Spluttering Man Utd out to end rut against Norwich
18 December 2015, 11:10
Manchester, United Kingdom - In times past, a Manchester United home game against Norwich City would have been a low-key occasion, the hosts expected to win comfortably before going on to their next challenge.
Norwich have not won at Old Trafford since August 1989, have lost 4-0 on each of their last three visits and go into Saturday's game in the Premier League relegation zone.
But these are not normal times for United, with pressure growing around every match for a team who are now without a win in five games in all competitions.
That run has seen United slip to fourth in the Premier League and go out of the Champions League, leaving manager Louis van Gaal to face growing scrutiny over his methods, tactics and team selections.
United have not been helped by a string of injuries and will hope top scorer Wayne Rooney is back from an ankle problem that has kept him out for three games.
Rooney's absence has left Anthony Martial as United's only recognised striker and the 20-year-old France international has not scored a league goal since September.
That record reflects United's recent run, with four of their last six games at Old Trafford ending in 0-0 draws.
Six points below leaders Leicester City and four and three points respectively behind Arsenal and Manchester City, who face off on Monday, United can scarcely afford another non-performance.
Saturday's game marks the start of a sequence of four games over the Christmas period which be vital to United's prospects of challenging for a first league title since 2013.
"We know that the month of December is always a tough one with a lot of fixtures and the tiredness can build up, so we need to come out of it at the end with a few good results," said goalkeeper David de Gea.
"It is very competitive and there are a lot of strong teams fighting hard to climb the table and fighting to win the league."
He added: "It's a real battle. This league is very tough to win and there will be a number of teams who will be in the shake-up for the title, like every year.
"Let's just hope that we are right up there and in the hunt at the end of the season.
"That's what we all want, to stay up near the top, and to get to April and be in a position where we can win the league. That's what we're going to try to make happen."
United could have midfielder Ander Herrera back after he missed five games with a hamstring injury, but Bastian Schweinsteiger serves the second game of a two-match ban.
Norwich will kick off in the bottom three after Newcastle United's 2-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend bumped them into the relegation places.
But they took heart from a vastly improved second-half display in their 1-1 draw with Everton, who could have been four or five goals to the good at half-time.
"The disappointing thing for me is with this squad, we should have more points on the board," said manager Alex Neil.
"We as a group are more than capable, if we play as well as we can, of putting back-to-back wins together. The one thing I have found in the Premier League is that the margin between success and failure is paper-thin.
"There have been a few games when we could and should have won and if you add those five points or so onto our tally, everyone sits relatively comfortably and happy with what they have achieved.
"When you cost yourself with errors, or not taking your opportunities, that drops us by five or six points and that makes a world of difference to a team like us."
For the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page!