Mark Lawrenson believes that with the return of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, Manchester United will shore up their defence in time to present a tough challenge for Manchester City this weekend.

Excitement over the Manchester derby has reached an all-time high once more, with both clubs cementing their places at the top of the table and the title race looking likely to go down to the wire again.

United have often had to come from behind to win this season, with their match against Reading at the weekend the ninth time they've had to do so in 22 games across all leagues.

And Lawrenson believes that with the side's defenders making their comebacks from injury, as the likes of Smalling, Jones and Nemanja Vidic get back to match fitness, they will pose a threat to City's current unbeaten record.

"It's now 10 times this season that Manchester United have conceded first," he said in the Daily Mirror. "Seven times [in the league] they have come back to win.

Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling's return will serve as a boost Manchester United this weekend, Mark Lawrenson argues.

"It leaves things nicely balanced for next weekend's Manchester derby.

"City are unbeaten in 37 games there and have the best defence in the Premier League. But United, with Robin van Persie, can shoot their way out of trouble.

"When Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are fit, along with Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, I don't think we will be looking at that defence being leaky anymore."

United faltered to City when it mattered last season, negating a three point advantage on the table that eventually saw them lose the title on goal difference to their bitter rivals.

This time around, Sir Alex Ferguson is desperate to show that their last match-up was merely a glitch for the English giants, who will be having to deal with added pressure of the Champions League as the season continues, while City can concentrate on the league after being assured a group stage exit.