Norwich City come to Old Trafford as United face a newly promoted side for the first time this season. This is the last game before another international break and United will be looking to ensure they go into it still at the top of the table. The midweek misery against FC Basel needs to be left in the past now and the Old Trafford faithful will be eager to see the team’s response…
The story of Norwich City and Paul Lambert is a bit special. August 2009 and Lambert’s Colchester side beat Norwich 7-1 prompting Norwich to sack Bryan Gunn and appoint Lambert. A Norwich City fan famously threw his season ticket at Gunn, vowing never to watch the club again – hopefully he changed his mind as Norwich stormed to the League 1 title that season. The following season, Lambert lead his side to a second successive promotion as they finished behind Q.P.R in the Championship taking the other automatic promotion spot. After six seasons without top-flight football, Norwich City were back in the big time.
In order to try and ensure that the Premier League experience lasts longer than a year this time, Norwich were busy in the summer transfer window. Squad players who were now surplus to requirements were shipped out, they included: Owain Tudur Jones, Steven Smith and Cody McDonald; and young hungry players looking to prove they’re good enough for the top league were brought in, including: Steve Morison, James Vaughan, Daniel Ayala and Bradley Johnson. Full use of the two loans from other Premier League teams rule was made too with Kyle Naughton brought in from Spurs for the season along with Ritchie De Laet from Man United.
One of the biggest dilemmas upon being promoted is assessing just how much to spend. A lot of money suddenly becomes available but should a club get relegated immediately then it’s important to make sure that money’s still there as the parachute payments will eventually stop. Norwich appear to have gone down the Blackpool route of spending – keeping it to a minimum. It seems the most sensible option and if the club are struggling, there’s always the January window in which to spend again.
Survival has to be the aim for Norwich. The nature of the league means that come the latter stages of the season, a few wins can be the difference between mid-table and relegation but ambitions of mid-table safety are probably a bit too bold right now.
It’s funny how so much can change in a week. United have gone from having a 100% league record to being without a win in two games now. A draw at Stoke last weekend was possibly fortunate and then midweek at home to FC Basel a second successive draw was doubly fortunate. The side are still unbeaten but performances and results need to improve once again. A quick glance at the league form guide will show 16 points from a possible 18 – the joint best record in the league with Man City. United are 24 league games unbeaten at home now and will hope to reach the quarter of a century landmark against Norwich.
Rather worryingly for Norwich, goals have come easily to United this season – they’re the only side to be in double figures for goals scored at home (14) and in Wayne Rooney, United have the league’s top scorer with 9 goals in 5 games. Ashley Young is leading the way with assists, he already has 6 – his partner in crime on the other wing, Nani, is also in excellent form with 3 goals and 3 assists already too.
After six games Norwich sit a very respectable 9th having racked up consecutive league victories (against Sunderland and Bolton). Their away form shows them with one win, one draw and one defeat – they’ve managed to score in each one and are yet to keep a clean sheet either. Norwich have picked up the joint fewest number of yellow cards (6), but have had two men sent off. None of their players have scored more than one goal or got more than one assist in the league this season.
United can welcome back Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Jonny Evans for Norwich. Cleverley, Smalling and Vidic could all be ready for Liverpool in a couple of weeks. Sir Alex Ferguson has said he’s looking to chop and change his team less and is hoping to start to form the basis to a more settled back four.
Zak Whitbread, Elliott Ward and Dani Ayala are all out for Norwich whilst Ritchie de Laet is ineligible to play against his parent club. James Vaughan cruelly faces another long spell on the sidelines after having knee surgery, he’s unlikely to play again until April 2011.
United formation and starting XI prediction:
Sometimes, particularly away from home, team selection can be impacted upon by who United are playing and how the opposition play. Norwich, a bit like Stoke, are quite a physical team who like to get the ball into the box. However, they’re not a long ball side and United should be able to play their own game hence I believe team selection shouldn’t be specifically tailored to counter any Norwich threats.
David de Gea seems rather more settled and comfortable with life in the Premier League right now – he’s certainly not been helped by an ever changing back four in front of him. The same back four has only been named in consecutive games twice (Spurs and Arsenal). The return of Jonny Evans should see him slot straight in next to Rio Ferdinand – they are statistically United’s safest defenders so far this season with Rio conceding a goal every 127.5 minutes in the league and Jonny ever 123 minutes. With Evra at left back it leaves Jones or Fabio to play at right back. Fabio picked up a slight knock against Basel and Jones potentially needs to sit out a game – whilst he’s had a great start to his United career, he has been at times caught defensively. Sir Alex highlighted in his pre-game press conference that Jones was caught in midfield when Basel scored their second goal midweek and he suggested the team have been too cavalier. Jones will no doubt learn about when to go forward, when to hold his position and his general awareness will improve but sitting this one out may not be a bad thing for him. With that in mind, Valencia could retain his right back spot and continue to link-up dangerously with Nani down the right hand side.
