Manchester United lost 1-0 to Norwich City in November with Anthony Pilkington heading in the winner
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Ever since the defeat at Norwich earlier in the season, United’s league form has been exemplary. By contrast, it’s been a mixed back for Norwich who’ve only won once in the league since mid-December, conveniently last weekend. Although comfortably above the relegation zone, they are a couple of defeats away from being sucked into uncomfortable territory. For United, there’s a balancing act to be done with the manager needing to pick a side with Real Madrid midweek in mind. As ever, we welcome comments and opinions from both sets of fans.
View from the opposition
Norwich are currently flying high in 12th. Could you have imagined that you’d be in this position last August?
With Paul Lambert deciding Villa provided a better platform for his ambitions (worked out well) and with ‘second season syndrome’ due to kick in, most City fans accepted that this season was going to be a tough one. Additionally, with the ‘bounce’ that accompanies newly promoted teams having long since subsided, Chris Hughton’s main task was to keep us in the division – especially with the improved TV deal kicking-in in 2013/14. After a dreadful first month but then a fantastic autumn, which included a ten game unbeaten run, things looked particularly rosy as we approached the Christmas period, but then it all started to go horribly wrong. A win-less streak of nine games was thankfully ended last Saturday when we beat Everton and hopefully now the ship has been steadied. After the horribly bleak winter we’ve just endured, 12th is a result.
Is there any lingering worry that you’ll go down still?
In a word, yes, albeit the relief triggered by last Saturday’s win has eased the nerves considerably. With 40 points being generally accepted as the benchmark for safety (although it could be less this season) there is still a bit of work left to do, but given the fixtures ahead I’d expect us to have enough left in the tank to get at least a couple of wins and draws.
Chris Hughton seems to be doing a great job and comes across very well in press conferences. What are your thoughts of him?
To follow the nigh on perfect 3 years that Paul Lambert enjoyed at Norwich was always going to be almost impossible, particularly given the gung-ho ‘Keegan’ style of football that the Scot introduced. Hughton’s more measured, pragmatic style still doesn’t sit comfortably with a small minority of City fans but has generally been accepted as a more ‘grown up’ way forward. Typically, during the win-less run his approach did get analysed to death but he dealt with it all in his calm, polite unflappable style that has endeared him to so many. Clearly a top bloke, I also happen to think he’s doing a decent job.
Since the 1-0 defeat by Norwich, United have gone from strength to strength in the league. What have you made of United’s form since that loss at Carrow Road?
As you say… the 1-0 defeat at Carrow Road was a springboard for you and you’ve barely looked back since. The addition of RVP has obviously been massive and although across the board your team contains fewer ‘big’ names than teams of old the 12 point gap at the top says it all. Any forward line that contains RVP, Rooney and Hernandez is certain to be full of goals and more than makes up for a workmanlike, as opposed to ‘Barcelona’, midfield.
Who do you think has been United’s best performer this season?
RVP is the obvious one although, to an outsider, Michael Carrick always looks as though he does a sterling job in the holding midfield role and Cleverley is clearly destined for great things alongside him. At the back you’ve been typically thrifty and after seeing his goal against ‘Arry’s boys, Rafael has appeared on a few more radars. What a strike that was!
How will you line up at Old Trafford tomorrow and how confident are you about getting a result?
For most of the season we’ve played a 4-4-1-1, with Grant Holt ploughing the lone furrow up top and Wes Hoolahan supporting him from midfield, but last week against Everton we played a more traditional 4-4-2. The additional help afforded to Holt by Luciano Becchio, for an hour, and Kei Kamara for the last 30 mins, worked well and gave us a far more threatening look going forward. Having said all of that – given Hughton’s desire for solidity, especially away from home – I’d expect us to revert back to the 4-4-1-1.
Who has been your best player this season? And the worst!?
