Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson delivered mixed blessings to the Canary faithful today – revealing that England star Wayne Rooney might miss tomorrow’s trip to Carrow Road…
…but Robin van Persie would be fit.
Although Javier Hernandez – fresh from his ‘hat-trick’ against Aston Villa last weekend – would start.
All of which merely underlined the challenge facing Chris Hughton’s men tomorrow evening as they look to nip United’s recent five-game winning sequence in the bud and throw an almighty spanner into the Premier League title works where for the likes of a Manchester United one, unexpected slip against unfancied opposition can prove so dear.
It would also put something of a dampener on Paul Scholes’ 38th birthday celebrations today. He and fellow United veteran Ryan Giggs were instrumental in last season’s last-gasp success at Carrow Road.
Both could well feature again tomorrow tea-time – even if Rooney is absent with the same ankle injury that ruled him out of England international duty this week.
“There is a doubt about Wayne, but Robin should be fit,” Sir Alex Ferguson told the Manchester Evening News this morning.
On current scoring form, a few Norfolk punters might have been happier to see Rooney return and van Persie sit on the sidelines. Even if both were to be absent, United could still call upon Villa-destroyer-in-chief Hernandez to test City’s own, recent unbeaten run.
The United chief confirmed that at least. It will be Sebastien Bassong vs Hernandez down the middle.
“Javier came on last week and changed the game completely,” said Ferguson. “He should start tomorrow.”
Canary boss Hughton was under few illusions as to the challenge that awaited his side in this weekend’s team-time live clash.
And given Villa’s experience last weekend – of getting themselves two goals to the good courtesy of a relatively lacklustre first 45 minutes from United – so even taking the lead against the Premier League leaders is fraught with dangers.
It can merely rouse the next Red beast off the bench.
“You have to be on top of your game because they can score at will,” said Hughton, likely to name an unchanged line-up for tomorrow’s clash now that his various international stars have returned to Norfolk unscathed.
That United are fallible at the back is not in doubt. But you score two, they will score three – as Paul Lambert became the latest to discover.
“As we’ve seen last week and in lots of other games, they can concede, and you’ve got to make sure that you’re very good defensively and also have a threat up front,” added the City chief.
And therein lies the challenge. Just how far forward do you go on the front foot? Or do you sit on the back foot and hope – somewhere down the line – you have the opportunity to prise them open either on a very swift counter or a very well-drilled set-play.
The latter would appear to be the favourite – particularly given the fact that United might have to make a change at the heart of their defence with a groin injury to Jonny Evans.
Bassong appeared to be taking it all on his stride. Be it Hernandez, Rooney or ‘Van the Man’, the Canary centre-half was ready for whatever Sir Alex decided to throw at him.
“You don’t need any extra motivation when you’re playing Manchester United because that comes by itself,” he told the club’s official website.
It was, he said, just 11 men versus 11 men after all.
“It’s just a football game. We never know what can happen in football, that’s why it’s so exciting. We’ll go there, play our best, and we never know what can happen.”
As Nigel Worthington’s Canaries famously proved.
“I’m aware of the quality they have and it’ll be a tough game because of that, but we’ll see how we cope,” he added.