Manchester United are benefiting from the absence of two players

Jose Mourinho has had plenty of criticisms levelled at him at the start of this season but a lack of self-confidence hasn’t been one of them.

It was clear from last night’s post-match ear-cupping that the Portuguese still fully believes in himself and he’s also shown that with his ruthless team selections in recent weeks.

United’s two biggest under-performers of the campaign, Antonio Valencia and Romelu Lukaku, were mainstays last term but Mourinho had no qualms about dropping them when they became more of a hindrance than a help.

Valencia, the 33-year-old right-back who began the season in woeful form, was axed after liking an Instagram post calling for Mourinho to be sacked at the start of October and he hasn’t been seen since.

Ashley Young has started each of United’s six games since Valencia’s last appearance and United have won four of them, drawing once away to Chelsea and losing by the odd goal at home to Juventus.

It’s no coincidence that United’s upturn in form has come with Valencia out of the side.

With the buccaneering Shaw occupying the left-back spot and Young, far more athletic and a much better crosser than his Ecuadorian counterpart, surging up and down the right flank, United have looked a more balanced outfit.

Young’s crossing is a huge asset and his deliveries have led to late winners against both Newcastle and Juventus in the past five weeks.

Can you imagine Valencia stepping up and delivering that wicked free-kick from which Alex Sandro bundled into his own net in Turin? Not a chance.

Diogo Dalot may well be United’s right-back of the future but that role is Ashley Young’s for now and there should be no place for Valencia while the former Watford winger is in this kind of form.

Further up the field Lukaku’s club performances in October were painfully bad and he was dropped for the win over Everton at the end of the month.

The 25-year-old came off the bench in that fixture but injury sidelined him for the following matches against Bournemouth and Juventus.

United won all three of those games and have looked far more fluent in attack without the cumbersome Belgian through the middle.

His absence has paved the way for Alexis Sanchez to get a chance in his preferred role through the middle and, while the Chilean is not yet back to his best, he looks far more comfortable operating in a central role than he has done out wide since his January transfer from Arsenal.

Lukaku is a doubt for the Manchester derby but he shouldn’t start against City even if his fitness permits him to.

Mourinho is close to landing on his best XI.

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