Nani has arguably been Man United’s star man in September, he should continue to play on the right with Ashley Young on the left of the midfield. Darren Fletcher should return after sitting out midweek. Who’ll partner Fletcher is a contentious issue though. Giggs was taken off after an hour against Basel with this game in mind however I think Carrick should play. Fletcher naturally tends to start in a deeper position than Anderson which will suit Carrick who also likes to play a bit deeper. Anderson, after a good start to the season has been poor the past few games and whilst some might argue this could be a good game for him to regain his form in, I believe other players have earned the right to start ahead of him.
Spearheading United’s attack, Rooney is fit to return and after his brace midweek Welbeck could partner him. Danny did though play a full game and tiredness did start to creep in towards the end. Hernandez is also available again and could oust Welbeck from the starting line up. Berbatov, Diouf, Owen and Macheda are the alternatives if Fergie fancies a surprise.
Ferdinand +1 vs. Morison – After a poor performance against FC Basel and being dominated by Crouch at Stoke, United’s centre backs need to step up their game again. Rio Ferdinand seems the only one guaranteed to start and he’s likely to be partnered by Evans. Ferdinand and Evans compliment each other nicely – Rio tends to read the game and avoid physical contact where possible whereas Jonny likes to confront opponents head on in a challenge. Against Norwich though, they should expect an aerial test.
One facet of Norwich’s play that they’ve done well on this year is scoring headers. They have good powerful headers of the ball in their side and when the delivery has been good they’ve reaped the rewards. Leading their attack is Steve Morison, the Welsh international who was signed from Millwall this summer. Morison is fairly tall and has a great jump on him – he doesn’t mind bullying centre backs and he opened his goalscoring account in their last game, against Sunderland.
One might argue that for Morison to challenge Rio and probably Evans in the air, Norwich will have to beat United on the wings to get crosses in first. However, it’s from free kicks, corners and the odd long ball that Rio and Jonny will have to be savvy too. Whilst hopefully the action will be at the other end of the pitch, this won’t necessarily be an easy game for United’s centre backs.
History and last meeting:
United have played Norwich eight times in the Premier League era, winning six times, drawing once and losing the last time the teams met at Carrow Road. At Old Trafford, United have three wins and a draw – goals should not be expected by the bag load though – only 6 have been scored by United in those games and three by Norwich (2 United clean sheets).
Last time this fixture occurred it was United’s first home game in the 2004/05 season and ended 2-1 to United. United took the lead through David Bellion before Alan Smith scored a wonder volley on his home debut. A goal from McVeigh late on meant it was a far from comfortable last 15 minutes for the 67,000 inside Old Trafford.
United’s players will be keen to return to winning ways after two draws in a row; hopefully in an emphatic manner. Whilst the defending has been questionable lately, goals have been flowing quite easily. Nani is in fine form and with the return of Rooney the team should be boosted. Evans returning at the back could make a big difference too so with that in mind I will predict a United win with a clean sheet and a 4-0 scoreline, (sorry Norwich fans!).
Stuart Attwell – this will be the first time he’s ever refereed United at Old Trafford. In his four games so far he shows no bias towards the home teams when dishing out bookings and is lenient in the first half and harsh in the second (no referee has shown fewer first half and more second half cards per game).
Aside from a passion for green and yellow (gold), there are a few current connections between the two clubs. Ritchie de Laet is on loan at Norwich from United and central midfielder David Fox is a former United Academy graduate. Fox’s team-mate, Anthony Pilkington also had a short spell at United as a schoolboy. United’s Reserves faced Norwich’s Reserve side at Carrow Road midweek, winning 4-2, hopefully a good omen!
– United have never scored 4 goals against Norwich; they’ve scored 3 on ten occasions and 5 on three occasions.
– Norwich have never scored more than 2 goals away to United and have failed to score on 17 of their 28 visits to Manchester.
– The 13 goals that United have scored against Norwich City in the Premier League era have all been scored before the 60th minute.
– The 22 goals scored by United in their opening six league matches equals the most scored by any club at this stage of a Premier League season.
– United have now scored in 33 consecutive home league games.
– All seven of Norwich’s goals in the league have been scored by a different player
Ferguson on the FC Basel result and performance: “People say our performance was careless and we underestimated our opponents and maybe there’s an element of truth in that. We could have scored goals as well but were too cavalier. We’re attacking in the way we’re playing at the moment and people can enjoy it but we have to do better defensively.”
Lambert on psychology of facing United: “Some teams are beaten before they even go there, but I will have my own way to deal with that. We have to go there with a belief, because if you don’t you can get turned over.”
Lambert on facing the champions: “It is probably the hardest game you will get, but we have earned the right to play them, and if you don’t like playing a game like this, then there is something wrong.”
Leon Barnett on facing United: “We will go to Manchester United and do our best. That is all we can do. It is not going to be easy because they have star quality players, but all the lads are looking forward to it. It’s good to know we can go to Old Trafford with a smile on our faces. The shackles are off for us now.”
The Stretford-End.com team have each given a predicted starting XI and final score ahead of the game – give us yours here.
For all pre-match banter, tactical discussions, team and score predictions click here.