Manchester United return to Premier League action when they face top flight new boys Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday evening. The Reds will be making their first trip to a different country for a Premier League game after the Swans became the first Welsh side to reach the Premier League when they beat Reading 4-2 in the Championships play offs.
Swansea go in to the match unbeaten at home having won 3 and drawn 2. This is identical to United’s away record which is a marked improvement on last term when they won only 4 away games all season en route to winning a record 19th title. United will need to keep up this resurgent away form if they are to leave Wales with a point never mind all three given the impressive home record of the Swans. They have only conceded one goal at home and even that came via their own player, a Danny Graham own goal in a 3-1 victory against Bolton. This will prove a tough game for United to resume their quest for a 20th league title after an international break and Ferguson’s men will need to be at the top of their game if they are to keep in touch with City at the top of the table.
Brendan Rodgers has largely stuck with the players who helped the club gain promotion to the Premier League but he has made a few astute additions and this has resulted in an impressive start to their maiden campaign in the top flight. Michel Vorm, or SuperVorm as he has been nicknamed, a £1.5 million capture from Utrecht, has been a stand out performer so far this season. Rooney and Co will need to be sharp in front goal if they are to beat the Dutchman. While Vorm has been keeping them out, record signing Danny Graham has added some much needed firepower at the other end of the pitch. After a slow start to the season he has finally found his feet, bagging four goals in his last five games (or five goals if you count the OG!).
While these two players have consolidated the spine of the team, it is arguably the players that Rodgers retained in the middle of the park that has been a massive factor in Swansea sitting pretty in tenth position. Leon Britton and Joe Allen have been excellent all season and their passing football has put established Premier League teams to shame. They play the game the right way and they have been a joy to watch thus far. Britton rightly received the plaudits for a masterclass in keeping the ball in the match against Liverpool when he finished with 100% pass completion; the only player to do so in the Premier League this season.
While Rodgers will be happy at the start they have had to the season, his job now is to make sure this continues. He will be well aware they have been on the wrong end of thrashings against the other title challengers and will want to avoid the same fate against the Champions. In fairness those heavy defeats have come away from home and it is no exaggeration to say Rodgers’ men are a wholly different proposition at the Liberty Stadium. This will be their toughest test at home and one I’m sure they will relish.
Rodgers will go in to the game with a game plan but I don’t expect it to differ much from the way they have been playing all season. They will keep the ball, play it simple and try to hurt United when the opportunity arises. The game sold out weeks in advance and the crowd will play a big part. It will be a vociferous atmosphere and the Swansea fans will be coming to the game full of confidence, expecting their team to get a result.
Sir Alex Ferguson dealt the devastating blow that Tom Cleverley is likely to be out til Christmas with the ankle injury he sustained against Everton. This is a crushing blow to the Reds given the underwhelming performances in Tom’s absence. Ferguson also said Chris Smalling would miss out against Swansea as will Danny Welbeck who picked up a knock up while on away with England. On a more positive note, Ashley Young is fit and will travel to Wales as might Rafael who made his comeback from injury in the Reserves 4-1 win against Wigan on Thursday night. The squad which does make the 400 mile round trip should be fresh given key players like Rooney, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Carrick and Park all stayed at home while some of their colleagues ventured across the globe.
The international hiatus could not have come at a worse time for United. After the 6-1 mauling at the hands of City, Ferguson rallied his troops and although performances were far from convincing, the Reds were on a four game clean sheet streak. There was momentum gathering and a continuity that would have been better to sustain rather than have it disrupted with this inconvenience. However, confidence should be restored and I’m sure Sir Alex has drilled it in to the players that stayed at Carrington the need to maintain the clean sheet streak and push on with a sequence of wins in the run up to the festive period.
David De Gea, fresh from another clean sheet with Spain under 21s, should take over between the sticks after Lindergaard was given the 90 minutes against Sunderland. In front of him, Ferguson must decide whether to go with Evans or Ferdinand as Vidic’s partner in the centre of defence. With Rafael just returning from injury and looking rusty midweek and Fabio being on the wrong end of a horrendous tackle while with Brazil, Phil Jones should slot in at right back once again after starring for England in central midfield. A defence of Jones, Rio, Vidic and Evra should be strong enough to contain Swansea if they perform like they did before the break.
It will be then up to the front 6 to break down a stingy Swansea defence. While Rooney has been competent in central midfield in recent games, he’s a striker and should be moved up top again. He could be partnered with Berbatov who should be boosted by the news Ferguson has no plans to sell him and sees him as an integral part of the team. Hernandez may have to settle for a place on the bench after travelling to Mexico last week but given the game was last Friday, he may be suitably rested and ready to start.
With Rooney moving forward, Michael Carrick should make his first Premier League start of the season and could be partnered by either Darren Fletcher or Anderson. On the wings, Nani will be high on confidence after helping Portugal secure their place at Euro 2012 with a wonder goal but 3 games in a week coupled with all the travelling may prove too much for the winger. Ashley Young may be recalled after his injury although it is unclear how much he has trained this week. It may give an opportunity to Valencia, who himself has said he needs games, and Park Ji Sung to provide the width.
Given the injuries to certain players and question marks of the match fitness of others, Saturday could see Paul Pogba or Ravel Morrison make the bench. Morrison was mightily impressive against Wigan on Thursday, scoring two beautiful goals and it would not have gone unnoticed with the United manager. Although I refuse to get my hopes up it would be nice to see Morrison rewarded with a spot on the bench after a sparkling performance. His ingenuity may just be what is required to unlock the Swansea defence.
Starting XI: De Gea, Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Fletcher, Park, Rooney, Hernandez
I refuse to be confident going in to this game. Swansea are a formidable outfit at home and will fancy their chances on Saturday. Personally I think it could be a draw. However, given City could be 8 points clear the time United kick off it is imperative we get the three points. We should be strong enough in defence to repel the threat of Graham, Sinclair and Dyer thus it will depend on whether we have the cutting edge to sneak a goal past Vorm. I will go with a narrow and hard fought 1-0 win.
What would be your team selection and score prediction for the game? Please leave any comments below.