Preview: United v Norwich City
Ding dong Moyes has gone! What better way to head into a new, albeit temporary, era than under Ryan Giggs’ stewardship – the essence of Manchester United restored after a turbulent season. Giggs may well be a managerial novice – he is not going to be offered the job permanently – but there are few around Old Trafford that understand United better than the Welshman. Remarkably, in what has been the most difficult campaign in two decades, there is now the very real sense that United will end the campaign on a genuine high.
By contrast the visitors arrive in Manchester for Saturday afternoon’s match in desperate need of points to starve off the threat of relegation. Pity the Canaries, then, with United’s players now free of David Moyes’ considerable inhibitions and the cloud under which the team has operated for far too long.
There is, for the first time in seemingly months, the expectation victory once again. It is a sentiment bolstered not only by Moyes’ departure, but the arrival for the final four games of the campaign of the ‘Class of ’92’. Indeed, the levity around Carrington this week was reportedly high after Giggs was joined in first team training by Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes.
There is little doubt that Giggs is keen to liberate his side – a return to ‘the Manchester United way’ after months of conservatism under Moyes. Even if the Welshman’s long-term future is uncertain, with the club certain to bring in a senior overseas manager this summer, there is no doubt that Giggs is passionate about United’s future and determined to right many wrongs of the Moyes era.
“When Ed asked me to look after the team for the remaining four games, I had no hesitation in saying yes,” said Giggs.
“I’ve got to say this is the proudest moment of my life. The club has been the biggest part of my life since I was 14. I’m proud, happy, a little bit nervous, but just like I am as a player, I can’t wait for the game on Saturday. I can’t wait for 5.30 tomorrow when we walk out at Old Trafford. I know the place will be rocking. I’ve told the players: ‘I trust you and I know what you’re capable of. Go out there and show it.'”
There is also a human story; the unity of a group that first became friends more than 20 years ago at United’s academy. With close to 2,500 games for the club Giggs, Neville, Butt and Scholes are, without fear of hyperbole, the soul of modern United. Neville brother Gary and David Beckham must gaze on with at least a modicum of envy.
Yet, it is also a complex story. Each of the reunited quartet holds a differing relationship with Moyes. Giggs was seemingly marginalised as a coach, Scholes ignored completely, Butt and Neville brought into the backroom under the former Everton manager.
Now the quartet’s goal is to steer United towards an up beat end to the club’s most difficult season in a quarter century.
“It will be massive for us, a proud moment for us all,” Butt told MUTV.
“To be there together is a bit of a surreal thing. We walked in here together when we were 12 and to be here now – I’m not 40 yet but Giggsy is, and myself and Scholes are nearly there too. So for us and Phil to be there together is a very proud moment.
“We’re here to try to help the club and get the results that we want from now until the end of the season. What happens after that, who knows?”
Intrigue rests in Giggs’ team-sheet. Will Moyes’ favourites feature or those previously overlooked make the starting team? Tom Cleverley, Shinji Kagawa, Nani and Marouane Fellaini, among others, will have more than a little pause for thought ahead of Saturday’s match.
After all, little is known about Giggs’ coaching philosophy, let alone tactical thinking, save for an educated guess about the approach of a player schooled under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Giggs is without injured Brazilian full-back Rafael da Silva for his first match in charge, while Robin van Persie is not yet full match-fit. The Dutchman could make a return to United’s bench after training this week.
The interim manager enjoys an otherwise fully fit squad as United heads into matches against Norwich, Sunderland, Hull City and Southampton before the season closes. Three of them at Old Trafford.
Meanwhile, the visitors, also carrying an interim coach in Neil Adams, kick off just two points ahead of the relegation zone having suffered seven defeats in the club’s last 10 matches. It is a run of form that threatens to end a three season spell in the Premier League. Nine sides remain under threat of the drop heading into the season’s final month.
Adams is without defender Joseph Yobo who has a calf problem, but winger Elliott Bennett could feature after returning from a serious knee injury.
“I don’t think many people would have predicted myself and Ryan Giggs standing in opposite dugouts at the start of the season,” Adams told Norwich City TV.
“It’s one of those things that caught everybody by surprise, despite the poor season relatively speaking that United have had.
“You’re thinking about which players he might bring back in, which players he’s played with, and we’ve all seen the coaching staff he’s brought in, who will have the same values and philosophies and who came through under Sir Alex Ferguson. The crowd will be up for it, that’s for sure. We can imagine how it is going to be.”
Of that there can be little doubt now that a little pocket of the old United has returned after a period in which much of Sir Alex’ work was seemingly undone. In that Giggs is a savvy appointment, potentially against Ferguson’s wishes, by an executive team that badly erred in bringing Moyes to the club last summer. Perhaps more than anything the Welshman’s leadership brings a sense of liberation for the fans; freed from gloom and united once again.
“It’s been a frustrating season. I want to bring the positivity back,” said Giggs.
“We have three games at Old Trafford, where the home form hasn’t been great, and I want to see goals, tackles, players taking players on and getting the crowd up. I want the passion that should come with being a Manchester United player.”
Amen to that.
Manchester United v Norwich City, Premier League, Old Trafford, 5.30pm, 26 April 2014
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Januzaj, Cleverley, Carrick, Mata; Rooney; Welbeck
Norwich (4-5-1): Ruddy; Whittaker, Martin, Turner, Olsson; Garrido, Johnson, Snodgrass, Howson, Fer; Hooper
United: Lindegaard, Evans, Büttner, Vidić, Smalling, Fletcher, Fellaini, Valencia, Kagawa, Nani, Young, Hernández, van Persie
Norwich: Bunn, van Wolfswinkel, Gutiérrez, R Bennett, Tettey, Murphy, Redmond
Head to Head
United 64 Draw 35 Norwich 13
Referee: Lee Probert
Assistants: R Ganfield, M McDonough
Fourth Official: N Swarbrick
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