Carrow Road has not always been a happy ground for Manchester United; not least due to two defeats in the past three visits to Norwich. Yet, having secured victory in the past five matches this season David Moyes side should approach the visit to East Anglia with renewed confidence. While Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea all won on Boxing Day, to leave Moyes’ side eight points behind the leaders, there is a real sense of momentum gathering around Old Trafford.
The gap necessitates another United victory on Saturday, with Chris Hughton’s side struggling for consistency this season. Indeed, the Canaries could find themselves in the Premier League relegation zone come the weekend’s conclusion. And with half the Premier League’s clubs having already swapped out a manager this season Hughton is under real pressure.
Yet, there is quality available to the likable former Tottenham Hotspur player. In Ricky van Wolfswinkel, for example, Norwich recruited a high-profile striker over the summer, although the Dutchman has spent considerable periods on the sidelines. van Wolfswinkel’s single goal in 10 matches for the club is Norwich’s challenge presented in precis – the side has scored just 16 in 18 league matches this season.
Still, Moyes’ side is unlikely to get a free pass at Carrow Road, with injuries and fatigue playing a significant role at the weekend.
“I think all the games at this time of year are difficult to call,” said Moyes.
“I expect Norwich to be another hard game. I think at this club you’re waiting on winning more games than this and then you might talk about being on a run. We’ll just try and win the next one and see what happens. All we can do is keep knocking away and hopefully be in there fighting come the end of the season.”
The Scot is likely to rotate his resources, with United due to face Spurs on New Year’s Day – a third game in six days. Captain Nemanja Vidić could return after sitting out United’s victory over Hull City, while Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck will compete for a spot alongside Wayne Rooney in attack.
However, Antonio Valencia is suspended after collecting a red card against Hull, while Rafael da Silva came off with a groin strain and is unlikely to feature. Defender Phil Jones is out for another fortnight with a knee problem, while Robin van Persie remains on the sidelines.
Michael Carrick should start after returning from an achilles problem at Hull. In the Geordie’s absence United has constructed a fruitful run of victories, but the side has not always moved the ball smoothly through central midfield. After a slow start to the new campaign, Carrick is charged with regaining some of the form on display last season.
Whatever Moyes’ selection, United’s challenge is to take the momentum gathered in recent victories over Aston Villa, West Ham United and Hull, while managing the fatigue inevitable during a busy period. It is a problem that striker Wayne Rooney believes could be solved with a winter break.
“Two days after a game we are normally in the pool and in the gym, recovering from the last game,” said Rooney.
“Obviously it’s a bit different at this time of year. I still think that in England there should be a winter break, I think that would benefit everyone but we have to get on with it and we’re looking forward to it – another big game. In terms of recharging your batteries and getting the team ready it would help. Hopefully that will come in. I think it’s only a matter of time.”
Meanwhile, Norwich manager Hughton will make a late decision on Jonny Howson, whose back injury has kept the midfielder out for two matches. Michael Turner is suspended after receiving his fifth yellow card of the season on Boxing Day, while Anthony Pilkington, Elliot Bennett and Alexander Tettey are all out.
Despite the absences Hughton is desperately in need of not only a performance against United, but the points. The Canaries were beaten at home by Fulham on Boxing Day – a loss that leaves Norwich just three points above the drop zone.
“It’s never difficult to pick players up. The reason why they do what they do is because they’re very good professionals. Any bad period, or any defeat, always hurts,” said the 55-year-old.
“We’re on the back of a disappointing result on Boxing Day. We certainly couldn’t fault the effort of the players, we just didn’t create enough clear-cut chances. We have to look forward, so it’s never difficult to pick players up, particularly when you have a game within a couple of days because there isn’t a choice.”
Meanwhile, United must capitalise on any dropped points at the top of the Premier League, with Arsenal facing in-form Newcastle United in the north east and Chelsea hosting Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. In a golden scenario the Reds could end the weekend just five points behind the leaders ahead of a tough January and February schedule. The flipside of that equation – an 11 point gap – is unthinkable.
Norwich City v Manchester United, Premier League, Carrow Road, 3pm, 28 December 2013
Norwich (4-4-2): Ruddy; Olsson, Turner, Bassong, Whittaker; Nguena, Fer, Snodgrass, Johnson; Hooper, van Wolfswinkel. Subs from: Bunn, Martin, Hoolahan, Becchio, R Bennett, Redmond, Murphy, Elmander
United (4-4-2): De Gea; Smalling, Vidić, Evans, Evra; Januzaj, Giggs, Cleverley, Young; Welbeck, Rooney. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Ferdinand, Buttner, Zaha, Anderson, Kagawa, Fletcher, Hernández
Norwich 16 Draw 13 United 34
Officials (all Serbian)
Referee: Phil Dowd
Assistants: M McDonough, A Holmes
Fourth Official: K Stroud