Scott McTominay lashed United into the lead after 20 minutes with a fine strike into the bottom corner, just seconds after Tim Krul had made a magnificent save from close range.
United were then awarded a fortunate penalty after a VAR review, with Daniel James going to ground after contact from Ben Godfrey, but Krul easily saved Marcus Rashford’s weak effort to his right. Again Norwich’s relief was short-lived, though, as Rashford doubled the lead within two minutes.
Incredibly, United missed a second penalty before the break, Krul saving this time from Anthony Martial. And despite Norwich’s improved showing after the break it was Martial who added the third, before Onel Hernandez hit a late consolation.
Here are five things we learned as Man United took the points.
1) Martial and Rashford find a way to work together
Scoring goals has been a big issue for United this season, with only 10 in nine games this season ahead of the game at Carrow Road.
A return to fitness for Anthony Martial was always likely to be important for them, but even so it was impressive the way he and Rashford were able to dovetail nicely, switching positions at times and linking with each other in the final third.
Rashford was, nominally, the left-sided player, but his diagonal runs caused Norwich as many problems as Martial’s darts down the channel and willingness to drop deep did. United’s third goal was a work of art in terms of their combination play: one running off the other, a neat back-heel and a clinical finish.
The fact they both missed penalties in the first 45 minutes shows there’s work to do in terms of finding a clinical edge and top form, but it was still a big step in the right direction for a previously blunt Man United attack.
2) Tim Krul’s throwback to 2014
He might have conceded two first-half goals, but Norwich could have been looking at an embarrassing hammering were it not for goalkeeper Krul.
In a performance reminiscent of his 2014 World Cup cameo, he saved two penalties against the Red Devils – just as he did for the Dutch national team against Costa Rica, after coming off the bench in the last minute of extra time.
If that was his speciality five years ago, here he showed his reflexes are undiminished, with another terrific stop coming to deny Martial from point-blank range when the match was still goalless. Several second-half stops also served to keep the scoreline respectable.
Norwich need more than just a last line of defence, though, and the fact they conceded 21 shots, three goals and two penalties on home soil shows as much.
3) VAR to the fore to overrule the ref
Considering the number of instances this season in the Premier League which have looked to be penalties, been missed by the officials then deemed not severe enough to be called out by VAR, Sunday presented something of a turn of events.
While there shouldn’t be too many dissenting voices regarding the handball decision given against Todd Cantwell, the fact it took several minutes to decide that a coming together between Godfrey and James warranted a spot-kick is surely evidence enough that it wasn’t the fabled clear and obvious error in judgement from the ref to miss it in the first place.
Yet again, consistency in decision-making remains at the forefront of the discussion surrounding replays; will future events be similarly scrutinised? And if so, the complaints of Sebastian Haller, Joel Matip, Kevin de Bruyne and others from earlier in the season will only be all the more warranted.
4) Full-back impressions
Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s recent return to action has come at a good time and his defensive solidity was on display once again for United, making several crucial blocks and showing good recovery pace, even through the centre at times.
Against that, Norwich’s pair of young full-backs are already in-demand and will be sought-after if the Canaries fail to avoid the drop this season, though it was certainly Max Aarons who fared better here, both on the ball and defensively, compared to team-mate Jamal Lewis.
With all that youth, pace and potential on show, a moment of reflection for the fourth full-back in the game, Ashley Young, and his attempts to keep up against the counter-attacks down his flank. A yellow card for a wild late challenge was his biggest contribution.
5) United’s chance to build an unbeaten run
Having been in the bottom half of the table and on a run of six games without a win in all competitions until recently, perhaps United fans would be feeling happy to take any sort of win at all right now.
But, with this victory at Carrow Road, United have moved to three without defeat after a draw with Liverpool and a win over Partizan, and suddenly there’s an opportunity to build a real base of positivity.
A League Cup clash at Chelsea will be dictated as much by the teams fielded by each manager as by current form and confidence, but thereafter comes a run of fixtures against Bournemouth, Partizan, Brighton, Sheffield United, Astana and Aston Villa.
That would see them through to December and, should wins come with frequency against teams who should hold few fears for a team of United’s standing, the mood around Old Trafford may be lifted significantly as we approach the busy festive fixtures.
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