The best player by some margin has been Sebastien Bassong. A few eyebrows were raised in these parts when we managed to attract him (I’m not aware he’s a big fan of either Alan Partridge or the Norfolk Broads) from Spurs, but he’s been a revelation. The back-four without him has looked decidedly dodgy on occasions, but he seemingly has this great knack of bringing out the best in those around him. Robert Snodgrass (one of our ever growing Leeds contingent – sorry!) has also been excellent, particularly since the turn of the year. The battle between him and Evra will be an interesting one.
The worst player? Hard to say, several had a nasty dip in form over the Christmas period, but most have emerged unscathed and have rediscovered form akin to that of last October and November. Michael Turner took the brunt of much of the fans frustration in the first few weeks of the season – and rightly so after some dire performances – but has since found some form and, along with Bassong, has gone on to form a decent looking central defensive partnership.
Do you miss the Ipswich rivalry or happy to see them lingering in the Championship?
I don’t personally miss the rivalry in the slightest. Ever since their now sacked Chief Executive referred to Norwich as a ‘small club to the north’ or their deluded fans arrived at Carrow Road in 2009 waving ‘fivers’ at us (an attempt apparently to show us how ‘loaded’ they were thanks to their new benefactor) both clubs have gone in polar opposite directions. It’s difficult to have sympathy for a club that ripped off local businesses left right and centre, paying them off at a rate of 5p in the £. They’re welcome to stay in the Championship and below for ever.
Give us the best chant you’ve heard all season at home…
The best chant at Carrow Road is probably our own homage to the aforementioned Michael Turner… “There’s only one Michael Turner, one Michael Turner, he used to be sh*te, but now he’s alright, walkin’ in a Turner Wonderland”. Without doubt the best chant I’ve heard all season was from the AFC Wimbledon fans at their FA cup tie with Franchise FC, MK Dons… “We’re were you when you were us!?” Genius.
What’s your prediction for tomorrow?
Heart = 1-1; head = Utd 2 Norwich 0
£20 on Ryan Giggs to score first wins you £250
£20 on Nani to score the last goal wins you £150
£20 on Wayne Rooney to score a hattrick wins you £160
Robin van Persie has recovered from his camera collision and has trained all week ahead of this game. Jones won’t be ready for it and is in a race against time to make the Madrid game. Fletcher’s ruled out for the rest of the season and Scholes’ status remains unknown as he battles an ongoing knee problem.
Norwich are only missing three players due to injury. Ruddy is a long term absentee whilst Surman must be getting close to a return but not in time for United. Tettey is the third player – he’s due back in a week.
Potential Man United line up
There’s no point pretending that the Real Madrid game won’t have any impact on selection. Notably in defence, Ferdinand and Evans have been left out of our predicted team so they’re fresh for midweek. Smalling’s also probably due a start and Fergie may even be tempted to rest Rafael and play Smalling instead with Evans partnering Vidic.
It’s a similar story in the middle with players who’re unlikely to start against Madrid getting a game – with the sole exception being Carrick. Hopefully he can be taken off after an hour if United have a comfy lead. Like Smalling, Anderson must be due a start soon and Kagawa was left out last weekend. Nani surely must be playing himself into the Madrid side so Fergie may be tempted to keep him in the team whilst he’s hot.
Although fit and available, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if van Persie started from the bench as a means of protecting him. Rooney will need minutes to continue to get some sharpness whilst Hernandez could lead the line as he’s unlikely to start against Madrid.
Conclusion and prediction
Whilst the players and staff may be denying that the Real Madrid game is on their minds, it’s bound to influence selection against Norwich and this could of course work in their favour. That said, Norwich have only won away from home once this season, nearly three months ago. They’ve struggled for goals on the road with only Stoke and West Ham scoring fewer.
With Man City not playing until Monday night, this is once again a good chance to open up a 15 point lead and turn up the pressure on our rivals. It’s just over a year since Ryan Giggs scored the late winner at Norwich and it would be fitting if he could do the same this time around on what would be his 1000th appearance in professional football. Now, where’s his script writer?
Prediction: Manchester United 1-0 Norwich