Norwich City 0 Manchester United 1: Mata keeps Champions League push intact
Juan Mata scored the only goal of the game as Manchester United kept their Champions League aspirations intact with a 1-0 at Norwich City, who slipped closer towards Premier League relegation.
United started Saturday four points adrift of rivals Manchester City in the race for the top four and - with Louis van Gaal having decided to leave out forward Marcus Rashford and defender Daley Blind - were dealt a blow in the warm-up.
Anthony Martial, the hero of United's FA Cup semi-final win over Everton, suffered an injury in the warm-up and was replaced by Ander Herrera.
Matteo Darmian was also forced to make way due to injury in the opening stages and United's lack of quality in the final third was evident throughout much of an uninspiring contest.
But Mata netted what proved to be the decisive goal in the 72nd minute, meeting Wayne Rooney's lay-off with a composed strike beyond John Ruddy.
Norwich never looked like finding an equaliser and remain two points adrift of safety with Newcastle United and Sunderland facing Aston Villa and Chelsea respectively later in the day.
With United missing their most dangerous attacking threats, it was Norwich who enjoyed the better of the early going and went close to taking the lead inside four minutes.
Cameron Jerome met Nathan Redmond's well-placed cross from the left but was unable to get any direction on his header, with David De Gea reacting well to keep the ball out with his legs.
United's hopes were dealt a further blow in the 12th minute when Darmian collided with Ivo Pinto. The former Torino defender received lengthy treatment and was replaced by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson before being carried to the tunnel on a stretcher.
Chances proved few and far between in a low-key first half, although Chris Smalling perhaps should have done better in the 29th minute, the England centre-back heading narrowly over from Mata's corner.
The visitors were the slightly superior side after the restart but both teams continued to struggle to sustain much in the way of pressure.
Herrera fired into the side-netting from Mata's clever lofted pass and Smalling was unable to get on the end of a flick on from Marcos Rojo as United laboured in search of an opener.
Norwich had thrown on Dieumerci Mbokani as they looked to break the deadlock but Mata finally did so 18 minutes from time, although the goal owed much to Sebastien Bassong's error.
Rooney showed no hesitation in pouncing on Bassong's failure to clear a long ball, surging down the right and smartly holding the ball up for the onrushing Mata, who netted his fifth goal against Norwich with a simple finish.
Morgan Schneiderlin shot wide late on but his profligacy was not punished as United held on with little difficulty.
Key Opta stats:
- Juan Mata has scored more Premier League goals against Norwich City than any other opponent (5).
- Wayne Rooney is now joint-third for assists in Premier League history (95, level with Cesc Fabregas).
- Manchester United have lost only once in their last seven in the Premier League (W5 D1).
- Only Aston Villa (13) have lost more Premier League games in 2016 than Alex Neil’s side (12).
- Manchester United have kept more clean sheets than any other Premier League team this season (18).