Kagawa on fire as United sound Madrid warning
Shinji Kagawa scored an impressive hat-trick as Manchester United opened a 15-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 4-0 victory at home to Norwich City on Saturday.
With an eye firmly on Tuesday's Champions League last-16 second leg against Real Madrid, United manager Alex Ferguson must have been delighted with a comfortable victory that places more pressure on reigning champions Manchester City, who play Aston Villa on Monday.
And the performance of Kagawa, who had scored just twice before this latest victory, was particularly noteworthy.
The Japan star struck in the first minute of first-half injury time as the visitors undid what had been, until that point, a thoroughly sound defensive performance that had begun to frustrate the home team and their support.
The attempt should have given only minor trouble to goalkeeper Mark Bunn, but he was off-balance and the ball squirmed away from him at the foot of his near post.
Even if there were few moments of real concern, it took until the 76th minute for United to put the game to bed as Wayne Rooney chased a through ball from Michael Carrick into the area, checked past his defender and squared for the unmarked Kagawa.
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder cleverly shimmied to wrong-foot the goalkeeper and had the relatively straightforward task of rolling the ball past Bunn for his, and United's, second goal.
Three minutes from time, Kagawa started a move on the halfway line and passed to Danny Welbeck, who advanced to the edge of the Norwich area and found Rooney.
A swift exchange of passes then allowed Kagawa to sprint in the area and lift his hat-trick goal over Bunn and into the net.
Still, United were not finished. There looked little danger in the 90th minute when Rooney had the ball at his feet 25 yards from goal, but the England man produced an inch-perfect drive that flew into the top-left corner.
Norwich were the last team to defeat United in the league, in November, since when the leaders have won 13 and drawn two of their 15 fixtures, and there was little sign of the Canaries being able to repeat that feat in the opening period.
After 15 minutes, van Persie and Rooney exchanged quick passes and Bunn was injured as he raced from his line to beat the Dutch forward to the through ball that followed.
Kagawa set up Carrick, who switched feet tidily in the area but could only follow that manoeuvre with a tame shot easily that was stopped by Bunn, while Nemanja Vidic powered a header over from a van Persie corner.
Rooney adopted a more direct approach, coming up with long-distance shots, but Norwich opened the second half in much more committed fashion, at least as far as the attacking part of their game was concerned.
Finally, after 62 minutes, United were made to look vulnerable for the first time as Anthony Pilkington punted in a long ball for Grant Holt to head across goal, where Russell Martin managed to miss an open target.
To spare his blushes, however, Holt was penalised for a push on Patrice Evra.
In response, Rooney shot wide from a promising position, with van Persie far better placed to receive a pass, and that proved to be the Dutchman's last involvement in the game as Ferguson removed him with 25 minutes still to play.
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