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Shinji Kagawa scored his first Manchester United hat-trick as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side warmed up for their UEFA Champions League duel with Real Madrid by brushing aside Norwich to open up a 15-point lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
The Japan midfielder broke the deadlock in first-half injury-time before United finally cut loose, netting three times in the final 14 minutes, with Kagawa grabbing two to complete a memorable hat-trick before Wayne Rooney belted in a sensational effort as United's grip on the title tightened.
Ryan Giggs, waiting for his 1,000th senior appearance, Rafael and Rio Ferdinand were all rested ahead of Tuesday's game for which Real coach Jose Mourinho prepared by leaving out Cristiano Ronaldo for the latest 'El Clasico' with Barcelona.
Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn bravely dived at Robin van Persie's feet early on and Michael Carrick came close with a low shot but the Canaries' defence, marshalled superbly by Bradley Johnson and Robert Snodgrass, held firm until first half stoppage-time.
Antonio Valencia stepped neatly inside Anthony Pilkington on the edge of the area before floating over a rare left-footed cross. Van Persie stretched to control it and the ball bounced down for Kagawa, whose shot crept in at the near post.
Norwich rallied after the break and Jonny Howson had an effort deflected wide before Grant Holt got above Patrice Evra and steered a cushioned header into Russell Martin's path, only for the full-back to lift his effort over from close range.
United doubled their lead when Rooney sped into the box 14 minutes from time and supplied the pass from which Kagawa doubled his tally for the season. Kagawa was not finished and another Rooney assist created a further opening for the Japan star, who again finished clinically to complete his hat-trick.
Rooney then got on the scoresheet as he lashed a ferocious effort past Bunn in the final minute for his 12th Barclays Premier League goal of the season. While United stretched their lead at the top the result dropped Norwich down to 13th place in the table, eight points above the relegation zone.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: "Midway through the second half, I didn’t think it would end up 4-0 as we were a bit ragged for that period but when we brought Shinji [Kagawa] into central midfield, it made a difference to us and he ended up with a hat-trick.
"It’s brilliant for him [Kagawa]. The lad is a good finisher and his second goal was so composed and an intelligent finish while his third was absolutely brilliantly-taken. It’s been a great day for him. He got that injury around October-November and was out quite a while. It knocked him back a bit but he’s gradually coming back and you’ll see a really good player next year."
Norwich City manager Chris Hughton: "The first goal hurt us, but the second goal hurt us more. Of course you have to defend well against Manchester United but we were a reasonable threat on the break. We could have kept the ball a little bit better.
"The second goal is the one that hurt us because at that stage you've got to open up a little bit to get yourselves back in the game and of course doing that allows United, with the quality they've got, to get into the spaces that really hurt us."
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|30 Mar 2013||v Sunderland (A)|
|08 Apr 2013||v Man City (H)|
|14 Apr 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|17 Apr 2013||v West Ham (A)|
|22 Apr 2013||v Aston Villa (H)|