After beginning the season poorly Norwich have started to come into form in recent weeks but face a tough task continuing that run when they host league leaders Manchester United at Carrow Road on Saturday (5.30pm GMT, live on ESPN).
Norwich are 15th in the Premier League table on 11 points from two wins, five draws and four defeats. They are undefeated in their last four matches and have won each of their last two fixtures at Carrow Road.
The Canaries recent form is a far cry from that with which they opened the campaign. They lost four and drew four in the first eight matches of their second season back in the top flight, prompting concerns that they may have been a one-hit wonder last season.
Inspirational manager Paul Lambert, who led Norwich to consecutive promotions and then a 12th place finish in their first Premier League season, departed for Aston Villa in the off-season. Former Newcastle and Birmingham boss Chris Hughton initially struggled to replicate his predecessor’s success.
Norwich have, though, started to come good in recent weeks, primarily due to an extreme tightening of a defence that conceded far too regularly earlier in the season. The Canaries conceded 17 goals in their first eight fixtures (2.13 per match, on average), including a 5-0 loss away to Fulham, a 4-1 thrashing at Chelsea and a 5-2 defeat at home to Liverpool.
Norwich have now kept clean sheets in three of the subsequent four matches, a run including 1-0 home wins over Arsenal and Stoke City. This improvement in defensive performance can most probably be attributed to new signings Javier Garrido and Sebastian Bassong developing an understanding with their defensive colleagues, as there has been little perceptible change in formation.
Unlike the tactically chameleonic Lambert, Hughton seems fairly set in his ways, generally favouring a 4-4-1-1 formation with Wes Hoolahan operating just off last season’s top scorer Grant Holt. Scoring goals has been a bit of a problem for Hughton’s men this season, with just eight goals scored in their 11 matches to date.
Manchester United have had no such troubles, scoring a league high 29 goals (2.64 per match, on average), five more than any other team. Robin Van Persie has scored eight times since his summer move from Arsenal, while super-sub Javier Hernandez now has four to his credit having come off the bench to score twice in United’s come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Aston Villa last weekend.
United’s defensive frailties were again on display in that match, Villa racing into a two goal lead before Sir Alex Ferguson’s men embarked on their inevitable comeback, again showing that in most cases they have sufficient offensive armoury to overcome their defensive deficiencies. That victory was the eighth occasion this season that United have come back from conceding the first goal of a match to emerge victorious.
Ferguson will, however, realise that ceding such advantages to opponents on a regular basis is asking for trouble in long run. Already this season, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur have held onto leads against United, while in the knockout stages of the Champions League such defensive vulnerabilities will be seized upon with glee.
Injuries have plagued United’s defensive ranks thus far, with Chris Smalling, Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand and now Johnny Evans all having missed matches. Just as Smalling gained something approaching full fitness, Evans picked up an injury, forcing Ferguson to hand Smalling a second start in four days against Villa, a match in which he was bullied by the powerful Belgian striker Christian Benteke.
United’s defence have also suffered from a lack of protection from the midfield in front of them, most clearly visible in the win over Fulham and defeat to Spurs, but prevalent in many of their other matches this season. Especially when deploying Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes together in central midfield, United lack the necessary dynamism to cope with some of the more energetic Premier League sides.
Norwich v Man Utd Betting Tips Verdict
Norwich have been much improved in recent weeks, but are still having trouble finding the back of the net on a regular basis. They will likely struggle to contain a very potent United attack that has only failed to score on one occasion so far this season.
United do have their own defensive weaknesses, but Norwich are not the most high-octane of teams in the final third and are unlikely to offer the same kind of threat as those who have profited most from these deficiencies so far this season.
- We suggest backing Manchester United to win @ best odds of 7/15 at Pinnacle. Next best is 4/9 with Bet365, Ladbrokes or Coral.
- He may not have scored against Aston Villa last weekend but Van Persie had scored in each of his three Premier League appearances prior to that match and has eight goals in nine league starts this season. Therefore, back Robin Van Persie to score at anytime @ 8/11 with Blue Square, Coral or Boylesports.