For a neutral, the last two Manchester United matches have likely made for great viewing. For the United faithful, however, the entertainment value can’t be disputed, but there is a lot to be displeased about, most notably the end results. At Stoke and at home against Basel, United went into the dressing room with a halftime lead both times. And both times they returned to the dressing room, they returned having given up the lead on the way to being held to a disappointing draw.
Will United be able to bounce back today against Norwich City? United have a decided advantage in quality, but as we learned on Tuesday night, that doesn’t mean a thing sometimes.
When Norwich were last in the Premier League, in the 2004/05 season, the two sides split their two meetings.
They met at Old Trafford in August 2004, and United eked out a 2-1 win courtesy of goals from David Bellion and Alan Smith.
After giving a good account of themselves in the first meeting, Norwich went one step further when they met the following April, with strikes from Dean Ashton and Leon McKenzie and a fine defensive effort gave the Canaries a shock 2-0 win.
Thus far, Norwich have done everything in twos. Two draws in their first two games, then two defeats in a row, now two wins in a row.
By virtue of their consecutive wins, a 2-1 win at Bolton and a 2-1 home win over Sunderland, Paul Lambert’s side is now a respectable ninth in the Premier League table, ahead of the likes of Everton and Arsenal.
The Canaries haven’t really gone up against the best the Premier League has to offer, with the exception of a 3-1 defeat at Chelsea, a match that was far closer than the scoreline indicates. Norwich fell behind early but held firm, equalized in the second half, and could well have gone 2-1 up. But the sending off of keeper John Ruddy in the 80th minute, the successful conversion of the penalty he conceded, and a last-minute finisher by Juan Mata proved to be the difference.
Judging from their valiant effort at Stamford Bridge, Norwich may not be nearly as easy to dispose as they might appear. They don’t particularly have any real standouts, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering that their seven Premier League goals have been scored by seven different players, one of whom is United‘s own Ritchie De Laet, who‘s on loan at Carrow Road for the season.
In terms of top threats, likely strike pairing Steve Morison and Grant Holt both were prolific scorers in the lower leagues, while attacker Anthony Pilkington and midfielder Bradley Johnson are both emerging young talents, with the latter being a surprise inclusion in the provisional England squad for the upcoming qualifier against Montenegro.
So, United haven’t been themselves in the last week. At Stoke, it was a combination of injuries, not playing at their best, and being stymied by a Stoke team that’s getting better and better. There are many reasons why things went wrong against Basel, but not only did United defend poorly and let their foot off of the gas after going into halftime with a 2-0 lead, they perhaps underestimated Basel and the two experienced, dangerous strikers they have in Alexander Frei and Marco Streller.
On the positive side, Tuesday night could have been the wake up call that United needed, and that should reflect in a much, much better and sharper performance against Norwich.
It also doesn’t hurt that Wayne Rooney will be returning today after missing the last two matches, Javier Hernandez will return after missing Tuesday’s match, and Jonny Evans may return after injuring himself ahead of the Stoke match. There are still several more injury issues that are yet to resolved, but with Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling, and Nemanja Vidic all return after the international break, the corner seems to be, well, around the corner.
As hard as it can be to watch, a team can need a real scare from time to time to bring back their best. On that note, the near-defeat to Basel should see United play much sharper on both ends today and not underestimate Norwich’s ability to threaten.
That bodes well for all who tune in to watch United, but that won’t bode well for the visitors, especially with two of United’s deadliest weapons back in the reckoning and ready to fire.
Score Prediction: Manchester United 4-1 Norwich City
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