Can Norwich City dare to dream ahead of Old Trafford outing?
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Norwich City need to pile on the agony for Manchester United this weekend, says CHRIS LAKEY
When Norwich City were drawn away to Manchester City in the FA Cup, the collective moan from local supporters suggested they would be quite happy for Alex Neil to have waved the white flag and saved everyone a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.
Gallows humour has a nice way of reflecting a team's fortunes.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and a similar trip to Manchester, to face United at Old Trafford, that would usually have met with the same reaction, is being seen in a very different light. United may be fourth in the Premier League, they may be 15 points and 14 places further up the Premier League than the Canaries.
But rarely will Norwich City have a better chance of springing a surprise result than this weekend – and you can bet the football world will be scrutinising every move come 3pm on Saturday.
While all roads lead to Old Trafford, the fans with the most optimism may well be those of Norwich.
It isn't because City are pulling up any trees: they slipped into the relegation zone courtesy of Newcastle's surprise Sunday win at Tottenham, and whilst some recent performances have been cause to don the yellow-tinted glasses, there is still a long way to go around the corner which needs to be turned if they are to be in the top flight next season.
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Games against the likes of Manchester United are not those which the management team at Carrow Road will have put a big fat capital D or W next to – they don't budget for points at the Theatre of Dreams. Usually.
But United's recent form suggests it is eminently possible for them to bring one home on Saturday night... or even all three. Why? Because United are faltering. They are dull and boring.
Former players are queueing up to express their dismay at what they are seeing. In their last four home Premier League games United have scored two goals. And that was in one game. United fans have been booing the players off the pitch. It is not what happens at Old Trafford.
United are pedestrian. Their build-up is glacial. Their 'best' player, Wayne Rooney, is injured – which is perhaps a welcome relief to all concerned given he has been a shadow of his former self.
They have few strikers, having allowed Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez to leave and sent James Wilson out on loan. They have a clutch of injuries and last week started Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, who played for their U21s at Carrow Road last month and hardly stood out as a prospect.
It won't be easy for the Canaries – well, it shouldn't be. But if simple logic determined football matches then the equation might be: struggling home team, can't score, loads of injuries versus struggling visitors, but playing on big stage, do not do too badly against big boys, just need to reproduce one of the halves from Arsenal and Everton games.
Possible assumption: surprise on the cards.
Alex Neil won't be taking a similar view of United, but, equally, he won't be walking out at Old Trafford as some kind of cannon fodder.
Norwich needs points and Neil will know there is an unexpected opportunity to get something.
The eyes of the footballing world will be on Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon as we all wait to see whether the empire crumbles again.
Leicester are springing surprises every week, Bournemouth have done it the last couple, Watford likewise, Newcastle occasionally.
It's time for Norwich City to get in on the act.