Manchester United-Norwich City Preview
Norwich City's Premier League status is hanging by a thread.
Alex Neil's Norwich (8-7-20) have lost three games on the bounce at a pivotal moment of the relegation scrap to slip to 19th in the table and two points from safety heading into their crunch encounter against Manchester United at Carrow Road on Saturday.
Defeats to fellow relegation-threatened clubs Crystal Palace and Sunderland seemed to be pivotal in the race to avoid the drop, but the Canaries can also consider themselves unlucky after making it three games without a point with last week's 1-0 loss to Arsenal.
Norwich are two points behind Newcastle, but have a game in hand over the Magpies. However, Sunderland are sandwiched between the two clubs and also have a one-point advantage over Norwich - meaning that even if Neil's side win all three of their remaining matches, they could still be pipped to the final survival spot by the Black Cats.
"The last thing you can do down in the dogfight is feel sorry for yourselves," Neil said. "We didn't get what we deserved at Arsenal. We need three displays like that in the next three games.
"If you start worrying about the maths and what other people are doing then it'll drive you crazy. Newcastle are a different kettle of fish because they've only two games left, but I think it's unlikely Sunderland will win their three remaining games. We just have to try and take as many points as we can."
First up is Manchester United, who have plenty at stake themselves.
Louis Van Gaal's United (17-9-9) are facing a big final three games, although with rather a different sort of pressure. The Red Devils are four points behind Manchester City and seven behind Arsenal as they hunt down the pair for a Champions League qualification spot. United have a match in hand on both and get some help in the fact the teams play each other Sunday on the other side of Manchester.
"We have to win our matches because otherwise we cannot be in the first four - that's the pressure we have," Van Gaal told MUTV. "We have to fight until the end, and then we have still a title (trophy) to win."
If City slip up then United are well placed to take advantage, which flies in the face of much of the negative coverage surrounding the club and their veteran manager over the past six months.
"We are in a period of transition. It is not so easy," Van Gaal said. "We have to meet the expectations of the biggest club in the world. Expectations are too high. "When the media is writing for six months I am sacked already... I can cope with that. It is not new for me. But for my players it is not so easy."They are reading that every day. What do you think about my authority? What do you think about the way they want to follow my advice, when their coach is showed like a nobody because I cannot do anything? But I am not like that. I am very arrogant. I am one of the best managers of the world."
United are without Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luke Shaw and Will Keane through injury, and Marouane Fellaini will miss this match after the FA handed both him and Leicester City defender Robert Huth season-ending three-match bans Friday for their violent play in Sunday's 1-1 draw. Fellaini elbowed Huth in the face after the defender grabbed a fistful of the Belgium international's hair as the two fought for position on a set piece.
Norwich are expected to be missing Ryan Bennett, Andre Wisdom and Alexander Tettey.
The Canaries are 2-0-5 in Premier League home games against United, while midfielder Juan Mata has scored more league career goals (4) against Norwich than any other opponent.
Norwich, who were promoted into the top flight for this season, beat United 2-1 in December as Cameron Jerome scored in the first half and set up Tettey's goal on 54 minutes. The Canaries are trying to become the first promoted side to do the double over Manchester United in the Premier League era.