The two-week international break may have been dominated by headlines about racism in football, but some measure of relief – in the form of football at least – is shortly at hand, with Manchester United returning to action this weekend. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side travels to Swansea City, for the first time in almost 30 years, to face the newly promoted Welsh side in the Premier League Saturday tea time. It is a fixture that Ferguson hopes will continue United’s renaissance in the post-derby period.
With four clean sheets posted after the 6-1 thrashing by Manchester City, Ferguson has steered the United ship to calmer waters. It was always likely to be the case. And while the Reds have hardly performed with little panache in the recent victories over Everton and Sunderland, Ferguson’s side is still within touching distance of City in the Premier League table. It is a recovery that is likely to be severely tested against the in-from Swans, with Brendan Rogers’ side yet to taste defeat at the Liberty Stadium this season, while delivering some highly attractive football.
The Scot can boast a strong squad for the trip south, although Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck and Michael Owen will sit out the tie through injury. The injury to Cleverley’s ankle, sustained at Everton three weeks ago, is now thought to be far more serious than previously anticipated, with the midfielder out of action until Christmas. However, the United manager should welcome winger Ashley Young back into the first team squad for the trip to Wales.
“No-one’s injured from the internationals, the ones who’ve played anyway, which is good,” said Ferguson.
“Danny Welbeck, as you know, came back with an injury from an England training session and he won’t be available for Swansea. Chris Smalling is not far away but I don’t think he’ll be back tomorrow, I think he’ll be ready for Tuesday. Michael Owen and Tom Cleverley are pretty long-term. I think Christmas time for both of them, which is unfortunate for us.
“It’s worse than we thought. When [Cleverley] came off against Everton he reported that it was just a bit of tightness, a bit of pain, but we’ve done further scans and he’s had a recurrence of the injury, so we’re going to have to give him a break until Christmas time, I think. Ashley Young is fit, he’s trained for the last seven or eight days and is available for tomorrow.”
The Scot, mindful of United’s key game against Benfica in the Champions League next week, has a delicate balancing act when it comes to team selection against Rogers’ men.
Anderson is likely to vie with Michael Carrick for a place in central midfield alongside Darren Fletcher. Meanwhile, Young could start on the left, with in-form Nani fresh from scoring a stunning goal against Bosnia in the Euro 2012 qualifiers, on the right.
With Welbeck and Owen out, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernández should reform United’s attack, although Dimitar Berbatov is in contention. The Bulgarian, who is out of contract next summer, remains part of Ferguson’s planning according to the Scot, and United will activate a further year in the Bulgarian’s contract.
“Dimitar is still in my thoughts,” added Ferguson.
“I have read some things but there is absolutely no reason for me to let him go. He is an outstanding footballer and we will give the extra year. It is unfortunate the form of Javier Hernández over the last year has been outstanding but he [Berbatov] plays a great role and he trains well. He has no complaints. The boy is a great professional and we are happy for him to be here. You need a good number of strikers in the modern day. If you look back to 1999, we had four great strikers. They all played their part. That is exactly what will happen today.”
One player likely to be involved at some stage is Ryan Giggs, the 37-year-old Welshman who represented his country 64 times, but has never faced a Welsh club team during his two decade long career. It is a bitter-sweet moment for Giggs, who is proud that a Welsh side has finally made it to the top level of English football.
“It’s fantastic news for Welsh football that Swansea are doing so well,” said Giggs.
“As a Welshman, I’m very much looking forward to Manchester United visiting Wales for the first ever time in the Premier League. Swansea is a great city and the Swans have tremendous support in a terrific stadium. All Premier League games are tough and I’m sure the match against the Swans will be no different.”
United’s last visit to Swansea ended in a goalless draw at the Vetch Field in December 1982. The Swans beat United 2-0 at the same venue the previous season and have never lost to the Reds at home. Manager Rogers believes his side has a chance of repeating the club’s last victory over United, with a mixture of attractive attacking football, and a high tempo pressing game.
“Our approach will not fundamentally change,” said the xx-year-old coach.
“We want to dominate the game with the ball, and the statistics show that we have been able to do that this season. Obviously you have to retain the caution of knowing that players at this level have a higher quality, especially against one of the top European sides with a number of players that can hurt you.
“But Kenny Dalglish said after our draw at Anfield that they couldn’t string five or six passes together, which was good for me to hear because we work hard on getting the ball back quickly. So our idea of the game will be the same, it will be creative and offensive but our five clean sheets also show that we are tactically disciplined.”
Rogers welcomes back left-back Neil Taylor, who returns from a sore ankle. Stephen Dobbie could also return after suffering a similar injury. Meanwhile, former United player Alan Tate is unavailable for the tie with the Premier League champions.
Swansea City versus Manchester United, Premier League, Liberty Stadium, Saturday 19 November 2011, 5.30pm
Swansea (4-3-3): Vorm; Williams, Monk, Rangel, Taylor; Britton, Allen, Gower; Dyer, Graham, Sinclair. Subs from: Tremmel, Moras, Agustien, Richards, Lita, Moore, Routledge, Dobbie.
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Anderson, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Rafael, Pogba, Evans, Fryers, Carrick, Berbatov, Park, Valencia, Diouf.
- Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm is now joint top in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for saves with 68, matching United’s David de Gea. 14 of those saves came in Swansea’s last Barclays Premier League game against Liverpool, the second highest number of saves made by a goalkeeper in any Barclays Premier League game this season (top is Brad Friedel v United for Tottenham Hotspur with 16);
- Ashley Williams has excelled at the back for Swnsea this season, 82 defensive contributions overall (tackles, blocks, interceptions). This is the second highest total in the league;
- Two of the top three most prolific crossers of the ball play for United. Luis Nani has delivered more than any other player with 49, while Ashley Young is in third place with 37;
- Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer remain the Premier League’s top dribblers, having completed 58 and 45 respectively
- After a disapointing run of games, including defeat to Man City, a draw with Liverpool, and narrow wins over Sunderland and Everton, Wayne Rooney is now United’s only player in the Index’ top ten. Rooney remains top.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
Assistants: S Long, W Smallwood
Fourth Official: A D’Urso