There is plenty at stake on Saturday afternoon when Norwich City take on Manchester United at Carrow Road (12.45pm, BT Sport 1).
United are still in contention for a top-four spot with just a couple of weeks of the season remaining. Nine points from their final three fixtures – after this weekend’s clash with Norwich, the Red Devils face West Ham United and Bournemouth next week – could be enough to secure a Champions League place if Manchester City slip up against Arsenal or Swansea City. Seven points may also see them squeeze over the line. Manuel Pellegrini’s men currently hold a four-point advantage over Louis van Gaal’s charges, though, so nothing less than victory will do for Man Utd in East Anglia on Saturday afternoon.
Norwich, meanwhile, are in desperate need of the points for very different reasons. A 1-0 defeat by Arsenal last time left the Canaries stuck in 19th place in the table, two points adrift of Newcastle United and safety. Failing to beat United could leave them five points below 17th by the end of the weekend, which would see Norwich relegated to the Championship with a game to spare. The hosts will therefore be under a large amount of pressure at Carrow Road, and could become nervous and edgy if they fall behind at any stage of the match.
Van Gaal will be unable to call upon the services of Marouane Fellaini (suspended), Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee), Luke Shaw (broken leg) and Will Keane (groin), but otherwise has a fully fit and available squad to choose from. Wayne Rooney may again be deployed in a midfield role ahead of Michael Carrick, with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial (pictured) and Jesse Lingard likely to make up the front three. Daley Blind and Chris Smalling have both had excellent seasons and will continue at centre-half, while Marcos Rojo will play on the left of the back four and Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian will battle it out for the right-back spot.
Norwich boss Alex Neil will probably have to make do without Andre Wisdom (knee), Timm Klose (knee) and Alex Tettey (ankle), although Ryan Bennett should recover from illness in time to feature. Nathan Redmond has done enough in recent weeks to earn his 22nd Premier League start of the campaign, but it is unclear whether Norwich will opt for Cameron Jerome, Patrick Bamford or Dieumerci Mbokani at the top of the pitch. Steven Naismith could return to the XI after appearing for only 12 minutes of the aforementioned loss at Arsenal, while Gary O’Neil and Jonny Howson are likely to continue in the centre of midfield.
Taking everything into account, it is difficult to look past a Man Utd victory at Carrow Road on Saturday. Van Gaal’s men have been in reasonably good form in recent weeks and will not want to let this opportunity to grab fourth place slip, particularly as they have the chance to pile the pressure on Manchester City ahead of their clash with Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Norwich, meanwhile, probably lack the quality to cause United too many problems, even if they were able to record a famous victory at Old Trafford in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign.
A 2-0 United win therefore looks like a good bet this weekend, with Martial – who has found the back of the net in both of his last two encounters – worth backing to grab the first goal of the match. That result is likely to condemn Norwich to the Championship by the end of the day while simultaneously giving United’s Champions League chances a major boost.