Old Trafford, Manchester
16:00 Hrs GMT, 2nd March 2013
Manchester United’s relentless pursuit of their 20th league title continues apace at Old Trafford on Saturday against Norwich City, the last team to beat United in the league. In the reverse fixture at Carrow Road in November, a dogged performance by the Canaries coupled with a rare lackluster day at the office for Sir Alex’s boys saw United slipping to a shock 1-0 defeat with the winner scored by former United academy graduate Anthony Pilkington. Since then United has put together a run of 15 games without a defeat while Norwich suffered a particularly grim winter with only a solitary victory since the middle of December.
For the home team, a victory will see them stretch the lead at the top of the table to 15 points and pile on the pressure on an already beleaguered Manchester City before their Monday night trip to Aston Villa. The buildup to the match has been slightly overshadowed by the news of United’s marathon man Ryan Giggs signing on for what will be his 24th season as a senior professional at the club. If he plays a part on Saturday, it will be Giggs’ 1000th senior appearance (for United, Wales and Great Britain combined). Having scored against the same opposition last season on his 900th appearance for United, who would bet against Giggs doing something similar on yet another landmark occasion?
Norwich ended a sequence of nine Premier League matches without a victory with a real smash-and-grab effort against Everton last weekend. Kei Kamara came off the bench to head in the equalizer for the Canaries and thereby became the first player from Sierra Leone to score in the history of Premier League. Ferguson might be aware of the threat posed by Kamara given the fact that the player – on loan from Sporting Kansas City – had scored against United for his parent club in a pre-season friendly in 2011. Chris Houghton will be hoping that the striker acts as a lucky charm as Norwich goes in search of their first win at Old Trafford since 1989.
Team News & Tactical Brief
With a massive fixture against Real Madrid slated for Tuesday, Sir Alex Ferguson can be forgiven if he contemplates to give a few of his regular starters a break on Saturday. Whoever starts though, Sir Alex will ensure that the importance of this fixture is not lost on them. Robin van Persie, who was taken off last weekend at Loftus Road, has been declared fit, but the game comes too soon for Phil Jones. Paul Scholes is yet to shake off the problem with his knee while Darren Fletcher is a long term absentee.
United will look to employ their regular 4-4-2 formation with David de Gea starting in goal. In the defense, Jonny Evans should partner Nemanja Vidic with Rafael and Patrice Evra in the full back positions. Antonio Valencia should start on right with Nani on the other flank while Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick will look to pull the strings from the middle of the park. The impending game against Real may mean Robin van Persie being rested and in such a scenario, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez will start up top.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Cleverley, Carrick, Nani; Rooney, Hernandez
Chris Hughton will be without the services of goalkeeper John Ruddy, who is nursing a thigh strain, for the trip to Old Trafford. Midfielders Alexander Tettey and Andrew Surman are both struggling with knee injuries and may miss the fixture.
Norwich has generally started with a 4-4-2 this season and the same should be the case on Saturday afternoon. Martin Bunn will deputize for John Ruddy between the sticks. At defense, Russell Martin should start at right back, Michael Turner and Sebastien Bassong at the centre and Javier Garrido at left back. Wes Hoolahan at left wing may keep Pilkington out of the starting XI while Bradley Johnson and Jonathan Howson in the centre of the park and Robert Snodgrass in the right wing are certain to start. Grant Holt will lead the line but it’ll be interesting to see who partners the Norwich skipper upfront after Kamara’s heroics off the bench last week.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): Bunn; Martin, Turner, Bassong, Garrido; Snodgrass, Howson, Johnson, Hoolahan; Rooney, Hernandez
- Manchester United have won their last 10 league games at Old Trafford.
- Only one team in Premier League history has gained more points from their opening 27 games than United’s 68 this season (Chelsea had 69 in 2005-06).
- Manchester United have kept a clean sheet in their last 3 matches in the Premier League.
- Norwich have failed to win 14 of their last 15 away matches in the Premier League.
- Striker Grant Holt has now scored 20 Premier League goals for Norwich City – only Chris Sutton (33) has scored more for the Canaries.
Player To Watch Out For
Nani (Manchester United)
The mercurial winger may have looked on his way out of Old Trafford earlier in the season, but in recent weeks he seems to have rediscovered some of the form which makes him such a dangerous player for the opposition. He won United the FA Cup tie against Reading with a virtuoso display and set up Giggs’ goal against QPR last weekend. With places up for grabs against Real in the midweek, this is the perfect opportunity for Nani to step up to the plate and deliver.
Manchester United 3-0 Norwich City
The league leaders are on a roll presently and it is hard to see anything apart from a long, hard afternoon for Hughton’s men.