The plethora of players unavailable to feature for Manchester United due to injury and illness has been a nuisance to say the least. It really is quite impressive that Sir Alex Ferguson and his side have closed the gap on leaders Manchester City during this festive fixture list. City were once five points clear but United are now level on points during a period when there have been two league matches a week. Injuries and illness aside, which has resulted in a depleted squad and numerous players playing out of position, United have marched on to an impressive 45 points from 18 league matches -- a pace which would equate to 95 points over a full season. The situation has been so dire in defense that the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick, Zeki Fryers, and Patrice Evra have been deployed at center-back at times.
United currently have 11 players out right now. However, Jones and Smalling could return from what's being called an 'illness' to feature on Saturday versus Blackburn Rovers. If one were to include the exiled Tomasz Kuszczak, you even have an unavailable goalkeeper and a possible XI that could contend for a European spot! You know, if the whole injury and illness thing wasn't hindering them at all. The injury situation could prove costly in January when the fixture list becomes a bit more challenging. Anyway, I thought I'd have a little fun with this* and create an 'unavailable Manchester United XI'
* Might as well make the most of a sad situation -- or perhaps this just makes you sadder about the situation
* Tomasz Kusczczak - First of all, I hate spelling his name so I'm glad I don't have to write about him anymore. Who knows what is really going on with the exiled goalkeeper but hopefully he can find a club soon. He certainly wasn't the answer as Edwin van der Sar's successor but he does appear to be a capable goalkeeper in the Premier League
* Nemanja Vidic - The loss of United's skipper is arguably the biggest blow in defense, and arguably the entire squad. Vidic is out for the season due to a ruptured cruciate ligament and the injury may also make him unavailable for next season's beginning.
* Jonny Evans - With the signing of Jones during the summer, and with Smalling established as first-choice deputy for Rio Ferdinand and Vidic, Evans was anticipated to be fourth or fifth choice at center-back. However, due to injury and the versatility of Jones and Smalling, Evans has featured 19 times this season in all competitions. His current calf injury comes at a time when healthy defenders are badly needed.
* Chris Smalling - The versatile defender is out due to what Fergie says is illness. He was superb in his most recent match versus Fulham at center-back and he's done a job this season at right-back. Hopefully he is fit for Blackburn on New Year's Eve.
* Fabio - The feisty full-back became first-choice last season for the run-in and this was exemplified by his inclusion in the starting XI during last May's UEFA Champions League final. However, he has seemingly fallen out of favor this season and continual knocks have prevented him from fighting for first-choice status. He is expected to return soon.
* Phil Jones - The versatile youngster is more than capable of playing as a center-back, right-back, holding-midfielder, or box-to-box midfielder. His unavailability is supposedly due to 'illness' but he received a blow in the Fulham that had him woozy and forced him to come off. Jones is reportedly possible for Blackburn on Saturday. I believe this since Phil Jones is unbreakable.
* Anderson - The Brazilian midfielder was off to a tremendous start this season until his form began to fade. Nonetheless, he is a valuable squad member and especially so to a side that lacks quality depth in central-midfield. Ando is expected to return sometime in February from his knee injury.
* Darren Fletcher - The energetic midfielder has been battling illness for the past year or so and it has finally forced him to sit out indefinitely. There are concerns that his debilitating ulcerative colitis might force the end of his top-flight career. I put the versatile midfielder on the right-side of the midfield -- a role he played well last season during the match at Stamford Bridge in a shuttling role.
* Tom Cleverley - The youngster impressed early and despite only appearing 8 times this season, many feel his absence is the biggest reason for United's overall lackluster quality this season in central-midfield. This is the second time he's been sidelined this season due to injury but he's expected to return soon. I put him out on the left side due to his past versatility -- he played on the left quite often last season while on loan to Wigan Athletic.
* Ashley Young - Young has mostly been used as a winger during his short time at Old Trafford but he performed well last season for Aston Villa when was deployed 'in the hole' behind Darren Bent. Most of the injuries are in defense and midfield so the versatilie Young will play behind Michael Owen in this unavailable XI.
* Michael Owen - I know, it's not exactly shocking that Owen is on this list because of injury. The 5th choice United striker likely could still start for a number of Premier League teams due to the quality that he still possesses. Playing as a lone striker isn't ideal for Owen but his recent propensity to drop deep in order to link play would allow for space in behind him for midfield runners -- Young, Ando, Jones, and Cleverley.
Would you change where these players are deployed and/or shape? Where do you think this XI could hypothetically finish in the Premier League assuming they could play in every match? -- an ironic hypothetical I suppose.