When asked what the strongest Manchester United lineup is this season, one would usually reply in relation to whom the prospective opposition would be.
This is a gift and a curse for the current United set up; an ability to consider a vast array of opposition. From a physical opposition, to one with a standout player, to one with many class players.
However, considering the age of the United squad members, their contract lengths and their recent performances, I'd have to pick this team, starting with defensive positions:
Goalkeeper: David de Gea Quintana
The only surprise here is that you may not have known his full name. He's been taken under the wing of the Old Trafford faithful and has made himself a fan's favourite as his progression has been made over his tenure as number 1 goalkeeper.
They see that he has made leaps and bounds, whilst at the same time indulging in the monthly mistakes that Joe Hart produces after Manchester City fans taunted United fans about Hart being the 'superior' 'keeper a few seasons back.
Things are looking much different now.
Right back: Rafael da Silva
Rafael has made the number two spot his own, prospecting to be the long-term replacement for Gary Neville. A new signing this window of left-back Guillermo Varela will change very little about that for the time being.
Rafael is still improving and his work rate and mobility are vital for United to move forward when needed.
Centre back: Nemanja Vidic
Captain with a few years still left. Must remain injury free. Phil Jones should be long-term successor, but the Serbian stopper will be crucial to any hopes United harbour of glory.
Centre back: Jonny Evans
The first splinter of opinions here. Ferdinand is injury prone and Evans provides a youthful deputy to Vidic, fantastic performances last season must be rewarded with progression.
Left back: Patrice Evra
Evra has had a moderate start to the season and is one very loyal United player.
I have a feeling Monaco might come calling soon, Evra still has a few miles on the clock and his experience is key. United do need to start refreshing the squad though or risk many of the old guard leaving, retiring or becoming unfit/unreliable all at once.
Fabio should be given a chance to take the mantle: this would save United some money for a 'big' attacking transfer if needed, too.
Now for the central and attacking positions. One has attained a 4-2-3-1 formation as United's lineup if they were to have one lineup and formation for each game. This of course won't and needn't happen, yet this way the strongest eleven overall can be identified.
Centre midfield: Michael Carrick
A fan's favourite who is maturing well. A steady, trustworthy figure that neither the fans or management feel needs to be replaced any time soon. In this formation, he'd be allowed to sit back and pass the ball through. With the signing of Fellaini, Carrick's successor could be a more attacking minded midfielder, with Nick Powell being a more 'Scholes' minded footballer in terms of an attacking presence who could compliment Fellaini well.
Centre midfield: Fellaini
This is where Anderson, Cleverly and Fletcher lose out. Fellaini offers versatility; strength and assurance versus opposition such as Newcastle and Stoke, a calmness needed against Chelsea and Manchester City, with an ability to upset opposition play that United may enjoy against teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Centre attacking midfield: Shinji Kagawa
Another player who needs starts and copious playing time to be allowed to show his undoubtedly world-class ability. Any United fans mourning Arsenal's signing of Mesut Ozil, need reminding of how good Kagawa was in a league considered by some now as the strongest in the world.
He needs to be played in position, however, which is why a free role would suit Kagawa, his team around him and United, overall.
Centre attacking midfield: Wayne Rooney
He can still win games and produce inspiration. The United fans are willing to forgive him, to an extent, and Jose Mourinho failed to ruffle his form with recent attempts. He also has the team around him to succeed, even in Europe.
Left wing/Right wing: Nani
Nani has just signed a five-year contract extension. This cannot be for him to sit on the bench for half a decade; a two or three year extension would have been a viable amount of time for him to be sold without fear of letting him go on a free.
He is not a favourite of all United fans at the moment; which is another reason why he needs to be given starts this year consecutively to build his form and confidence.
He can produce magic that can destroy any defence on his day and his inconsistency is not going to be fixed by using him as a 60th-minute substitute. Could be allowed to switch wings and play through the centre at will.
Stricker: Robin Van Persie
Very little explanation needed here.
The one question with Van Persie is if he's wasted upfront on his own. But with Nani, Kagawa and Rooney all buzzing around him he should have the assists and thus goals at his feet. He should also be able to exert less energy per game and decrease any injury risk by nestling in upfront. Goals will arrive with the triangle behind him. Van Persie likes to drop deep at times, which would allow for all four attacking players to build a rapport and have defences fearing for their stations.
In recent times United have looked majorly unbalanced, playing only one true winger in a traditional 4-4-2 formation throughout a game. Letting Nani switch wings would allow Kagawa and Rooney to play where they're strongest (in the centre) and sort out a balance problem, whilst terrorising opposition marking plans.
The full-backs could load up and supply wing support with Fellaini holding back and providing cover in case of a counter attack, or vice versa with Fellaini moving up and the full-backs, or at least one of them staying back.
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