Release Valencia & Nani Against Norwich And United Will Stretch Their Lead At The Summit

The duo may not be in the best of form this season, but with Norwich's Garrido likely to wander up field, Nani and Valencia attacking the Spaniard will see United open up a 15 point gap at the top of the Premier League.
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The duo may not be in the best of form this season, but with Norwich's Garrido likely to wander up field, Nani and Valencia attacking the Spaniard will see United open up a 15 point gap at the top of the Premier League.

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With the arrival of Norwich City comes yet another chance for Manchester United to maintain, or even increase, their formidable position atop the Premier League table. With three clean sheets in a row, five goals from four different scorers and a maximum nine points to boot, the Red Devils go into the Saturday afternoon fixture in imperious form.

However, Norwich have proved, like they did last season, that they are certainly no pushovers, especially considering they already defeated Sir Alex Ferguson’s title chasers back in November. Chris Hughton’s side will come to Old Trafford on the back of an unbeaten run of four games, looking to make it difficult for a Manchester United side with one eye firmly fixed on the upcoming Champions League match against Real Madrid on Tuesday.

Ferguson rotated for the QPR game, bringing in the likes of Young, Nani and Hernandez, and his side still had more than enough firepower to see of the threat posed by Harry Redknapp’s relegation battlers. With such a measure of importance placed on the return of Real Madrid, Mourinho, Ronaldo, et al, to the Theatre of Dreams, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Ferguson keep a few of his stars in reserve against the Canaries.

That is not to say that Sir Alex, as well as the majority of United fans, will underestimate the potential threat Norwich possess. They may have a goal difference of -14, but the errors that perforated their earlier performances in the season appear to have been corrected, and a settled Norwich back four of Martin, Bassong, Turner and Garrido - backed up by the emerging talent of Mark Bunn - have kept two clean sheets in their last four Premier League games.

Further up the pitch, the likes of Snodgrass and Hoolahan are more than capable of creating chances for Norwich’s leading front man, Grant Holt, as well as chipping in with a valuable number of goals themselves: four and two respectively. Holt, who shoulders most of his club’s goal-scoring responsibility, has only scored five this season and has been joined in attack by the exciting Kei Kamara and Luciano Becchio. Norwich beat United by the single goal to knock Ferguson’s men off the top of the table, and it would seem if a win was on the cards then a staunch 1-0 victory would be their best bet - although a repeat of United relinquishing top spot isn’t in sight.

With Ryan Giggs on the verge of his 1000th career appearance, fans will remember the manner in which United were defeated earlier in the campaign: a turgid midfield partnership of an ageing Giggs and half-fit Fletcher failed to dominate the centre of the park and United accordingly gave way a lot of ground to Norwich’s persistent pressing. As sentimental as the Welshman playing would be, the most likely scenario would see Giggs either start the game on the bench, or alternatively, be paired with a more dynamic partner, i.e. Carrick or Anderson.

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With the power Norwich possess at the back in Turner and Bassong, an emphatic selection would be to start with Chicharito up top, an especially pertinent move when you consider it allows Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney a breather before the visit of Real Madrid. The little Mexican has the sheer pace to get in behind the centre-back pairing, who are not renowned for their speed across the turf, and it is abundantly clear how lethal Hernandez is in and around the box, especially if he’s in a one-on-one situation.

This could also be a game for Kagawa, with the young Japanese international given the free-reign to float in behind the striker, and acting as the fulcrum with which to bring United’s wide men into play. His movement has been exceptional, and he was almost impossible to pick up against Real Madrid. Whether drifting in from the left-wing or ghosting through the centre, Kagawa can find the space to cause damage.

The Norwich left-back, Garrido, tends to wander forward during games owing to his attacking sensibilities, and though can be a great tool in the final third with his swinging crosses, he is particularly susceptible to the counter-attack, especially if United play with wingers. Both Nani and Valencia, if released, would eat the Spaniard alive down the flank.

Grant Holt will provide any of the potential combinations of central defensive pairings that Ferguson could employ with a series of problems due to his height, strength and work ethic. Never the most technically-gifted, the former Carlisle man will throw his weight around, unsettling defenders and will always be a real handful at set pieces. Though Ferguson may want to preserve Vidic’s fitness ahead of the Champions League tie on Tuesday, if the Serb can be match ready and free of niggles, he is the perfect player to cope with Holt’s physical presence.

The key to a Manchester United victory, and despite their excellent form a win over Norwich is not a given, will be how they take control of the game in the centre of the park. As long as the two central midfielders are up for dealing with a lot of Norwich pressing and are prepared to be combative, then Norwich can be unlocked by United’s forward movement and crisp passing. The most salient aspect of the pairing is that they present a lot more vigour, energy and grit than that which Fletcher and Giggs showed in the return fixture. Anderson would be the ideal candidate; Norwich don’t have the players to necessarily play their way round the Brazilian, instead, it is much more likely Anderson would match the work ethic and drive of Bradley Johnson and Alexander Tettey.

In spite of the massive significance being placed upon Ryan Giggs and the possible eventuality of him reaching a thousand appearances by the evening, a Manchester United win is first and foremost the most desirable outcome. Giggs himself, whether starting or on the bench, will inevitably put aside personal gain as he always seems to have done, to help ensure the Red Devils extend their ominous lead at the summit of the table to 15 points, until Monday at least.