Norwich v Manchester United - Jonathan Wilson's Tactical Preview


TEAM NEWS

The biggest absentee for Norwich is Timm Klose. His presence at the heart of the defence after his signing in January had had a clear positive impact but he is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Also missing are the right-back Andre Wisdom after he went off in the game against Sunderland, and the midfielder Alex Tettey who damaged his ankle in March. Ryan Bennett may be back after missing the Arsenal defeat with illness.

Aside from the long-term injuries to Luke Shaw and Bastan Schweinsteiger, Manchester United’s only absentees are Adnan Januzaj, still lacking match fitness as he continues his return to health, and Marouane Fellaini, who is suspended after a tussle with Leicester’s Roberth Huth last weekend.

 

RECENT FORM

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-CRYSTAL PALACE : News Photo

This is probably United’s longest sustained run of decent form this season – although that perhaps isn’t saying much.

They’ve won five and drawn two in all competitions since the beginning of April, though, a run that has got them to the FA Cup final and seen them close to within four points of Manchester City in fourth place. With City’s form indifferent and them facing Arsenal on Sunday, this is a great opportunity to close the gap.

Norwich have lost three in a row to slip into the relegation zone, two points behind Newcastle with a game in hand and a point behind Sunderland.

 

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

Norwich won at Old Trafford in December at what was probably the lowest point for United this season, the defeat coming, as it did, between defeats to Bournemouth and Stoke City.

United had 71% possession in that game but with Juan Mata, operating as the number 10, crowded out by Tettey and Gary O’Neil, and Wayne Rooney ploughing a fruitless furrow as a lone striker, goals from Cameron Jerome and Tettey gave Norwich a 2-1 win.

 

NORWICH’S APPROACH

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How many points do Norwich need? Newcastle should beat Aston Villa away this weekend and then face a Tottenham side who may have nothing to play for on the final day. Having picked up eight points from their last four games, its conceivable Rafa Benitez’s side could win both of those games, which would leave Norwich needing three wins to have a chance of safety.

Games against Watford at home and Everton away – the reverse of Sunderland’s final two fixtures – may look easier, but Norwich may need three wins out of three, and that means they can’t just sit back against United.

As they showed against Sunderland, though, when they look to take the game to the opposition, they can be exposed at the back and with a probable front three of Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, United have the pace to take advantage.

 

MBOKANI OR JEROME? NAISMITH OR HOOLAHAN?

After three games of fielding Steven Naismith behind Dieumerci Mbokani, Alex Neil opted against Arsenal to play Wes Hoolahan and Jerome at the Emirates, but it would be no surprise to see Mbokani return against United.

The feeling has persisted all season that Daley Blind could be isolated by a powerful striker and even if that hasn’t really happened yet, it certainly is the case that United are vulnerable from set-pieces. The logic of fielding him with Naismith is presumably the former Everton striker’s movement, but he’s scored only once and registered no assists since his January move.

Hoolahan perhaps offers greater guile but it may be that Naismih is preferred for his energy, so he can look to hassle Michael Carrick and prevent him acting as the metronome setting United’s tempo from the back of midfield.

 

ROONEY’S ROLE

Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Premier League : News Photo

It looks like Wayne Rooney will again be used in a deep role as United’s shape continues to evolve towards a 4-3-3 in which the midfield lacks pace but the forward line is youthful and ferociously quick.

The oddity is that that paradigm usually indicates a counter-attacking side, a team that will look to sit seven to nine men behind the ball and then spring forward on the break, whereas Van Gaal’s philosophy is built around ball possession.

That means one of two things. Either the back four must push high to squeeze the space and so render United vulnerable to rapid opponents, or that midfield is liable to be stretched in transitions.

 

VERDICT

This feels like a last chance for Norwich and given United remain a team that blows hot and cold, the 4.50 available on Norwich to win looks long. The value, though, probably lies on something more cautious and backing them +0.5 on the Asian lines at 2.00.

No side in the top half, after all, has lost more away from home than United.