Sir Alex Ferguson will be arriving at The Liberty Stadium knowing that a tough 90 minutes lies ahead.
Swansea have entered a slight sticky patch, losing their last 2 games, but before that they were in fine form, unbeaten in 4. They will take comfort from the fact they are 5 points better off than this time last year, a remarkable feat considering the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’ that usually comes into play.
United have started to come into their stride, with 5 consecutive victories and Wayne Rooney looking dangerous once more. On the road, they have been in scintillating form, winning 7 out of 9 matches this season and all this success has been due to their firepower up front, with a division-high 43 goals being scored in 17 games; only Everton and Norwich have kept The Reds at bay.
Swansea came close to a point in their first meeting in the Premier League era last season, before an Angel Rangel mistake led to Javier Hernandez snatching the only goal and all 3 points.
The overall head to head is actually very tight. There have only been 18 games between the sides and United have 8 wins to their name, whilst Swansea have 6. Although, before last year, the two clubs had not met for 30 years, so it is very difficult to judge the game on previous meetings, especially as Fergie wasn’t even in charge back then and Bryan Robson was on the scoresheet!
Swansea number 1 Michel Vorm is expected to return after an 8-week layoff with a groin injury. Deputy Gerhard Tremmel performed admirably, only conceding 9 goals in 8 games, with 4 of them coming against Norwich. This shows that the men in front of the goalkeeper are incredibly difficult to break down.
Angel Rangel is likely to miss out with a calf injury but Pablo Hernandez is available following his recovery from a thigh problem.
For United, club captain Nemanja Vidic could return to the starting line-up for the first time since September, after a frustrating stint on the sidelines. Fergie will not want to rush the Serbian back into the fold, however his presence and surety will be vital to United halting their defensive insecurities. They have conceded 24 goals this season, 2 more than their opponents this weekend.
Shinji Kagawa is unlikely to feature, even though he has returned to first team training, whilst Rafael will not be available until Boxing Day, as his hamstring problem persists.
Ones To Watch
Swansea have Wayne Routledge in sparkling form; the winger has created 28 goal-scoring chances this season, more than any of his teammates. He and Nathan Dyer are top of the assists in the side with 3 each. If both are to play, it means Pablo will either start on the bench, or in the centre, potentially meaning star man Michu, taking his place up front.
Although Michael Laudrup is unlikely to want a gung-ho mentality, with those four in the forward positions, they could cause United problems all afternoon. Whilst Sung-Yeung Ki and Leon Britton will keep things moving further back, both with a pass success rate of 92% – joint third highest in the league.
But it is Britton’s’ growing improvement in the tackle that could prove vital this weekend. He has not been afraid of getting stuck in and it is a part of his game that has developed since the arrival of Laudrup.
He will need to break up play as well as moving forward, especially as he is likely to be involved in the match’s key battle.
Britton Vs Rooney
Rooney will drop deeper than his strike partner Robin Van Persie and sit in midfield at times, mainly due to the tough nature of this away game.
His form has rapidly improved over the last month or so, scoring 5 in the last 3 games. However his creative talents are becoming more and more evident and this is why Britton will need to keep tabs on the English star.
Rooney is developing the key attributes to adapt his game for a deeper role, midfield being where his long-term future clearly lies.
In defence however, Rafael’s absence could be exploited. Although the Brazilian was poor against Reading a few weeks ago, (as were the whole United defence) he has made 48 tackles and won 74 out of 126 ground duels this season – the most in the side. It is likely either a recovering Phil Jones or Chris Smalling will deputise and both are very capable, they just lack substantial game time this season. Firing wingers may attempt to take advantage of this.
It is a game I am looking forward to with intrigue, as I feel it could be one for the neutrals. Both teams have the capabilities to take all three points and it will be close but if Rooney gets the better of Britton, then United probably have slightly too much firepower for Swansea.
Prediction:– Swansea 1-2 Manchester United