First-time title winners for Manchester United

Posted by Mark Payne

Clive Mason/Getty ImagesDavid De Gea shrugged off criticism en route to a first title

Manchester United's latest title triumph has been secured on the back of Robin van Persie's goals, Sir Alex Ferguson's determination and a latterly tight defence. In amongst an experienced squad of internationals and stalwarts, such as Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand, United will be dishing out seven medals to new winners at the end of the season. We run the rule over the contribution each has made to title number 20.

David de Gea

The barrage of criticism de Gea faced before Christmas was unseemly at times. In many ways, it reached a nadir when he conceded a late equaliser against Tottenham and was dissected by former United defender, now TV pundit, Gary Neville during his post-match analysis.

Since then, the Spaniard has barely put a foot wrong. He has thoroughly seen off the challenge of Anders Lindergaard, physically bulked up and kept six consecutive clean sheets. His 27 starts so far have formed the bedrock of a defence that has grown in maturity as the season has progressed.

Phil Jones

The expectations being placed on Phil Jones right now are enormous. "He'll be one of the all time greats" said Fergie recently. Jones's season in numbers is not all that impressive, with 11 starts and zero goals.

However, he missed the opening of the campaign through injury and has been moved around from right-back, to centre-back and into defensive midfield. It is difficult to shine when you aren't allowed to specialise.

In the first leg against Real Madrid, Jones was deployed specifically to reduce the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo and did a splendid job. On other occasions, his surges forward have brought fans to their feet.

Sir Alex Ferguson is not one to overstate things and the suspicion remains that Jones could become immense. He will need to stay injury-free in future in order to reach his potential though.

Shinji Kagawa

Kagawa is another player whose campaign has been blighted by injury. What United fans have seen of Japan international though, whets the appetite. With only fifteen starts this season, the former Bundesliga player of the year is not satisfied with the return from his first season in Manchester and has promised more for the future.

Kagawa has the best eye for a pass of anyone in the squad and his hat-trick against Norwich revealed a bloodthirsty goal instinct too. Could very well be next year's player of the season.

Robin van Persie

It must be tough on Arsenal fans to watch Van Persie fit so seamlessly into the United set up. He plays like he has Manchester in his veins and has undoubtedly won them the championship.

Danny Welbeck

It has not been an auspicious season for Welbeck and his position faces the fiercest competition in the team with Wayne Rooney, Kagawa, van Persie and Javier Hernandez all in contention.

Whilst Welbeck has started twelve games and appeared as a substitute in fourteen others, he has only managed to score one league goal. Scoring against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu was a highlight, but he needs to score more.

Tom Cleverley

Cleverley has really come on this season and has clearly learned a lot from playing regularly alongside Michael Carrick. He could perhaps add more goals to his game but the one he netted against Newcastle suggests that the potential is there. However, he needs to be careful not to start believing his own hype, and there is the suggestion that he is fond of the trappings of fame.

Almost an ever present for England under manager Roy Hodgson, which speaks volumes, or does it?

Ashley Young

Ashley Young is now a title winner but has failed to dazzle this season. With Nani inconsistent and Antonio Valencia experiencing a horrible season this was really Young's chance to light up the wings.

Instead, Fergie started playing a wingless diamond formation and packed his midfield in several fixtures. Even Rooney has been played wide right on occasion. Young played well against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in October, but has done little else.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne

ESPN Conversations