Sir Alex Ferguson's side recorded their fifth win in a row since the derby defeat to City with a 1-0 victory at Swansea on Saturday but the performances continue to pose questions
By Greg Stobart at the Liberty Stadium
Manchester United recorded their fifth win in a row with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Swansea City on Saturday that keeps Sir Alex Ferguson's side five points behind neighbours Manchester City.
Javier Hernandez's strike in the 11th minute secured the three points for the Premier League title holders in a pragmatic performance that lacked any sort of rhythm in the final third.
United have completely gone into their shell since their sparkling early season form was halted with a bang by the 6-1 thrashing at the hands of City on October 23. At first, it appeared to be by instruction from Ferguson as he looked to tighten up the defence, but now some players appear to be playing with no freedom or confidence at all.
United are picking up points and can look forward to a relatively kind fixture list until well after the Christmas period, so Ferguson will be content with his team's response to the derby defeat.
But the Scot will constantly be thinking about his first-choice starting XI and must now be wondering whether he knows what he best team is. Injuries to Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley and Anderson have not helped matters, but some players appear to have lost all their confidence while others are taking the opportunity to stake a claim for more regular starts.
Here, Goal.com looks at who has been playing their way in and out of the side in recent weeks...
|The Dead Certs
David de Gea
The £18.3 million Spaniard's shaky start to life at Manchester United is long forgotten and he produced yet another confident display in the victory at Swansea. While De Gea still has areas of his game which can improve – not least his handling of high crosses – there is no doubt that he is the club's No. 1 goalkeeper at the moment. His distribution and shot-stopping ability are both outstanding while his concentration is improving by the game. The 21-year-old made a fine save to deny Scott Sinclair just after half-time on Saturday.
The 26-year-old remains United's most important player and he looked his usual composed self against Swansea after returning to his best role in behind lone striker Hernandez. The goals have dried up recently, but that's because he has been asked to play in a different way by Sir Alex, perhaps the best reference point for the side's change in emphasis from attack to defence. Rooney's quality on the ball is still there to see, even in second gear, and had United needed another goal he would have been the first to take on the extra responsibility.
The United captain upset his manager by reporting for international duty with Serbia in September and was in and out of the team in the early part of the season. Sir Alex, however, appears to have learned the error of his ways after leaving the stopper out of the matchday squad for the disastrous Manchester derby. Vidic has played 90 minutes in four of the five matches since the derby defeat, only missing the Champions League tie against Otelul Galati for which he was suspended. It is no coincidence that United have kept a clean sheet in each of those games.
The most worrying thing for United is that the French left-back's poor form is nothing new and has in fact being ongoing for more than a year. Against Swansea, he once again looked miles off the pace and was nowhere near the nippy, tricky Nathan Dyer. After picking up a booking for a late challenge on the Swansea winger, Evra was hauled off by Sir Alex in the 51st minute because he looked likely to pick up a second booking. To put Evra's performance into context, Fabio dealt far better with Dyer's threat and is also dangerous in attack.
The Scot is struggling to get back to the level he set before being laid low by a mystery virus in the final months of last season. He is busy and hardworking, but lacks the bite to take control of the midfield even against the lesser sides. Fletcher came on against Swansea and did an effective job as an extra body in midfield but needs to add more drive to his game to become a regular starter.
Jones is only 19 and destined for stardom, but his many qualities must be tempered by the fact he still has much to learn. He can make some brilliant tackles and has the pace and strength to become a commanding Premier League defender for many years, while he will excite fans with his marauding runs. On Saturday, he hit the post after a bustling forward run but that should not deflect attention from his positioning errors, not least for the golden opportunity that Sinclair missed. Not for the first time in his United career, Jones appeared to switch off and showed very little awareness, something that will doubtless improve with experience.
Along with fellow winger Ashley Young, the Portuguese flyer dazzled in the early part of the season as United ripped opposing teams apart. Lately, however, he has been a virtual passenger for United and that was again the case at the Liberty Stadium. Nani is capable of popping up with a moment of magic but he has been nowhere near the form that saw him voted as United's player of the year last season.
|Pushing their Case
The 30-year-old will never be a leading light for United but he played his way back into contention with a functional, efficient performance against Swansea. Carrick does not snap into tackles but his positioning and defensive reading of the game is excellent, meaning he breaks up opposition attacks by nicking possession or making interceptions. On the ball, he is less ambitious than when he first arrived at Old Trafford but is unerringly accurate and always looks to play forward.
The Brazilian youngster took his chance after replacing Evra on Saturday and pushed his claim for a starting spot in the crucial Champions League clash against Benfica on Tuesday. Tends to dive into tackles too readily but has excellent pace, tenacity and courage while possessing a threat in attack.
The former England captain has responded in the best possible manner to Ferguson's warning at the start of this month that he needs to adapt his game. Now 33, Ferdinand has lost a yard of pace but remains one of the most intelligent defenders around and has proved that with a string of impressive displays. His partnership with Vidic was the rock on which United's title triumph was founded last season and the pair have always worked well together. He even outshone Vidic against Swansea with a commanding display that included some vital blocks and interceptions.
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