When Manchester United takes the pitch against Norwich City on Sunday, the only result that will satisfy manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be a victory. The Red Devils are caught up in an extremely close Premier League title chase and can't afford to drop any points.
United currently sits two points behind rival Manchester City with 13 games to go. The Red Devils are looking to pick up their fifth championship in the last six years. If they are going to pull it out, though, it's going to take near flawless play over the final couple months.
It's been a successful first season following a promotion for the Canaries. They are currently in eighth place, just four points behind perennial power Liverpool. Norwich doesn't have the big-name superstars the other teams on the top half do, but the team has developed a knack for finding ways to earn points.
What will be the match result?
Where: Carrow Road in Norwich, England
When: Sunday, Feb. 26 at 8:30 a.m. ET
Watch: Fox Soccer Plus or FoxSoccer.tv
Betting Odds: Manchester United -195, Norwich City +513, Draw +295
Player to Watch for Norwich City: Grant Holt
Instead of relying on one dominant offensive force up top, the Canaries utilize a balanced attack. Holt leads the team in goals with nine, followed closely by Steve Morison and Anthony Pilkington. On any given day, one of those three players can step up and be the offense's main target.
In the first meeting between the two sides, a 2-0 United win, Holt didn't play. His absence was easily noticeable, as Norwich wasn't able to generate any consistent pressure. He'll need to make his presence known this time around if Norwich plans on getting at least one point out of the match.
Player to Watch for Manchester United: Javier Hernandez
Chicharito has been on fire lately, scoring a goal in each of his last three appearances. What you have to respect more than anything else about him is his willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team succeed. A player with his type of talent could easily develop an ego, but Hernandez hasn't.
He's provided some much-needed support for Wayne Rooney for the Red Devils, which has allowed them to remain in the title chase despite some dry spells throughout the campaign. If he's able to maintain his current form, United will be in good shape.
Will Rooney score on Sunday?
Key Matchup: Russell Martin vs. Wayne Rooney
The one weakness Norwich has is along the back line. There have been simply too many lapses in concentration, or the team would actually be in much better shape at this point, perhaps even pushing for a top-five spot. Martin's job will be to keep everybody on the same page against an elite offense.
Rooney continues to lead the United attack with 17 goals during the season. It's no secret that the Red Devils tend to go as he does, so it's good news that he's scored four goals over the past three games. The Canaries are a terrific matchup for him to have another monster performance.
What They're Saying
Norwich City boss Paul Lambert took the blame for his team's FA Cup loss, but also said league play is more important to the Canaries (via ESPNsoccernet):
It (the cup defeat) will be a blessing in disguise if we stay in the league. No-one would pat us on the back if we got to the quarter-finals of the cup and got relegated.
I don't think the FA Cup is a discredited competition. But I wouldn't have wanted to do well in the FA Cup and get relegated at the end of the season. I picked a team I thought would win and that's my fault.
Alex Richards of Goal.com passes along some thoughts from Ferguson, who said he still plans to manage United for at least a few more years:
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Sir Alex spoke of potentially staying in the club’s hot seat for a few more years, and hopefully ending on a high.
"I think you always want to go out on a winning note," said the Scot.
"Hopefully we can do that. I don't know how long I can last now, but if my health stays up, I don't think another two or three years would harm me."
Manchester United 2, Norwich City 1