly alert defending from Luke Shaw, and then Harry Maguire, that United were able to go into the half-time break level.
Shaw chased down Teemu Pukki when he was through on goal, while Maguire denied a close goal with an excellent block inside the penalty area.
It is perhaps no coincidence at all that Maguire and Shaw had started United’s previous two games.
They looked sharp, alert, and that extra element of match practice seemed to help them out early on.
The same could not be said of United’s attack, even when we brought on our first choice stars.
A combination of Martial, Greenwood, Rashford, Ighalo, Pogba, and Fernandes could not break down a 10 man Norwich.
We dominated possession, had 12 corners, and more than 30 shots, yet had nothing to show for it until the 117th minute – and it took centre-back Harry Maguire to make the breakthrough.
This may be costly
United wanted to rest key players, and take Bruno Fernandes off after an hour with the job done.
Instead we put in a disjointed performance, had to bring on stars like Nemanja Matic, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Paul Pogba, and Fernandes had to play the whole game plus extra time.
Going into an away game against Brighton on Tuesday night, who have had a week to rest, this may not be ideal preparation.
We hope it won’t be costly, but there is a chance it could be. We need to play much better at the Amex. Several of United’s key men have now missed out on a chance to rest up.
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