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Ask the expert: Norwich Vs Manchester United Preview

Ask the expert: Norwich Vs Manchester United Preview

Norwich City host Manchester United at Carrow Road for Saturday’s 5.30pm kick-off in the Premier League.

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Ahead of the game, canaries.co.uk spoke to Laurie Whitwell, who covers the club for The Athletic.

canaries.co.uk: Lots of changes have occurred at Manchester United recently. Did you think it was the right time to part ways with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?

LW: It had become untenable and was probably overdue really. The 5-0 defeat at home to Liverpool would’ve been a fair enough time for the board to say it’s not working anymore, off the back of the Leicester game as well where it looked really chaotic. infoguide

The Man City game – 2-0 at home – was a really underwhelming performance and spoke to deeper issues at the club. They had the international break and got Ralf Rangnick in place with a work permit sorted over that two-week period.

That being said, they wanted to stick with Solskjaer because he had done some really good things behind the scenes and progressed in terms of the points total from third to second last season.

They got to a Europa League final, so they wanted to stick by him in that regard, but I think it had become a difficult situation with the players where you could tell that they weren’t really either taking on board what he was saying or they just weren’t hearing it anymore, so it needed resolving.


canaries.co.uk: So how do you feel about the appointment of Ralf and the style of play he’s bringing to United?

LW: It seems encouraging. He’s obviously a smart, intelligent guy who has got clear ideas. The Crystal Palace game showed he’s quick to instil his ideas. It was quite a major change to go to a narrower formation and clearly the players took that on board, so I think it’s quite a smart move.

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That being said, United is a bigger club than those he has managed before, so we’ll see how he adjusts to that. I think he’s quite a confident character so it should be okay in terms of adapting to the scale of the club. The early signs are encouraging so they’ve got to build on that platform.

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canaries.co.uk: You mentioned the formation change. Were there lots of noticeable differences against Palace?

LW: He kept the same team as against Arsenal, which was Michael Carrick’s last game, but he changed the way it was setup, so it was sort of a 4-2-2-2, rather than a 4-2-3-1, with Rashford and Ronaldo up top together and then Sancho and Fernandes in behind as two number tens with Fred and McTominay.

It basically meant that Ronaldo had support from Rashford in terms of pressing from the front, although Ronaldo did do that too. It meant that United were pretty good against counter-attacks because they had a lot of men in the centre close to each other who could stop them before they got going.

They had 12 turnovers in the final third, which is the most since Opta records began, and certainly the most since Sir Alex Ferguson left, so I think they were quite pleased with that.


canaries.co.uk: Rangnick has been complimentary of Ronaldo’s work off of the ball. Is that something that you don’t think will be a problem?

LW: Clearly, Ronaldo’s not going to charge around the pitch like Timo Werner did for RB Leipzig when Rangnick was there, but I think he is still an extremely fit guy at the age of 36. He does do those sprints to close down, like against Gabriel in the 83rd minute against Arsenal for example, so he does apply himself but he sometimes chooses to do it.

As long as they’ve got enough players around him to do pressing for the majority of the game, I think it will be fine and clearly Rangnick will rotate him at certain moments. Whether Ronaldo will agree with that, we’ll see, but I can’t imagine he’s going to play every single game. He should get some rest and give his full energy for the games he does play.

canaries.co.uk: Bruno Fernandes was on incredible form last season. Why do you think he hasn’t quite replicated that this time around so far?

LW: I think the volume of games – he’s played an awful lot for United and Portugal without being rotated. I know he’s recently lost his starting place in the Portuguese team.

He started the season really well against Leeds and then Newcastle with assists and scoring goals. Since Ronaldo has come in, it’s slightly altered the dynamic. He likes to play quick balls in behind first time, which maybe doesn’t quite suit with what Ronaldo likes to do in terms of running behind.

I guess his style of play is that he takes risks, so it can look fantastic if it’s going to plan, but if he slightly mis-hits a pass or tries too hard, then it looks quite bad, he misplaces passes quite frequently and gives away possession. He’s got to get that balance right between taking a risk and putting the pass in to create a goal.


canaries.co.uk: Brandon Williams has looked good for Norwich this season. He loves a slide tackle! What have you made of his progress from afar?

LW: It will be really interesting to know what happens. Solskjaer and his coaching staff loved Brandon when he first came through because he really took the initiative. There are people at United who thought he was the number one left-back at that point ahead of Luke Shaw, who was having a bit of a dip back in November 2019. Shaw responded and Williams had to go out on loan to get regular first-team football.

I’m encouraged by the fact that he’s done that at Norwich, who are going to be fighting relegation. He’s not been afraid to do that and he wasn’t in the team at the start of the season, so he’s had to show commitment to get back in.

I saw the Brentford game, which spoke to what he’s about – running with the ball at speed and with aggression. I remember seeing him in the youth team before he broke through at United and that was a trademark of his, getting the ball and running with it, having that purpose about his play that rival full-backs would struggle with.

I’ve been quite impressed. Whether he’s good enough to make it at United is the big question, but this is a good stepping stone for him to try to prove that. He’s always had to fight to get through, he’s never been the kind of guy that was pinpointed as a definite first-teamer, but I’d be interested to see if he’s better on the right so he doesn’t have to cut in.

To be fair, that chance that Pukki had at Spurs was from him coming from the left. Sometimes his positional play was questioned at United, but he’s clearly got his head switched on now at Norwich and he’s got a good few games under his belt.

I enjoy the aggression that he has. He once got sent off in a pre-season friendly for headbutting a player from Accrington Stanley who threw a punch at him! He’s definitely managed to harness the aggression, which is a good trait to have for sure and it certainly gets the fans on side.



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Emediong Silver

Emediong Ekpe is a graduate of English. A professional Sports journalist/analyst, and a spoken word artist. He is passionate about decimating information and putting smiles on people's faces via news writing.

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