United see off Canaries as Real Madrid await

Posted by Mark Payne

Shinji KagawaPA PhotosShinji Kagawa celebrates after scoring Manchester United's second goal

Shinji Kagawa's hat-trick and a belter from Wayne Rooney were enough to edge Manchester United another step closer to the title as manager Sir Alex Ferguson played another strong hand in the Premier League and restored a 15-point lead at the top.

- Davitt: Norwich succumb to Rooney's brilliance

United beat Norwich 4-0 on a sunny afternoon at Old Trafford in the perfect warm-up for the Champions League match on Tuesday against Real Madrid, who had the luxury of resting Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil & Co. against Barcelona as they are already out of the running in La Liga ... although ironically managed to win el Clasico.

Kagawa's first season at United has been blighted by injury, but his composure on the ball cannot be denied. His three goals here displayed opportunism, guile and an encouraging understanding with Rooney. They also put the gloss on what had been an average afternoon for United until the last 15 minutes.

Kill-joy Ferguson dashed hopes of Ryan Giggs marking the game with his 1,000th senior appearance by omitting the veteran from the matchday squad altogether. The general assumption was that Fergie's team selection would be indicative of whom he would play against Madrid on Tuesday. In fact, almost all the big guns were in the eleven at kickoff.

With Giggs rested, it seemed Fergie might be saving him for a more fittingly headline-grabbing 1,000th game against Real Madrid. However, Kagawa, the man Giggs came on to replace in the first leg and might have started in place of for the second leg of the European tie, went and scored a hat-trick and may have made himself undroppable. Will Giggs now have to wait a little longer?

Back at Old Trafford, Norwich's game plan lacked ambition, and that contributed to the match being fairly poor in the opening stages. The Canaries started time-wasting after just 20 minutes. Most of the play occurred about 40 yards from the Norwich goal without really threatening it, with United having the majority of the possession but not doing anything with it. Norwich were resilient defensively; they set out to absorb United's pressure, and it worked out for them.

But it is always a dangerous practice to court United's attacking might, especially at Old Trafford. They swarmed all over Norwich, and seconds before half time they got their reward. An inswinging cross from Antonio Valencia was picked out of the sky by Robin van Persie's toe and landed nicely for Kagawa to prod home. It was a crushing time to concede for Norwich, whose strategy had seemed to be going well until then.

Although emerging after the break, it was clear that Van Persie was not at the peak of his powers. Fifteen minutes later, he was replaced by Danny Welbeck, but he'd had an inauspicious afternoon's work. He appeared to take a slight knock in the build-up to the goal and has had more incisive performances this season.

The second half saw the East Anglians play with more endeavour and put United's goal under sporadic pressure. If United's intention had been to establish a lead and then take off players they planned to use against Madrid, they left it pretty late. Norwich were obstinate and, as time wore on, seemed to fancy a goal themselves.

Those hopes were dashed 15 minutes from time as Michael Carrick floated a ball towards Rooney, who was hurtling down the right wing. Rooney had been having one of those afternoons when all of his running had not paid off. He kept his cool and slid the ball to onrushing Kagawa, who placed the ball in the net with mocking ease. The home crowd broke into song. What had been an uneasy atmosphere became more celebratory, and the last 10 minutes seemed more like a football match and less like an exercise in not getting injured.

Kagawa's third was his most impressive goal of the match as he looped the ball over the keeper to claim his hat-trick. Not to be outdone, Rooney unleashed his right boot from 25 yards two minutes later, and the ball hit the top corner.

United's squad has so many match-winners in it that Norwich were always going to find it difficult in Manchester. Almost everybody in the Premier League does. This game was all about the build-up for the monumental clash that awaits United on Tuesday, though. The world is waiting to see how Real Madrid will fare here. United are ready.

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