There's an upcoming match on the minds of everyone. This one isn't it. The Manchester United team that is chosen, though -- which is likely to be quite different from the one that will face Real Madrid next Tuesday night -- will hopefully be more focused than the fans as they'll be up against a Norwich City side that defeated them 1-0 in November at Carrow Road. Anthony Pilikington, who spent part of his youth career at United, headed home the winner in the 60th minute during the reverse fixture.
Form Guide: Sir Alex Ferguson's side is in tremendous form at the moment. In the Premier League, they've accumulated 68 points thus far from 27 fixtures and this is 12 points clear of nearest title-contending rival Manchester City. In the FA Cup, they've earned passage to the quarter-final and it's Chelsea that awaits them next weekend in this competition. In Europe, the second of United's two-legged battle with Spanish giants Real Madrid will occur at the upcoming midweek. The most recent result for the Reds was a 2-0 league defeat of bottom-of-the-table Queens Park Rangers last weekend at Loftus Road.
Team News: Robin van Persie is fit after bizarrely bruising his hip last weekend at QPR. Phil Jones, though, is still out due to an ankle ligament injury. Darren Fletcher (ulcerative colitis) and Paul Scholes remain unavailable (knee). [Full Team News Report]
Form Guide: Chris Hughton has admirably guided his side to 12th in the table as the Canaries have earned 32 points from 27 fixtures. Prior to last weekend's 2-1 defeat of Everton though, Norwich had actually been struggling as they went 9 league games without a win.
Team News: John Ruddy has been ruled out while Andrew Surman and Alexander Tettey are doubts as well.
United: Ferguson is certainly going to be making his selection choices with Real Madrid in mind. At goalkeeper, the in-form David de Gea is probable but Anders Lindegaard is possible to feature. Five defenders are in contention for four spots against Jose Mourinho's side on Tuesday -- Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Rafael, and Patrice Evra. To narrow it down even more, it's likely between Vidic and Evans to partner Ferdinand in central-defense.
Evans was superb at the Bernabeu and his mobility may be better suited to face Madrid's quick attackers. In addition, Vidic physicality may be desired against Norwich's aerial threat. If the Serbian does start in this match, then he's unlikely to do so again three days later because of the caution being taken for his surgically repaired knee. Chris Smalling is probably a strong candidate to start in central-defense next to either Evans or Vidic but he could give Rafael a rest by featuring at right-back. The durable Evra could start at left-back but if he's rested, then Alexander Buttner will deputise.
In midfield, Michael Carrick will start against the Spanish champions so he could be given the day off against Norwich. Other central-midfielders in contention for both Norwich and Madrid include Tom Cleverley, Anderson, and Ryan Giggs. Whichever midfielder is selected to start in this match may not do so on Tuesday.
Out wide, Nani and Antonio Valencia are candidates to start on the right. Again, whichever player starts this game may mean that the other starts against Madrid. On the left, Giggs, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa, and Danny Welbeck are possible.
Up front, van Persie seems likely to be rested from the start but he could come on as a second-half substitute. Wayne Rooney is a player that needs games for peak fitness and form so he may start both this game and on Tuesday. Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) seems probable to start while Kagawa and Welbeck are possible in attack too.
Norwich: In goal, Mark Bunn is expected to deputise for the injured Ruddy. The back four protecting him is likely to be Sebastien Bassong, Michael Turner, Javier Garrido, and Russell Martin. In the double-pivot, Bradley Johnson is anticipated and if Tettey is indeed out, then Jonny Howson is possible to deputise.
Hughton typically deploys his side in a 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 sort of shape. However, in the win against the Toffees last weekend, a second striker was used in a 4-4-2. Grant Holt and Luciano Becchio was the pairing up front but it was Kei Kamara -- on loan from MLS side Sporting KC -- that provided a match-winning performance as a substitute. The Sierra Leonean striker could be rewarded with a start at Old Trafford.
Wes Hoolahan is possible to start in behind a lead striker (in a possible 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1) or on the left in a narrow role (4-4-2). Other players possible on the left include Pilkington and Elliott Bennett. On the right, Robert Snodgrass is anticipated.
I'm going to keep this section of our preview briefer than usual. For one, it's uncertain what team Ferguson will choose and Norwich aren't a particularly unique team from a tactical perspective.
Hughton, as is typical for sides that he manages, has the Canaries well-drilled and organized. When out of possession, they tend to keep their shape compact and when the opposition move the ball around, there's obvious cohesion and understanding because Norwich tend to shift in unison. Last week against Everton, it was quite impressive how Norwich kept enough players behind the ball and prevented overloads on the flanks whenever the Toffees would quickly switch the point of attack. This is something David Moyes' side does as well as anybody in the Premier League.
When Norwich have the ball, they quickly try to get the ball to Hoolahan in attack or to Snodgrass on the right. No other side in the Premier League attacks down the right-side more than the Canaries. The Irishman is the main creator through the middle -- particularly in the space between the lines -- while the Scotsman is both a threat with his delivery from out wide and with his own attempts on the goal.
There are three basic keys to nullifying Norwich's attack: (1) close down quickly out wide so that crosses can be prevented from being sent in but when they do get whipped into the box, (2) effective clearances and (3) winning the second ball are vital. Hughton has players capable of dangerous delivery from out wide and he also has players that are able to get on the end of crosses in the box. The strikers are capable of hammering home headers from open-play while Bassong is a danger in the box from set-pieces. Norwich's 13 set-piece goals are joint second most in the league this season (behind United).
KO: 3:00pm GMT, 10:00am EST | Old Trafford
Live TV: None (U.K.), ESPN2 (U.S.)
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Odds: Manchester United 2/7, Draw 9/2, Norwich City 9/1