MANCHESTER UNITED VS SWANSEA CITY
This was the last home game of the season and after the announcement of his retirement Sir Alex Ferguson’s last home game as United manager. It was an emotional and bittersweet occasion. It was also the last occasion Old Trafford would see Paul Scholes in competitive action.
In: De Gea, Ferdinand, Kagawa, Carrick, Vidic, Welbeck and Hernandez.
Out: Lindegaard, Rafael, Evans, Valencia, Anderson, Giggs and Cleverley.
– Swansea were unlucky, they were generally the sharper side, they moved well on and off the ball, played early passes and with a little more luck would have won. They were undone by poor defending on two set pieces.
– This game will not be remembered for the United performance but for the emotion of the occasion. That said it demonstrated a classic characteristic of a Sir Alex Ferguson United side, flexibility. United changed shape roughly every fifteen minutes. It needs to be recognized however that this was in an attempt to negate Swansea’s enterprise.
– Another characteristic of a Sir Alex side was also demonstrated and that is the ability to win when not playing well.
For this game Sir Alex made wholesale changes from the team that faced Chelsea seven days before. Jones dropped back to right fullback. Carrick and Scholes occupied central midfield with Kagawa narrow to the right and Welbeck narrow to the left. Hernandez and van Persie occupied the front positions as United started in a 4-4-2 shape. Swansea started as a fluid 4-2-3-1, although at times with their wide advanced midfield players pushing on this became a shape closer to a 4-3-3. Swansea’s approach did not change throughout the game.
Inevitably with a trophy presentation to come post match and with the added emotion generated by Sir Alex and Paul Scholes retirement the party atmosphere seemed to distract United and it seemed to took a little while before they realized that there was a football contest to win. Swansea made much the better start. They were sharp, passed early and moved well both on and off the ball. There football was noticeably played at a higher tempo to United’s. Michu was a threat up front and Britton orchestrated the direction of their play from deep. The danger here was that Carrick and Scholes might get overrun in central midfield and perhaps this was the reason that both Kagawa and Welbeck were so narrow. Carrick was playing noticeably higher than usual and tended to push onto Britton. Were United trying to press Swansea? If they were they had some success with a couple of good chances coming from situations where United won the ball high up the field; from one such chance Hernandez hit the bar. But generally Swansea was on top.
Around the fifteen-minute mark Sir Alex changed United’s shape reverting to a 4-3-3. Kagawa now moved alongside Scholes in central midfield, Carrick played further forward, still trying to press Britton. Van Persie moved to the left, Hernandez played as the central striker and Welbeck played on the right. Sir Alex was clearly worried about the ease with which Swansea were working the ball through the center of the pitch. United’s shape was now very narrow with lots of space for Swansea’s wide advanced midfield players, Dyer and Pablo to attack. This caused United some problems with Swansea enjoying a number of quick breakaway moves into wide areas, although generally the match was more even with United now able to compete in the centre of the pitch.
Perhaps in an attempt to negate this danger Sir Alex again changed United’s shape and for the last quarter of an hour of the first half United reverted to a 4-3-1-2 shape. To achieve this shape Welbeck dropped deep alongside Scholes and Kagawa moved further to the right. Carrick stayed in an unusually advanced position close to Britton and van Persie moved infield, closer to Hernandez to form an attacking pair. The consequences of these changes were that whilst United pressed Britton, Welbeck and Kagawa were never very far from Dyer or Pablo.
What was clear from all these changes was that Laudrup and Swansea were setting the agenda. This wasn’t going to stop United on a day like this and Boom! After 39 minutes United scored. This goal came from a free-kick, badly defended by Swansea. Van Persie’s delivery beat the first defender and bounced off Williams who had perhaps thought his colleague would reach it. The ball fell to the feet of Hernandez who finished cleanly. This was harsh on Swansea who had generally been on top but went in a goal down at half time.
As the second half started United again changed their shape. Was Sir Alex responding to the match situation or was he simply having a bit of tactical fun by demonstrating to us all the versatility of his team. This isn’t a serious question he was of course responding to the match situation. With a goal lead United reverted to a 4-3-3 shape for the first twenty minutes of the second half. Unlike the 4-3-3 in the first half United now played with a single pivot (Scholes) and Carrick and Kagawa played in slightly more advanced positions Kagawa to the right and Carrick to the left. The front three reverted to the positions they occupied in the middle of the first half. Again the consequences of this was that United were narrow and Swansea again had success attacking the wide areas. United’s defending was also fairly indecisive, to the point of being sloppy and after they had failed to clear several crosses Michu score to equalize with a late run and sharp finish meeting a cross from the Swansea right after 49 minutes.
Despite the equalizer Sir Alex left things as they were and Swansea had a good period at the start of the second half; might have scored again. It wasn’t until the 65 minute that Sir Alex decided to make a change, and that being a double substitution it also resulted in a further change of shape.
Scholes was removed to a standing ovation in his last home game. The ‘Ginger Prince’ is probably the most accomplished player I have ever seen in a United shirt; this wasn’t his best performance, but many others will live long in the memory. Welbeck was also removed and Valencia and Anderson were introduced. Carrick now dropped deeper and Anderson played ahead of him in central midfield. Kagawa moved to the left and Valencia to the right as United reverted to a 4-4-2; close to the shape with which they had started the game.
Ten minutes later Sir Alex removed Hernandez and introduced Giggs. He moved to the left hand side and Kagawa moved into the center to partner van Persie. This shape was now almost a 4-2-3-1, but for the fact that Kagawa was higher than you would expect in this shape. United retained this shape for the last fifteen minutes.
Despite all these changes Swansea remained the better side throughout the second half, as they had been for much of the first. There play remained sharp and enterprising. They passed early and moved well. It was a relief when Michu was removed after 74 minutes as he had cause problems all afternoon. Playing as the high front man he had been the focal point of the attack whilst he had also dropped deep on plenty of occasions to link play well.
On 87 minutes United got a corner and when the ball cleared everyone to reach the edge of the six yard box beyond the far post it was met by Ferdinand and Boom! He crashed a powerful shot off his shin into the net.
Again this was tough on Swansea who had been the better team throughout. They had been undone by two set pieces.
This was rally about the occasion rather than the performance. United didn’t play particularly well but they somehow managed to force a win to help celebrate the final competitive games for Paul Scholes and the last home match in charge for Sir Alex.
Swansea played very well, the result was tough on them and they showed that their success in winning the league Cup and finishing in the top half of the table is merited.