Paddy Davitt verdict: Why Jamal Lewis is the main man for Manchester United

Jamal Lewis tussles with Harry Wilson at Bournemouth 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Jamal Lewis tussles with Harry Wilson at Bournemouth Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Paul Chesterton

Teemu Pukki might have reason to argue but Jamal Lewis could be Norwich City's most important player against Manchester United.

Lewis still looks the fresh-faced youngster but is now widely regarded as the established left-back choice for club and country.

When you consider this 21-year-old is closing in on 75 league appearances it underlines his rapid transition from development prospect to seasoned professional.

Once Daniel Farke had identified the talent and the athleticism Lewis' maturity ensured he seamlessly by-passed those growing pains one might associate with a young man finding his way. Firstly in the Championship, now in the even more testing environs of the Premier League.

Against Bournemouth he was a constant attacking outlet in the first half at the Vitality Stadium; those urges offering balance and width and some respite when the Cherries attempted to push Norwich back.

Such composure was visibly evident when he picked up a booking before the half-hour mark for a foul on the dangerous Harry Wilson yet navigated the remaining hour without further censure from the officials.

Wilson was replaced in the second half, a clear signal Lewis was firmly in the ascendancy in their own personal duel. Go back to one of his earliest forays in a Norwich shirt, circa March 2018, and Wilson was far too hot for Lewis during another loan stint at Hull.

A game where James Maddison notched a hat-trick and still finished on the losing side. That illustrates the rate of progress.

But Lewis potentially faces another match-winner this weekend in Manchester United's ranks. Dan James is the jet-propelled flyer purchased for £15m plus in the summer to signal a new front in the recruitment strategy at Old Trafford. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems determined to attract fresh, younger talent rather than the higher profile 'stars' of recent times.

James enjoyed himself in Norfolk towards the end of last season for Swansea.

Emi Buendia fired a fearsome winner but James' pace and threat made life uncomfortable for Tim Krul and a City backline, featuring Lewis, on that evening.

The Welshman may have a long way to go to reach the heights of his national boss Ryan Giggs when it comes to cutting a dash down the wings for the Reds, but his initial surge and pinpoint cross for Marcus Rashford to score on Sunday against Liverpool underlines his growing value.

Behind James down the United right Aaron Wan-Bissaka is another domestic prospect with a soaring reputation, who arrived for a huge sum of money from Crystal Palace in the same summer window.

You do not have to stare too long at the tactical complexities facing Farke and Solskjaer to understand how important Lewis is to Norwich's chances of a emulating their victory over United's cross-city rivals earlier this season.

Be in no doubt this is another stiff test for the Northern Ireland international.

Farke acknowledged Norwich's alarming concession rate prior to last weekend's encouraging defensive display on the south-coast.

But he was also keen to stress the attacking desire of both Lewis and Max Aarons to carry the fight going forward was not leaving the Canaries' under-manned or exposed to the counter.

That may be so, but in the event Lewis finds himself the wrong side of James on Sunday at the wrong moment in a frenetic contest there will be no catching the United wide player.

Should James hover on the periphery for the most part, rather than create fresh headlines, then Norwich, in turn, can limit their vulnerability to the counter-attack and fracture the supply lines to Rashford or the fit-again Anthony Martial.

That will take defensive discipline and astute decision-making from the naturally adventurous Lewis.

It is one of the more intriguing sub-plots ahead of Sunday and a battle that could hold the key to what is likely to unfold.

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