Old Trafford, Manchester
26 April 2014, 1630 BST
The last week has seen Manchester United in sharp focus as the beleaguered Champions prepare for more upheaval in what has already been a topsy turvy season for them. Out of contention for any silverware this season, the Old Trafford outfit have now parted ways with manager David Moyes, whose future was already in the balance post the club’s defeat to Moyes’ former club, Everton. United legend, Ryan Giggs has been announced as the interim manager in charge for the rest of the season and one of his first actions has been to enlist the services of former pals, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville.
Norwich City, on the other hand, are not faring much better in the managerial position either having sacked Chris Hughton and brought in Neil Adams in his place. What this means is that the two managers meeting on Saturday would have a combined experience of 25 days managing a Premier League side.
From the perspective of the season, United’s loss to Everton a week ago at Goodison Park has ensured that United will finish below 70 points in the league, a first since 1991. And losing to Everton has also eliminated the mathematical possibility of making the top 4 and qualifying for the Champions League next season. In fact, in their current position (7th) in the league, the only way United will make the cut for Europa League would be if Arsenal finish outside the top 4 and then win the FA Cup. Norwich have problems of their own as they lie on the cusp of the relegation zone with barely any breathing space between them and 17th placed Cardiff City. The scheduling Gods were not kind on the Canaries either, making their relegation run in nothing short of a star studded minefield as Norwich face Liverpool, United, Chelsea and Arsenal in their last 4 matches of the season. That said, the Canaries showed a lot of heart going toe to toe with Liverpool and nearly scaring the prospective Champions in their 2-3 loss. They do however face an uphill task as this fixture will be at Old Trafford and with the lack of home support and a wounded United, things could very quickly be turned on their head for Norwich. United play for pride and Norwich to avoid relegation and the one with the higher motivation will walk away with spoils from this match.
Team news and tactics
It is indeed a perilous task to predict the team or the formation that United would deploy in this match since it would be Giggs’ first match at the helm. Of course, having spent more than 2 decades at the club and playing under Sir Alex Ferguson, the United DNA is firmly embedded in him and it is certain he would have some ideas on how he wants to line up in his first home game.
David de Gea would most definitely get the nod to start between the sticks. De Gea has probably been the only player in the squad who has consistently performed at a level befitting the club he is part of. Bar the gaff against Sunderland in the Capital One Cup, one struggles to remember any incidents where the goalkeeper’s mistake directly led to a goal. Giggs’ headaches begin in front of de Gea where he has to lineup a back four that will not be as porous as day old pottery.
United’s defensive woes are twofold – a lot of the defenders are injured and the others are just not performing on a consistent basis or at a consistent level. Evra, Rio, Vidic and Rafael are all suffering from niggles. Evra’s replacement, Alex Buttner has not been far off the extremely low defensive standards set by the Frenchman and Evra at least has better attacking intent. In fact, Everton’s second goal last week can be directly attributed to Buttner not tracking Mirallas well enough and playing him onside to make it 2-0 for Everton. However, in case of Evra not being match fit, expect Buttner to start the game in left back. Jonny Evans recently returned to fitness and started in central defense at Goodison Park. He did look rusty, which is expected after a longish lay off, but the defender has shown his quality in the last couple of seasons.
In the absence of his senior partners Rio and Vidic, Evans should make the start again in central defense. The other centre back position was being tossed around between Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Smalling, whose last outing for the club was in that fateful Everton match in right back, had a pretty much diabolical game that he would like to forget as soon as possible. Smalling was lethargic in going forward, not making any overlapping runs with Nani on the wings. Even when he had the ball on the flanks, he squandered possession pretty cheaply. The mix and match didn’t work centrally either where Jones struggled to contain Lukaku proving categorically inept aerially. On the basis of past evidence, Jones has done well in the right back role while Smalling has been significantly more settled when playing centrally. There is speculation that Jones was played in central defence on the player’s insistence but with the managerial change there is a good chance Giggs will play a team that is best for United. As such, expect Smalling to partner Evans in central defense while Jones moves out to the right flank.
Fletcher and Carrick both struggled to get the ball forward against Everton and were also under a lot of pressure against the pace of the Everton attack. The challenge should not be as much against the visiting Canaries and both the players are a pretty safe bet to start in CDM roles. Fellaini may get a look in via substitution especially if Norwich are more physical in the second half but he is not expected to make the cut to start for United. Ahead of the CDM pairing is where most of United’s wealth lies. United have the players to actually field a three man attacking midfield. Mata would surely start in the central position behind the striker. Kagawa has been given a lot of opportunities on the left wing but he has failed to adapt to that position, still preferring to cut in centrally to play through the middle. This narrows the field of play and allows the defending side to put bodies in the box and block the shots. That said, Kagawa’s link up play with Mata in some of the recent games (against West Ham and Newcastle) has been very good indeed and this may tip the scales in his favour to start the game on the left wing. Adnan Januzaj will start on the opposite wing to provide some creativity down that flank.
