This Saturday Norwich City take on Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
In City’s two league games post lockdown, Carrow Road has looked glorious in baking sunshine, but a tan is about as good as it gets for the Canaries as they’ve conceded four in two games – losing 3-0 to Southampton and 1-0 to Everton respectively. Perhaps fortunate that their opponents were not more clinical on the day.
However, an FA Cup clash that could see Norwich book their place into the semi-final of England’s most prestigious domestic competition could be a welcome distraction – as manager Daniel Farke doesn’t have to worry about the mathematics of trying to perform a great escape that even Steve McQueen would be proud of.
The stats don’t look kindly upon Farke’s side either. The last time that the Canaries reached an FA Cup semi-final was in 1992, losing 1-0 to Sunderland who would eventually taste defeat themselves - a 2-0 loss to Liverpool in the final at the old Wembley.
Norwich currently sit rock bottom of the Premier League table on 21 points from 31 games. It makes for grim reading. In their two games played since English football has returned to our television screens, they’ve failed to register a single goal, with cult hero Teemu Pukki lacking the same threat that he enjoyed at the start of the season.
The Finland international has 11 goals for the Norfolk based side this season, and is by far and away their highest goal scorer – with nearest challenger Todd Cantwell only on six. That being said, Pukki is yet to find the back of the net in this season's FA Cup campaign.
It would be a difficult challenge for any team to beat Manchester United in a tournament that they’ve won an impressive 12 times, but when your last win came in March, that needed to go all the way to penalties – the challenge does seem even greater.
Under normal circumstances, you’d think that Carrow Road would be packed come Saturday. Sold out with 26, 000 supporters in attendance. But these aren’t normal circumstances, and playing behind closed doors will no doubt throw doubt into the mindset of home advantage, certainly if current form is to go by.
Even Norwich’s road that has seen them get this far in the competition saw them pick up their wins all away from home, at Preston, Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur as Tim Krul saved penalties from Troy Parrott and Gedson Fernandes to get them to this stage.
The Canaries will have to channel the same sort of spirit that saw them bag big wins against Manchester City and Leicester City earlier in the season against all the odds. Perhaps they like the challenge in having to raise their game for the ‘so called’ bigger opponents?
I’ll whisper quietly that Norwich have already been dealt heavy 4-0 and 3-1 defeats to Manchester United this season in the Premier League.
For United, it’s a rather different picture.
In their last match, Paul Pogba started for the first time since September as Anthony Martial swept aside Sheffield United with ease as the Red Devils won 3-0 with Martial completing his first-ever professional hat-trick and United’s first since 2013 when it was Robin Van Persie going home with the match ball.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side made big improvements with Pogba and Bruno Fernandes as their midfield partnership following a 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur.
United will no doubt be confident going into the game as they look to have a fine finish to the end of the season with two trophies and a top-four finish in their sights.
With no apparent injury concerns for either side going into this game, it really could be a match that hinges on which team scores first.
Should Manchester United score first, many neutrals might start wondering if it’s going to be a cricket score. However, should Norwich surprise the visitors in scoring the first goal, it really will be a task for a United team lacking consistency in recent seasons.
Who’s too hot to handle the pressure?
Match Preview written by Matt Davey.