Norwich City have re-established themselves as a respected Premier League side, after returning from their recent hiatus on the wave of two successive promotions. Indeed, last season they finished 12th, much to the surprise of many. Last season’s fixture saw United grab a 2-1 win, with Giggs scoring in the 90th minute on his 900th appearance. Despite the Canaries recent form, United fans will be expecting a 6th away win in a row, something the Red Devils have not achieved since February 2002.
Norwich, having made their successful return to the Premier League last season under the stewardship of Paul Lambert, since lost their manager to Aston Villa in the off season. As a result, Norwich began the current season sluggishly under their new boss, Chris Hughton.
However, they have gone unbeaten in the last 5 games, including wins at home against Arsenal, Stoke and Tottenham. With the partnership of Sebastian Bassong and Michael Turner flourishing, the Canaries only let in 2 goals in this period. Whilst Hughton’s side are not free scoring by any stretch of the imagination, they have performed well in front of their home fans, winning 2, drawing 2 and losing 1, and it was at Carrow Road that Norwich notched their last victory against United; a 2-0 win, with Dean Ashton scoring for the winners. But, other than this glorious night for the Norwich faithful, points have been hard to come by for them against the 19 times Premier League champions. Out of the last 14 games, this was their only victory, with one single draw their only other consolation.
Manchester United will certainly be looking to continue this proud record, but they may have to do so without one of their star strikers, as Wayne Rooney was forced off against Aston Villa with an ankle injury. But, with Javier Hernandez in fine form, scoring in each of his last 5 appearances for the club, this should be no issue for Sir Alex’s men, as the Mexican should slot in comfortably alongside the talismanic Robin van Persie. Evans is also doubtful, meaning Smalling could make his second league appearance of the season, after a tentative return from injury last Saturday.
For Norwich, the key for them could be the performance of burly striker Grant Holt, as they will look to him to provide the outlook for them up front, with United likely to monopolise possession. Smalling could be in for a tough evening as the physical striker will look to take advantage of a player who has only just returned from long term injury. For the 2012/13 version of Norwich City, this game could be very paradoxical.
This season, they have been limited in scoring, with only 8 goals in 10 games, but they have been extremely solid at the rear end; their tally of 4 clean sheets is bettered only by West Ham and Stoke. Manchester United this season are the polar opposite. In their seventeen games, United have conceded a worrying 26 goals whilst scoring a whopping 44. This exciting play has been entwined with United’s typical resilience, something that was perhaps lacking last season. Already so far, they have accrued 5 times as many points from losing positions as the entire of last season.
A big part of Norwich’s quest for a win, without submitting to a late United charge, will be the performance of the midfield, as well as Holt up front. Alexander Tettey will have to be at his athletic best to close down Michael Carrick and, I predict, Anderson in midfield, as Carrick makes his 400th league appearance. Down the flanks, Anthony Pilkington and Elliot Bennett will be entrusted with keeping United’s adventurous fullbacks under wraps, as they tend to be the players charged with marauding down the wings to support lone striker Grant Holt. Indeed, the only player to average a position over the half way line, apart from Holt, was Pilkington.
Despite Norwich’s superb home form, I tip United to win. The home side will struggle to get a look of goal, whilst the opposite will be true of the Red Devils. However, I do think that Holt will take advantage of Smalling and will score for the Canaries, but two away goals will seal it for Manchester United. 1-2 final score.
Lindegaard, Rafael, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evra, Carrick, Giggs, Valencia, van Persie, Young, Hernandez