On the back of four straight victories that have helped to catapult United up to the heady heights of eighth in the Premier League table (which happens when almost all of those teams placed higher keep, y’know, winning), David Moyes will take his side over to Yorkshire for a lunchtime fixture with Hull City on Boxing Day.
Steve Bruce’s side have experienced a solid if unspectacular return to the Premier League, sitting seven points from relegation with only two victories in their last eleven league games. Still, the 3-1 home victory over Liverpool hints at the sort of competent, well-organised and committed side United will come across on Thursday, and they’ve lost just the once at the KC Stadium this season.
With Anders Lindegaard struggling to earn himself a place in league cup ties, and Sam Johnstone about as likely to start as a January swoop for Kleberson, it’s pretty much nailed on that David De Gea will start. The Spaniard is the first name on David Moyes’ teamsheets, it seems, and few fans would argue based on the form he’s shown this season.
Patrice Evra will likely be rested against Norwich City this weekend in favour of the obtuse Alex Buttner, and is surely nailed to start at left-back on Thursday as a result. The opposite flank should be occupied by Rafael, with the Brazilian a key component in United’s increased attacking play of late, with more pace and vision in his locker than centre-back-by-trade Chris Smalling.
Centrally, Moyes might do well to stick with Jonny Evans and Smalling having watched his side concede once in this current winning-streak. Neither were particularly troubled during West Ham’s visit, and with Phil Jones likely to reprise his role in central midfield, the Scot might be reticent to tinker too much.
Moyes has a few things to ponder out wide, with Antonio Valencia looking particularly focussed and strong on the right flank, Ashley Young contributing screamers in two successive games and Adnan Januzaj continuing his exciting form. Moyes might be tempted to save the 18-year-old as an impact sub having seen signs of defensive naivety creep into his game at the weekend with Hull’s strength in mind. Even with Nani sidelined, there’s little chance of Ryan Giggs starting ahead of three in-form wingers.
You’ll stop short of suggesting that the penny has dropped with Tom Cleverley based on a decent few weeks, but his increased attacking instincts on display of late make it hard to leave the England international out with Marouane Fellaini out for six weeks and Michael Carrick unlikely to be thrown in at the deep end, even if fit. The smart money is on Phil Jones lining up alongside him in an effort to protect the back four against the home side’s advances. That aforementioned victory over Liverpool proved that Hull are more than capable of damaging teams if given too much freedom.
A spell on the sidelines for Robin Van Persie hasn’t done much good for Shinji Kagawa’s stuttering United career, with Wayne Rooney dictating play in his preferred role behind Danny Welbeck over the last fortnight. The knee injury sustained by the England international against West Ham isn’t serious and he’s been cleared to travel, but it could force him to the bench. That eventuality would likely promote Rooney to the apex of United’s attack with the Japanese just behind. Moyes has so far made do without the Dutchman’s talents and will be hoping for a similar level of ruthlessness from his front two again on Thursday.
With that in mind, here’s how we expect United to line up on Boxing Day:
Rafael Smalling Evans Evra
Valencia Jones Cleverley Young
Who do you think will be in Manchester United’s starting XI against Hull City? Comment in the section below.