Six lessons learned from Norwich City's difficult day at Old Trafford
PUBLISHED: 10:05 13 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:40 13 January 2020
After a heavy loss at Old Trafford, David Freezer assesses the state of Norwich City's survival scrap as Premier League pressure builds ahead of a crunch clash with Bournemouth.
1 - Away fans can truly be proud
It's been a weekend of doom and gloom for Norwich City, so let's kick-off with an enjoyable element of this demoralising defeat.
The away fans well and truly did themselves proud after the final whistle, putting the Old Trafford regulars and tourists to shame. Had a neutral entered the stadium just before full-time they would have thought it was City who were victorious.
Rather than heading for the exits early like many of the home supporters, those hardy away fans sang loud and proud to give Daniel Farke and his players a healthy dose of support at the end of a tough day.
That wasn't in recognition of the performance which had just seen the Canaries deservedly beaten, but of the journey which has taken the club back to famous stadia like Old Trafford.
With your team bottom of the table and facing a tough final stretch of the season, it would be easy for fans to turn angry and bitter - but there were no signs of that, at all.
2 - Avoidable mistakes yet again
Yet on the pitch it was clear that City weren't at the same level as their opponents, with all four goals featuring very avoidable problems.
From Todd Cantwell showing Juan Mata on to his stronger left foot ahead of the fine cross for Marcus Rashford's first, to Emi Buendia not tracking Brandon Williams and Tim Krul's rash charge which led to the penalty, and Max Aarons heading the ball straight to Mason Greenwood in space - City played their part in United's success.
The technical quality of Mata, Rashford and Anthony Martial of course helps but for the third there were essentially 10 City players marking two men and United still managed to score.
At 45 conceded so far the class of 2019-20 are on course to test the unwanted record of 77 conceded by the team of 2004-05, the Canaries' worst record in the top flight.
They're averaging just over two conceded per game so at least Derby's record of 89 (for a 38-game PL season) in 2007-08 shouldn't be under threat.
3 - Resisting meltdown is crucial
There seemed to be a sense among many City fans that United were vulnerable in the lead up to this game - but that lacked perspective.
Yes,they may not be hitting the heights they want under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but they remain firmly in the mix for Champions League qualification this season.
Add to that mix just one home defeat in the league, with Old Trafford wins over Chelsea (4-0), Leicester and Tottenham, as well as being the only team to have prevented champions elect Liverpool from winning.
So while United may have had a three-game wobble, they are still operating at a totally different level to a promoted club like Norwich. For added emphasis, for the financial year 2018-19, the Red Devils generated £627m, City's revenue was £33.7m.
They may be struggling to recapture their glory days on the pitch but United remains a massive club, so as much as losing 4-0 hurts, this defeat is not the reason City are deep in relegation trouble.
4 - Midfield mix needs a refresh
The lack of influence from midfield was probably the biggest disappointment for the Canaries.
Farke left Mario Vrancic and Alex Tettey on the bench at Preston so that he could stick with that partnership at Old Trafford, which had shown promise and balance.
However, the central mix was nowhere near the standard required and both Vrancic and Kenny McLean struggled to have any kind of creative impact.
Tettey kept dropping wide to help break up play, while Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia were at least causing some attacking problems, but Vrancic made 30 accurate passes - fewer than eight of the United players, and five of his team-mates. That was simply not offering enough influence.
With Ondrej Duda's loan sealed it seems likely that the Slovakia international will quickly enter the fray, with both McLean and Marco Stiepermann failing to make the number 10 position their own, teeing up a fresh start.
5 - Passing left Idah with no chance
The victim of that lack of influence fro midfield was young Adam Idah, faced with a difficult first Premier League start as Teemu Pukki and Josip Drmic were unfit.
It was always going to be a huge step up from an FA Cup tie at Preston which had seen both teams make a raft of changes, with little pressure on the result.
So it didn't help the Irish prospect that when he was up against the world's most expensive centre-back in Harry Maguire, signed from Leicester for £80m, and another international in Victor Lindelof, that most of the balls coming his way were in the air.
As City scrambled to keep their head above water in defence, it meant the supply line just was not reaching the 18-year-old.
So it's no slight on Idah that he endured a difficult day, as it seems unlikely that Pukki or Drmic would have fared much better, with so few penetrative passes getting in behind the home defence for him to chase.
6 - Six-pointer will be like a cup final
There's no playing down the magnitude of Saturday's clash with Bournemouth at Carrow Road, or the Last Chance Saloon, as it may be renamed for the day.
The Cherries are in freefall, losing nine of their last 11 after their 3-0 home loss to Watford. They've taken four points from those 11 games, three fewer than the Canaries in the same timeframe.
If City are to have any chance of keeping things interesting for the remainder of the season then they simply have to bring an end to their eight-game home run without a win - the joint worst in the club's Premier League history.
With Watford's impressive resurgence - taking 13 points from Nigel Pearson's seven games in charge - City are eight points adrift, so a draw would not be enough.
On the back of a deserved 4-0 thrashing optimism is going to be in short supply, but these situations can also create heroes, if someone can step forward and provide the spark for a survival push.