Jones is adept at covering defensively as well as making overlapping runs with wingers so it will give Mata the opportunity to link up a high tempo passing game with Januzaj and Kagawa on the wings. In front, RvP is still injured and Rooney has only recently recovered from a toe injury. In the Everton match, it was evident that he was not up to 100% and with not much to lose positionally, it may be prudent to rest Rooney. It will also give Giggs the opportunity to give Chicharito a rare start. The Mexican International has been very patient and has delivered at almost every chance handed to him, and with the two top strikers injured, it would not hurt to start him on Saturday. Chicharito is very fast off the blocks and a poacher in front of goal and these qualities of his would give Norwich’s defensive backline sufficient headaches to be able to handle Mata and co effectively.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1):David de Gea; Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Alex Buttner; Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher; Shinji Kagawa, Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj; Javier Hernandez.
Norwich City are right in the melee for the relegation battle and are probably everybody’s favourite to make the drop no thanks to their deadly scheduling that has landed them playing the top 3 teams of the league in their last 4 matches. Unfortunately, United are not one of those three but they are still a heavyweight club and a wounded one at that. Add to that the fact that the game is at Old Trafford and it is all but certain that Norwich will line up with a defensive mindset, choosing to curtail the damage rather than cause any. Defending in numbers and in depth should be the norm for the game for Norwich as they must ensure that even if they lose, the goal difference is not more than one or two goals. Given the fact that the bottom 4 are spread out over 3 points, goal difference may well decide who makes the cut and who drops to the lower league.
John Ruddy had a decent outing against Liverpool last week and should manage to hang on to his starting spot in goal for the Canaries. Michael Turner was quite poor against Liverpool being under constant threat from Suarez, who thankfully never managed to expose the defender completely. The 30-year old should however make the cut but only because his central defensive partner, Russell Martin, was even worse. Martin was a spectator for a large part of the match, being punished very early for a defensive lapse by Sterling to score his first goal. He was not comfortable against Liverpool’s movement either. Skipper Michael Bassong has, on the other hand, inexplicably missed the last two matches for the relegation threatened club. This may change as Bassong will come back into the lineup.
Joseph Yobo is still injured and will probably sit out the trip to Old Trafford. Martin Olsson was one of the rare bright sparks in Norwich’s performance at Carrow Road last week and, if his injury from that match is not too serious, will retain his position at left back. Whittaker on the right however had an inert appearance in the fixture and the only reason he will play is because frankly Adams doesn’t have much choice to play in this position. In front of the back four, Bradley Johnson had a decent performance protecting the defense and should reprise his role as inverted sweeper in the CDM position. Jonny Howson was spectacular for Norwich in the second half and led their revival. He was calm under pressure and worked well with the ball at his feet. His midfield partner, Snodgrass was off the match tempo, his only significant contribution to the game being an excellent header to score in the 77th minute for the hosts. In light of the lack of options to provide depth, however, Norwich will hand him a start at Old Trafford.
Problems in midfield complicate further when one accounts for Leroy Fer. The midfielder has completed his return to the starting lineup post a hamstring injury that had kept him out since the end of February. He did however look off the pace and may not be fit enough to play a full 90 minutes. This gives Adams a chance to hand Josh Murphy his first start of the season. Murphy looked lively when he substituted Fer and could make possession on the ball count to harass United’s relatively weak defensive line. Nathan Redmond would probably drop back into midfield as well to have four in the midfield to allow for some possession on the ball. Norwich will play with a solo striker up front. Gary Hooper will probably fill that role being the best of the forwards playing for the Canaries currently.
Possible Starting XI (4-1-4-1): John Ruddy; Steven Whittaker, Michael Bassong, Michael Turner, Martin Olsson; Bradley Johnson; Josh Murphy, Robert Snodgrass, Jonny Howson, Nathan Redmond; Gary Hooper
Key Match Facts
- In their last 10 meetings, United have won 7 while Norwich have managed to win 2, with only one match being drawn. The two Norwich victories however have come at Carrow Road. At Old Trafford, United have won 4 of the last 5 matches, drawing the remaining match.
- In the same fixture last year, United crushed Norwich 4-0 with Shinji Kagawa scoring a hat trick.
- Managers of both teams would have a combined Premier League managerial experience of 25 days when the clubs meet on Saturday.
- Ryan Giggs is the first Manchester United manager who has also played for the club.
Manchester United 3 – 1 Norwich City
Manchester United have had a poor season and they play for pride now. Hopefully, a United legend like Giggs would be able to inspire passion amongst his players to come up with a performance befitting the club’s stature.
Watch out for
Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
All eyes on Saturday would undoubtedly be on Ryan Giggs as he takes his first steps as manager in charge of his childhood club. Giggs’ legacy as a United legend is cemented with close to 1000 appearances for the club in all competitions. It is practically Giggs’ date with destiny. If he fails, it will not tarnish his legend status at all but if he succeeds, he will climb to another level in reverence amongst the Old Trafford supporters.