Manchester United are through to the semi-final of the FA Cup after a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Norwich City. It was by no means a classic FA Cup match, but Harry Maguire’s finish late in extra time proved to be enough to get past a scrappy and organized Canary team.
The match got off to a very slow start for Manchester United, and was a fair reflection of the lackluster starting lineup that Ole put out. Several misplaced passes, some odd shithousery, and some head scratching turnovers. A header across goal by Maguire and a near slip through by Ighalo were the only real highlights before the cooling break.
It might actually be kind to say that the intensity was lacking in the first half, and United’s disjointed lineup did very little to take advantage of the acres of space Norwich left them with. Bruno Fernandes provides a bit of a creative spark, but for the most part the midfield and wing backs were a non-factor in creating chances. Norwich too were lacking. Todd Cantwell sent a potentially dangerous ball for Teemu Pukki well wide of his path. It was a let off for United, who were left scrambling for a second.
An absolutely dreadful first half to watch came to a close with Norwich on the front foot. United got bodies in the way of a couple shots from decent positions, and it served as a reminder that the Canaries were very much alive in this game. Jesse Lingard appropriately got the last chance of the half, however, by putting the brakes on a count attack and blasting a volley well into the stands. Are either side aware that this is a quarterfinal?
The second half started with a bit more intensity, and Bruno attempted an acrobatic volley to absolutely no effect almost right after the restart. The link up play between Mata and Bruno looked a bit more in-sync, but Norwich were getting some decent looks forward too. However, it was United who finally broke through via Odion Ighalo in the 51st minute. Luke Shaw’s cross found a crowded Mata, but the ball flicked up nicely for the on loan striker, who calmly volleyed it past Tim Krul.
The goal didn’t exactly open the floodgates, and United still struggled for chances. In the 62nd minute Brandon Williams, Mason Greenwood, and Marcus Rashford came on for Diogo Dalot, Juan Mata, and Jesse Lingard respectively. Ole clearly intended to kill the game off after some disappointing performances from the rotated squad.
It was Norwich that should have scored an equalizer, but the flicked header was cleared off the line by Norwich’s own Godfrey. The ball whacked away by the back of his head. Absolute comedy of a moment. The threat remained, and Todd Cantwell hit a brilliant strike from the edge of the box past Sergio Romero to equalize. The shot had a bit of luck squeezing past Maguire, who blocked Romero’s vision, but was deserved considering Norwich’s play and United’s complacency after the opening goal.
Pogba and Nemanja Matic came on soon after to try and provide a spark in midfield. Pogba almost immediately initiated a counter attack opportunity for Greenwood, but the shot went wide. Soon after Norwich got forward yet again, and an effort by Buendia went just wide of Romero’s goal. United clearly buckling a bit late as Norwich gained some momentum.
The Canaries went down a man in the dying minutes of the second half, as Ighalo was pulled back by the last defender. Unfortunately the free kick led to nothing for United, and Norwich were more than happy to try and slow the game down after a period under siege in stoppage time. Pogba had a clever shot from a difficult angle pushed away at the death, and the game went into extra time.
Norwich predictably sat deep, and faced an early shot by Marcus Rashford, which was punched away by Tim Krul. Solskjaer tried to pile on the pressure with his additional 6th extra time substitution, and sent in Anthony Martial, fresh off his first senior hat trick, for Eric Bailly. The move did little to break down Norwich however, and most of the first period of extra time remained just beyond the range of Norwich’s goal area. Pogba had a go from range spilled, but no one followed it in, and Martial blanked on a Rashford cross a few moments later.
The second period didn’t start much better for United, as their advantage of both quality and numbers failed to break through a thoroughly parked Norwich bus. The Red Devils had strikers on the pitch and couldn’t get any of them in a dangerous position. Harry Maguire thought he’d scored off of a corner, but was denied on the line by a diving Krul. You could say it was a Krul robbery of a potential winner. The Dutch keeper was also up for Bruno’s bouncing effort from range a few minutes later, further frustrating United, its fans, and this writer.
With penalties looming United started sending in crosses with a bit more frequency, and one by Pogba bounced around the defense and found the foot of star striker and team captain, one Harry Maguire. It was an ugly goal fit to win an equally ugly game, and sent United through to the semi-final of the FA Cup.
It was not pretty in any regard, but Solskjaer and co. are off to Wembley, and still very much alive in the hunt for silverware this season. They will discover their opponent in the draw after the remaining quarterfinals tomorrow afternoon.