Unbeaten in their last five Premier League outings, Manchester United head to the Liberty Stadium to take on Swansea City for the early kick-off as firm favourites. With Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney beginning to flourish in their respective attacking roles, the focus could have finally shifted from United's leaky defence to their devastating potential up front.
Swansea are not to be underestimated, however, and despite their back-to-back losses to Norwich and Tottenham, the Swans can boast an enviable style of football that has seen them defeat the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool. Confidence is high under Michael Laudrup, and with the emerging talisman in Michu on form, they could provide an upset.
But what Swansea possess in attractive, triangle-based football, with a concentration on moving the ball swiftly, is countered in the efficiency in United's play and the constant threat of Rooney and Van Persie. Against Sunderland, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick looked a lot more settled on the ball, and if the pair can stamp their authority early on, they can both supply the forward runners with plenty of ammunition.
United have started to play better football in the past few weeks and the usual analogy of them 'stepping up a gear come Christmas' seems to have proved itself true for the umpteenth year. They go into the game having actually won while playing well, with Rooney and Van Persie finding the net in the past two games. They have the easier Christmas schedule compared with Manchester City, who made extremely hard work of defeating Reading, and a strong run of victories could see them exit the congested Yuletide period still six points clear at the summit of the Premier League.
Rumours continue to surface around January of the Red Devils' supposed interest in Borussia Dortmund striker, Robert Lewandowski, but with Van Persie repaying every penny of his £24m transfer fee thus far, goalscoring exploits are being fully taken care of. More pleasing to consider is that Rooney is now adding goals to accompany his burgeoning number of assists for his Dutch striker partner, beckoning further comparisons with legendary treble-winning partnership of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke. And, with the fixtures coming thick and fast over the next month, Sir Alex will have ample time to plumb the endless depths of his squad by deploying Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck when needed.
Last season's surprise star Michel Vorm is a boost for Swansea as the Dutch 'keeper admitted to feeling “refreshed” ahead of the visit from the 19-time champions, following a length lay-off due to injury. United won 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium last campaign, but with Vorm and Williams warning United not to expect an easy game, Laudrup has admitted he will not mind a loss to Manchester United if his team pick up points over the next ten days against Reading, Fulham and Aston Villa. But, with Ferguson's men facing an out-of-sorts Newcastle on boxing day, expect to see a full-strength squad against the Swans tomorrow to ensure the club maintain their six-point lead over Christmas.
It remains to be seen whether club captain Nemanja Vidic will return to start at centre-back after a brief outing against Sunderland last week, but Rafael is expected to slot in again at right-back. Interestingly, Shinji Kagawa is back in training and could be surprise inclusion, but with Ferguson's decision to set his team up with width in the form of Young and Valencia, the Japanese midfielder could surely only be seen as securing a place on the bench. Smalling and Jones have both continued their good progress back from injury, and with Vidic in contention too, Sir Alex may finally have a wanted selection dilemma in defence.
Still, with a division-high 43 goals in their opening 17 games, it is the daunting pairing of Rooney and Van Persie that pose Swansea the greatest cause for concern. The intuition with which they seem to finding each other is becoming more prevalent, while the sheer number of chances the two fashion for themselves and others can only lead to more goals. Only Everton and Norwich have managed to keep United at bay this season, both teams of which are built upon solid foundations and a phenomenal efficiency at shutting the ball down. Swansea like to attempt free-flowing football, and while this may have caused United problems six or seven games ago, it would seem a more frugal approach from Laudrup's men would be more prudent. If they're caught up the pitch during one of their flowing attacking phases, Valencia, Young, Rooney and Van Persie will undoubtedly reap the rewards of a swift counter-attack.
Though Swansea, and in particular Michu, often look like scoring, unfortunately, Manchester United always look like scoring one, two or maybe three more.