United face a tough trip to in-form Norwich at Carrow Road this weekend after a poor midweek performance at Ajax that almost saw us crash out of the Europa League.
The Premier League has always been the priority for United and with City hosting Blackburn at home, the onus will be on us to make sure we don’t let City extend the lead to five points at the top of the league.
News has circulated that Cleverley has injured his ankle once again and will miss the fixture. If this is true, our players are made of glass this season. Michael Carrick will make a much needed return as we sorely missed his presence and poise in the middle of the park on Thursday. A likely partner of Scholes will bring a much more controlled midfield pairing that should be able to dictate the play on Sunday.
Wayne Rooney was the prominent missing figure from Ajax with a sore throat and is considered a doubt for Sunday. For me, that means he is going to play. We always miss his tenacity upfront whenever he isn’t playing as it puts pressure on the wingers to provide the majority of the penetrating attacking play which, as it currently stands at United, is not our strongest area.
Our most reliable attacker this season, Antonio Valencia, is still sidelined with the hamstring injury he picked up against Ajax in Amsterdam, so SAF will have to look elsewhere in the squad for inspiration. Park played a full 90 minutes on Thursday so will be unlikely to feature from the start. With sub-par performances from Young and Nani against Ajax, SAF might be tempted to push Giggs out wide again after he has put in some excellent performances from that position so far this season.
Sunday might represent the 900th appearance for the superb Giggs, which will leave him only two appearances short of Paolo Maldini’s total appearances for Milan over his career. Only 101 to go until 1000.
A full 90 minutes from Javier Hernandez all but guarantees Danny Welbeck’s starting berth on Sunday. The Mexican was one of our best players on the night, not that it was very difficult considering the level of other performances, but SAF will surely look toward Danny as he has done on so many occasions this season in the Premier League, especially when you think how much Rooney and Welbeck’s partnership has grown and evolved over the season.
Norwich have only lost one out of their last five Premier League games and you have to go back to a 2-1 loss to QPR at the beginning of January for the last time they lost at Carrow Road.
Paul Lambert has done an impeccable job with the newly promoted side that has seen them rise to eighth in the table. Having got knocked out of the FA Cup last weekend, Norwich will be bloodthirsty when United come knocking on their doorstep.
The big danger from Norwich comes from their ability with set pieces and United’s inability to defend them. Norwich have scored 37 goals this season, of which 14 (38%) have come from set pieces.
Ever since Vidic was injured in Basel, United have been nothing short of dire in defending set pieces. Goals against Newcastle, Liverpool and Ajax spring straight to mind but there are countless examples of other poor pieces of defending when the ball is lumped into the box. We lack the organisation as a defensive unit right now and need to ensure it doesn’t come back to haunt us.
We lack a leader in the box and it is allowing opposition players to stamp some authority in and around our box. Although, with the current rise in stock of Dave “Great Save” De Gea, we have been instilled with confidence in our keeper that should help the defence improve.
United can build off the know ledge that, going into the game, our away form has been impressive this season. We have won eight times on the road this season and have been infinitely more impressive than we were last season. We need to continue that run of good form away from home that has allowed us to keep up with City at the top if we are going to have the chance to topple them.
Paul Lambert and his Norwich side are well drilled and powerful in the air. Our vulnerability from their strength means that I think we will be hard fought to keep a clean sheet. Having said that, SAF would have given the team an earful after the dismal second half performance against Ajax and we will be looking to bounce back on Sunday. I think a narrow 2-1/3-1 victory will be the final result with Danny Welbeck getting on the score sheet.