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Friday Five: A Perfect Week For Manchester United, Nani’s Return, Transfer Talk, And More

With Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Stoke City, it’s two wins in two matches for Manchester United, and after what could be termed as nothing short of a perfect week in the results department, United are now two points clear of Manchester City and four clear of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table.

As opposed to Stoke’s visits to Old Trafford in each of the last two seasons, in which United outscored the Potters by a combined 9-0, the league leaders were made to work for the win this time around. But in the end, the three points were wrapped up all thanks to Nani and Javier Hernandez, who teamed up for the two goals that fired United to victory.

Next up for United is Sunday’s FA Cup third-round tie with rivals Liverpool, who look to be ripe for the picking as they head to Old Trafford.

But before looking ahead to Liverpool’s visit, here are a few comments about Tuesday’s win and the week in general, along with a little flashback:

1. First and foremost, could the midweek results have played out any better for United?

United beat Stoke? Check.
Arsenal and City draw? Check.
Tottenham lose at Everton? Check.
Chelsea lose at Wolves? Check.

So United are now two points ahead of City with two matches in hand, four ahead of Arsenal with a match in hand, eight ahead of Tottenham with a match in hand, and nine ahead of Chelsea with a match in hand.

It’s too soon to be too excited, what with United’s next league tie being a tough trip to White Hart Lane (and City, Arsenal – though West Ham could well pull a shock, what with Avram Grant fighting for his job and the team fighting for safety, and Chelsea all having markedly easier matches next weekend). But if the side can continue to grind out results and continue to get some favorable results elsewhere, that away spell in late February and early March might be far less of a concern than some might expect.

For all of the positives in the results department, however, there was some less positive news on the injury front. Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley both sustained injuries this week that will keep each out for at least a few weeks, which is highly unfortunate for both players and their respective clubs.

2. It really goes without saying, but we missed Nani, even if it was for a short period.

Being without Park left a hole, given his form, but being without both he and Nani really made for a selection issue against Birmingham and West Brom. More than that, it really took our attack down a couple of notches. For example, against Birmingham, there were multiple opportunities Darron Gibson wasn’t able to make the most of that we’d have likely seen Park or Nani do better with…and in the end, those missed opportunities helped cost us two points.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, and all it takes is looking at the stat sheet to see how much it helps to have Nani back: first-half assist, second-half goal.

3. Is there really a pressing need to add a midfielder or winger in January? There’s no secret that the midfield is our weakest link in terms of overall quality and quality depth, as highlighted by the preceding paragraphs.

As it stands, we could be without Park for the entire month, and though Antonio Valencia has returned to training, his return would appear to be several weeks off. And along with the long-term of long-term absences that is Owen Hargreaves, Paul Scholes is also unavailable at the moment.

The Alexis Sanchez talk has been hot and heavy for a little while, and we’ve also been linked with former Chelsea/Arsenal/Portsmouth man Lassana (I refuse to call him Lass!) Diarra this week. However, Udinese have ruled out a January sale for Sanchez, and it appears that Jose Mourinho wants to keep Diarra at Real Madrid, so both of those would appear to be out of the equation.

However, is it necessary to spend this month? The amount of options in January is pretty thin compared to what we’ll have to choose from in the summer, and there’s no sense in forking out funds on expensive cover or someone who can’t be relied on from the outset.

When Park returns, that will be a significant boost, and Valencia’s return sometime next month (one would assume) will only further increase our options. The center of our midfield isn’t exactly formidable, but it’s, at the very least, serviceable and dependable enough to see us through the end of the season. And perhaps I have a little more faith in the backups tham most, but I think the experience that the likes of Gabriel Obertan and Bebe received earlier in the season could turn out to be really helpful in the end.

And of course, if push comes to shove, we could recall Cleverley once he’s fit again. So we’re more or less spoiled than starved for options, and I don’t mean that negatively, as it’s only right to want to see the best at Manchester United.

4. Perhaps it would have been ideal for Federico Macheda to earn some experience at a Premier League club, but I give two thumbs up for the move to Sampdoria.

The style of football is different, sure, but I think it’ll benefit him to be back in Italy, even if it’s just for a few months. Not only that, but an opportunity to earn regular starts for one of Serie A’s better sides and to learn from a talented forward like Giampaolo Pazzini is only going to help his development. Just like loan spells have had a positive effect on Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, we’ll see Kiko return to United a much, much better player.

5. I was planning to do a full article for Flashback Friday, but who needs a bunch of words when all you need is the video?

As we host Liverpool in an FA Cup tie this weekend, it’s only right for a little reminiscing about the last time United faced Liverpool at home in the FA Cup.

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool (1999 FA Cup 4th Round)