Five reasons not to be overjoyed with Manchester United's resurgence

Manchester United's Juan Mata (centre) celebrates with Ashley Young and Chris Smalling (right) after scoring his team's second goal during their English Premier League soccer match against Stoke City at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England, o
Manchester United's Juan Mata (centre) celebrates with Ashley Young and Chris Smalling (right) after scoring his team's second goal during their English Premier League soccer match against Stoke City at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England, on Dec 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Manchester United's recent resurgence has its fans pining for a English Premier League title that, a few months ago, seemed as likely as Anderson shedding his flab. Five straight wins and a rise up to third in the table have undoubtedly brightened the mood at Old Trafford.

But few can argue against former Red Devils captain Gary Neville describing Sunday's clash against arch-rivals Liverpool as one between "pub teams".

With the Reds themselves smarting from an early Champions League exit, United fans have even more reason for Christmas cheer, but here are five reasons why they should not get overly-excited by Louis van Gaal's in-form outfit that have yet to iron out their weaknesses.

1. Not really a high five

It has been quite a while since 'WWWWW" was reflected in United's past five matches record. In fact, the feat - a regularity during the all-conquering Alex Ferguson years - was never achieved during David Moyes' tenure. It somewhat erases the memory of van Gaal making the club's worst start to a league campaign, but remember that three of those wins came at home against Crystal Palace, Hull City and Stoke City.

Stoke were denied a point by a goal-line clearance in injury time, while the latest victory over Southampton saw the Red Devils ride their luck for 90 minutes. Ronald Koeman's side had 22 touches in the opposition penalty area, compared with three for United in the opposite box. The three attempts at goal mustered by the visitors represented their fewest in the EPL in 11 years, yet they walked away with a 2-1 victory thanks to Robin van Persie's clinical brace.

Supporters might call it title-winning form, but there are cracks in the United armour that will be exposed by higher-calibre opposition, as shown by Manchester City's 1-0 triumph in the derby last month.

2. Defence in the doldrums

Goalkeeper David de Gea seems destined to retain the Player of the Season award at the club, which speaks volumes for the workload on the young Spaniard's shoulders. Injuries and inconsistency have led to an unstable backline that has leaked 17 goals in 15 matches - the same as Swansea City.

Van Gaal's refusal to settle on a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-3 formation - and his hesitance to sign experienced defenders - are also contributory factors. Southampton showed just how easily gaps can be found in the Red Devils' rearguard.

3. Falcao a flop?

Tipped as United's most lethal scoring threat since Ruud van Nistelrooy, Falcao has struggled to find his feet at his new team. The injury-prone Colombian is playing back-up to an in-form van Persie, denying him crucial minutes to form a partnership with captain Wayne Rooney. United need Falcao fit and firing to push for a Champions League spot, not sitting on the bench.

4. What's your best team, Louis?

Moyes was mocked for adopting 51 different starting line-ups in as many matches, while van Gaal is praised as a tactical genius for not only frequently swapping players but also discarding formations midway through a match.

The Dutchman's fickleness is best exemplified by forwards Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj, who have each gone through spells of featuring in the starting XI for several matches, only to be dropped thereafter. The talented duo have been played out of position, appearing out of depth and ideas as a result.

5. Tricky road ahead

United's true mettle will be tested come Ferguson's renowned "squeaky bum" time. Three of their final four away games will be against Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea, with the visit of Manchester City sandwiched in between. The club's transfer activity in January will go a long way to determining their eventual league position.

A proven centre-back in the vein of Mats Hummels or Raphael Varane is needed as the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones spend more time in the medical room than doctors themselves. England international Smalling faces his third spell on the sidelines since van Gaal took over, after being the club’s 43rd casualty of the season when he limped off with a groin strain against Southampton.

If the rest of the squad stays clear of injuries and allow van Gaal to stick to a settled line-up, United could be set for a trademark late-season surge, which would mean more than their current winning streak.

nsanjay@sph.com.sg