Norwich 0 Manchester United 1: Juan Mata insists Wayne Rooney is ready to spearhead Manchester United’s attack for the final two games of their Premier League campaign as they continue to chase a top four finish.
Rooney, 30, played as the lone striker on Saturday in the absence of young flyers Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. Rashford was rested while Martial injured himself in the warm-up.
Martial, who has 15 goals this season, is a doubt for United’s crunch game at West Ham tomorrow and if Louis van Gaal feels Rashford is not at peak fitness then Rooney, who has 17 goals from 42 appearances this season, could be the main striker again.
Rooney’s display against Norwich perhaps wasn’t the all-action performance we have seen in the past but he occupied the Norwich defensive pairing of Russell Martin and Sebastian Bassong for the full 90 minutes. And it was Rooney’s persistence that forced Bassong into a second-half defensive error that led to Mata’s winning goal.
“He (Rooney) got an assist and showed very good movement,” said Mata.
“He played a great ball. Wayne is important for us no matter which position he plays in. For me, he does not have anything to prove. He is a great player and will always be a great player. He can play as a striker, a winger, a midfielder as he has shown in the last few weeks.”
Victory at West Ham and then at home to Bournemouth is a must if United are to clinch a Champions League spot. They haven’t pieced together three wins so far all season and the task at West Ham will be all the harder amid the emotional farewells to Upton Park
“We don’t want to spoil their party but we need the three points, that is a different thing,” van Gaal said. “It is always important the influence and atmosphere of the stadium but, when we are away, we always have fantastic fans also.”
“It is a negative for us. We had to play against an opponent fighting relegation (Norwich). It’s a tough match you cannot deny that. On Tuesday we have to play against a team saying goodbye to their stadium. They have already lost to us in the last FA match, that’s also history, so that is not good for us and West Ham United are a very good team.”
Van Gaal will take advice from his ‘fatigue specialists’ before picking his side and also admitted that without the suspended Marouane Fellaini he is concerned by the physical threat of Andy Carroll.
“We are normally the smallest team of the Premier League. So we always have problem with set plays so we have to cope with that. I’m very worried about that because I’m always organising.”
Norwich are second from bottom and their situation looks perilous. They have lost four in a row, without scoring in any of them and it is that lack of goals which will likely cost them. It’s Watford at home next before a season-closing trip to Everton.
Norwich boss Alex Neil said: “I think there were certain games earlier in the season where our play merited more points than we achieved. But like today, we made silly errors that ultimately cost us and I think that has been a key issue for us all season.
NORWICH CITY (4-2-3-1):
Ruddy 6; Pinto 6, Martin 6, Bassong 5, Olsson 6; Howson 7 (Dorrans, 78), O’Neil 6; Brady 6 (Mbokani Bezuaat, 63), Hoolahan 6, Redmond 7; Jerome 5 (Bamford 78). Subs not used: Rudd, Whittaker, Naismith, Jarvis
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1):
De Gea 6; Valencia 6, Smalling 7, Rojo 6, Darmian (Borthwick-Jackson, 16, 6); Carrick 7 (Fosu-Mensah 88), Herrera 6; Lingard 6 (Schneiderlin 78), Mata 7, Depay 5; Rooney 6.
Subs not used:
Romero, Januzaj, McNair
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