Manchester United's defence now faces a new conundrum

Manchester United 3

The return of key players should shore up Alex Ferguson's defence, and he now faces the questions over who should make up his first choice back five.

Manchester United's chances of success this season were given a major lift at the weekend, as Nemanja Vidic came off the bench against Sunderland, with the rapturous acclaim from the Old Trafford crowd demonstrating that few have any doubt over his importance to the club.

However Vidic is not the player who has returned to fitness in recent weeks, with Phil Jones now also able to start matches again for his side.

With those two back, United are close to having a fully fit set of defenders available to them for the first time this season, and there is an expectation that they will be able to shore up their back line after a shaky few months. As such the question for Ferguson now is who he selects to make up his first choice back line.

For all their problems at the back, one player who has come on leaps and bounds this season has been Rafael. The Brazilian right back has been the first choice at United for the majority of matches this year, and has benefitted from the extended run in the side hugely.

Rafael was rested for the match against Sunderland, and it will be interesting to see how much he is rotated with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, as there is a case for saying that in previous years Rafael's performances have been erratic when coming in and out of the team.

Another decision to be made is over the goalkeeper. Ferguson has still yet to settle on one of David De Gea and Anders Lindegaard, and this brings an element of doubt into the whole back line.

United are fortunate that both have broadly similar goalkeeping styles, so the defence isn't completely wrong-footed by the repeated changes behind them, but if Ferguson is planning on rotating his defenders, now might be a good time to settle on a keeper.

For his faults, De Gea is the man who should now be settled between the sticks, and the young Spaniard might well flourish when given the protection Nemanja Vidic will provide.

With United clear at the top of the league, the temptation might be to rotate their defenders over the festive period to give those who have played a lot of matches a rest.

However a better option might be to truly establish a first choice back five in the coming weeks, and reassert a measure of control at the back. Manchester United are currently title favourites because of their fantastic strike force, if they can also regain the ability to keep clean sheets, they will look unstoppable.

image: © birdies-perch

Register for MANCHESTER UNITED team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch