Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United squad heads into the international break with a far healthier injury situation than just four days ago. While the Scot was missing seven players for United’s Champions League draw with FC Basel on Tuesday night, Ferguson will welcome back key strikers Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernández for the clash with Norwich City at Old Trafford on Saturday. Rooney has recovered from a minor hamstring strain, while the dead-leg suffered by Ferguson’s Mexican striker is less severe than first thought.
It is Rooney and Hernández that will fire United to Premier and Champions League glory this season according to Ferguson, with the Scot insisting the pair can match Dwight York and Andy Cole for goals and understanding. Yorke and Cole scored more than half-a-century of goals during United’s 1999 treble winning season.
“Wayne and Javier Hernandez will be fit for tomorrow. They trained yesterday very well and I was pleased with that,” said Ferguson on Friday.
“They haven’t played a full season together yet. Yorke and Cole scored 52 goals in that season between them, which was exceptional because Yorkie [had] just joined us. It was his first season. Unbelievable. I think Yorkie that season was probably one of the best strikers in Europe. For a first season player he was amazing. He and Andy just hit it off immediately.”
“The goal threat was immense on a regular basis when Hernández came into the side just after Christmas. The boy has come back and scored two goals so far. I really do expect him to score 25 and over because he has got something in that box. Wayne has had a fantastic start to the season and has got nine goals at the moment. The capability is there and I’ve got Welbeck, and I’ve got Owen, and I’ve got Berbatov, and I’ve got Macheda and I’ve got Diouf. It’s a terrific unit, that.”
But although Ferguson is purring at the thought of his first choice strikers returning for the clash with Paul Lambert’s newly promoted East Anglians there is also a warning from the Scot about the lax defending and complacency that crept into United’s performance against Basel.
Tom Cleverley, Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling will each return to the first team picture in a fortnight’s time, although not in time to shore up a United back-four that shipped three against Basel. However, Jonny Evans could return to Ferguson’s starting side for the clash with Norwich. Lambert’s side is brimming with confidence after securing a first win of the season over Sunderland on Monday night.
“Jonny Evans also comes back, hopefully that will help us in the defensive part as we’re certainly changing the back four at the moment Vidic, Cleverley and Smalling should be ready after the internationals and available for Liverpool,” added Ferguson.
“People say our performance was careless and we underestimated our opponents and maybe there’s an element of truth in that. I certainly wasn’t happy, even in the first half I could sense we were too relaxed and could have lost three goals in the first half. We could have scored goals as well but were too cavalier. We’re attacking in the way we’re playing at the moment and people can enjoy it but we have to do better defensively.”
United begins the match hot favourites to record a sixth victory in seven Premier League matches this season, but supporters will recall Norwich’s 2-0 victory over the Reds on the last occasion these sides met in April 2005. And in Cleverley’s continued absence Ferguson will again ask Brazilian Anderson to take the creative burden in central midfield, alongside either Darren Fletcher or Michael Carrick.
Anderson’s average performances against Chelsea, Stoke City and then FC Basel have brought fresh question marks over the midfielders ability to perform the role but the Brazilian is looking forward to Norwich’s visit this weekend in a game United must win.
“It doesn’t matter who you play in the league, you always have to play well,” Anderson told United Review.
“I haven’t seen much of Norwich, but I know they are a strong team who will come here and battle. Whenever you play at home you have to perform and we are always confident at Old Trafford in front of our fans. It’s important to be strong at home and our record has been amazing for a long time now. You feel more relaxed, more comfortable when you’re at home and you have that extra spring in your step. It’s important we show that on Saturday and keep our good run going.”
Meanwhile, visitors’ manager Lambert is hopeful of achieving the shock result of the Premier League season to date, although the Scot is missing on loan defender Ritchie de Laet, who is ineligible to play against his parent club. Striker James Vaughan is out for four months after knee surgery, while Zak Whitbread, Elliott Ward and Dani Ayala are all out.
“I hear people say go and enjoy it but you can only enjoy it if you go and can hold your own,” Lambert said.
“In my view, Manchester United are probably the best team in Britain at the minute and along with Barcelona one of the best teams in Europe. That is the magnitude of our achievement in getting into this league. No-one is going to expect us to win anything there. The lads will love the atmosphere and the stadium and we’ll go up there and give it everything we’ve got.”
Effort alone will surely not be enough. But, then, most supporters felt the same of Basel’s visit on Tuesday.
Manchester United v Norwich City, Premier League, Old Trafford, 3pm, 1 October 2011.
United (4-4-2): de Gea; Jones, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Anderson, Fletcher, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Amos, Fabio, Fletcher, Fryers, Pogba, Valencia, Carrick, Diouf, Giggs, Park, Welbeck, Berbatov.Owen.
Norwich (4-5-1): Ruddy; R Martin, Barnett, Tierney, Naughton; Johnson, Pilkington, Hoolahan, Fox, Bennett; Morison. Subs from: Rudd, Crofts, Surman, Vaughan, Holt, C Martin, Francomb, Naughton, Jackson, Lappin, Smith, Wilbraham.
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Assistants: S Long, A Watts
Fourth Official: C Foy