Manchester United travel to the Liberty Stadium on Sunday to take on Swansea, looking for a vital three points that will keep their title charge on track.
Last weekend United dispatched of Sunderland at Old Trafford with routine ease to build upon their success at the Etihad, and if they can beat Michael Laudrup’s side, the Red Devils will be in a very commanding position as the hectic winter schedule kicks in.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will travel to South Wales full of confidence. They have won five league games in a row, and have only failed to secure three points once in ten games, when they meekly succumbed to a spirited Norwich at Carrow Road.
During that time the prolific Reds have found the net on 26 occasions, with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie combining to devastating effect. They have scored nine goals in four games between them, and United look back to their potent best going forward.
However Swansea have not struggled to find the net either, especially at the Liberty, and boast the highest scoring midfielder amongst their ranks. The Swans have hit the net 16 times at home this season, the joint 4th highest in the league, with Michu, a summer acquisition from Rayo Vallecano, rippling the net 12 times both home and away.
Swansea, under Laudrup’s guidance, have carried on the mantra of passing football, with a 2-0 success away at Arsenal being the highlight so far in a start that sees them sitting only six points off 4th place.
Last season when United travelled to South Wales they returned with all three points after a very hard fought win. Javier Hernandez proved to be the match winner with his early, instinctive finish giving the Reds a 1-0 victory and another result of the same score line will be high on Sir Alex’s Christmas wish list.
Team Selection Thoughts
David de Gea was brought back into the starting line up against City, and after a superb performance it looked as though he would cement his position as United’s number one. He conceded against Sunderland, although he was powerless to prevent it, and in the last two games he has showed exactly why he should be starting week in week out. Not only will it allow him to build up an understanding with the defenders but it will allow him to develop as a goalkeeper; something he wouldn’t be able to do sitting on the bench. Anders Lindegaard has never really done anything wrong when deputising, but going on talent alone the young Spaniard, as in the last two games, should get the nod every time.
United fans will welcome the news that Jonny Evans has signed a new 3 and a half year contract with the Reds, and that he is fit for the trip to Swansea. Evans has been one of United’s most consistent performers this season, even weighing in with a couple of vital goals, and he should continue to improve. Sir Alex has the luxury of having all his centre halves fit, but he may not risk starting Nemanja Vidic in a game that is likely to have a very high tempo. In which case Rio Ferdinand will probably be partnered by either Evans or Chris Smalling. Sir Alex has announced that Rafael’s tight hamstring will keep him out of the trip to South Wales although Patrice Evra will continue at left back. Rafael’s absence will leave Ferguson with a decision to make. Jones or Smalling can both play there, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Antonio Valencia filling in if the manager decides he needs pace to combat Swansea’s tricky wingers.
In the middle of the park, United remain without the services of Shinji Kagawa although the Japanese international will return to full first team training on Monday. Anderson also remains sidelined along with winger Nani, but apart from that Sir Alex has a strong array of midfielders to choose from. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley have both started the last two games in the centre, with the pair combining for Cleverley’s beautiful curling effort against Sunderland. Sir Alex could look to rotate with Fletcher, Scholes and Giggs all lacking first team minutes, but on form Carrick and Cleverley both deserve to keep their places. As with the central midfield pairing, the wingers, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have been in good form too. United will need look to soak up pressure from Swansea and break quickly, and with Young and Valencia in the team the Reds will have the perfect outlets.
The front pairing, as with the last two games, picks itself. Robin van Persie has four goals in his last four games and Wayne Rooney has five in his last three. The pair scored 57 league goals between them last season, and if their current partnership and form carries on, they could get very close to that number again this time round. Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck will understand that United have two world class strikers in form, but the pair will still have important roles to play in the coming weeks and months.
Three Key Battles
Robin van Persie vs. Ashley Williams
The Dutchman has been worth every penny of his £24 million fee so far, and if anything he has improved as the season has gone on. Not only does he score goals but he brings others into play too, with Rooney’s goal against Sunderland an example of his selflessness. Williams will have to be at the top of his game to even stand a chance of subduing van Persie, whose movement and awareness often prove too much for defenders. If he gets time and space on Sunday there is every chance he will score for the fifth game running.
Antonio Valencia vs. Ben Davies
The 19 year old full back has impressed everyone at Swansea since coming into the team, making the position his own, but he will be face a tough examination of his credentials against Valencia. The Ecuadorian is yet to find the same scintillating form of previous seasons, but he played well against City and again last weekend, though he seems reluctant to attack his opposing full back. Davies is quick but Valencia’s pace and power will cause him problems if United can dominate possession and get the ball wide early.
Michu vs. Rio Ferdinand
Without question Michu has been the buy of the season so far, scoring 12 league goals and proving an absolute bargain at £2 million. He arrives late into the box to get on the end of crosses, proving very difficult to pick up and Ferdinand will have to be very wary of the Spanish striker’s movement. United have been very poor at the back this season conceding 24 goals already, and if they continue that on Sunday then Michu is more than capable of punishing the Red Devils.
United will be on top of the tree on Christmas day regardless of the result on Sunday but Sir Alex will want his players to maintain that six point lead over City as the New Year approaches. Wins over Sunderland and the blue neighbours will count for little if needless points are dropped in fixtures
such as this. Swansea are a very good passing side, and with the prolific Michu they offer a threat going forward. However, as an attacking force the reds look irresistible and if van Persie and Rooney continue to combine well then they should have too much for a Swansea defence that conceded four at home to Norwich. It will be an open game but if United can create chances they should come away with all three points.
Manchester United vs. Sunderland match day thread HERE.
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