Focus: Where Manchester United could get hurt by Norwich
Manchester United are not yet in crisis mode, but alarm bells are ringing. Their growing injury list has created defensive instability in a team already suffering for fluency at the other end, and Louis van Gaal now presides over a record of three wins in 12 matches. A home fixture against 18th-placed Norwich may seem like the perfect opportunity to restore confidence, but the Canaries boast a set-pieces record that could heap further misery on United.
Thirteen of the 18 goals Norwich have scored this season have been the direct result of crosses from out wide
Thirteen of the 18 goals Norwich have scored this season have been the direct result of crosses from out wide, with seven of these from set-pieces (the most in the Premier League). This has been Norwich’s most successful form of attack, largely because they possess good technical players (and thus set-piece specialists) but struggle to create with fluency in a league that has fewer open spaces to exploit; Nathan Redmond completed 2.4 key passes and 2.3 dribbles per match last season, but this year is averaging 1.6 key passes and 1.3 dribbles.
United have conceded three set-piece goals in their last two games, an unsurprising occurrence given that their makeshift defence is so young and inexperienced. In order to prevent set-piece situations from arising, United will need to be careful not to foul right winger Redmond (42% of Norwich's attacks come down the right) or give him the space he needs to attack the full-back and force a corner.
But in this regard United’s inexperience could again be their downfall. Neither Memphis Depay nor Jesse Lingard have shown any great desire to contribute defensively in recent weeks, meaning that Van Gaal’s central midfielders are forced to scramble across to defend the channels. This weekend, injuries mean that Marouane Fellaini (3.3 fouls per 90 minutes) and Morgan Schneiderlin (2.7 fouls per 90) – the club’s most prolific ref-botherers – will likely partner in the middle.
Unless the out-of-favour Ashley Young starts on the left, Redmond should find more space than usual on the right wing to charge towards goal. And if Alex Neil has done his homework, he will be telling his young winger to win fouls and corners as often as possible.