Post Fergie and in the short United careers of Moyes and Van Gaal games against Swansea have been quite defining; the Moyes 4-1, the FA Cup exit and the home defeat for Van Gaal. With the race for the third and fourth league positions becoming ever closer it was hoped that this game wouldn’t be quite so defining.


In: McNair and Jones.
Out: Valencia and Smalling


  • Swansea matched United’s formation, diamond for diamond. Man-marked, our players often struggled.
  • The space in front of the right fullback was where Swansea took the initiative, mainly through Shelvey.
  • United piled on the pressure in the final third but didn’t make it count – 202 v 79 final third passes!
  • The poor form of United’s strikers is a concern – take the chances things will improve.
  • Was United’s goal a glimpse of the type of play Van Gaal wants? Fast passing, one or two touch and good movement. If so, next season can’t come quick enough!
  • Swansea’s play was focused on their right with plenty of long passes into the area of Shaw.
  • Let’s keep some perspective; this was our 2nd loss in 20 matches.


This game was notable for the identical formations, a diamond versus a diamond as Swansea central four man marked United’s.

First Half  B-YKmUtCMAAprrW

What made this interesting was how it nullified much of United’s early play but it also saw Swansea take the initiative by utilising the space in front of United’s right fullback whenever they gained possession. That was effectively the space behind the outside players in United’s diamond. In addition to Sigurdsson pulling off Gomis with the livewire Routledge, the key player was Shelvey who often had far too much space. This was in part a consequence of poor positioning and a lack of awareness from United’s defenders, Jones in particular.

United Heat Map - space behind the diamond and in front of defenders

United Heat Map – space behind the diamond and in front of defenders

Gomis’ height was an issue and it was concerning to see how often he wasn’t picked up at set pieces. As well as defenders who can carry and play with the ball United also need more commanding defenders.

Whilst such concerns persist at the back it is the front line which is most in need of a boost. Consider these statistics for our strikers Rooney and Van Persie:-

  • Van Persie – 7 shots / 5 off target / 1 saved / 1 hitting the woodwork
  • Rooney – 3 shots / 1 off target / 1 saved / 1 blocked / 3 chances created

This simply isn’t good enough. The need for clinical finishing is obvious and whilst such statistics persist then results will still be hard to come by; confidence must be low. This is especially so away from home where teams will naturally commit fewer players forward. The onus then is even more on them to score the goals. To some extent this helps to explain United’s poor away record this season.

That somber reflection aside, United did score a goal which gives hope for the future. It was a perfect goal in terms of tempo, speed, clinical passing which destroyed the Swansea formation.  This was not an easy chance for Herrera to take but the buildup play was a joy to behold. Herrera started the move in the centre circle, a quick interchange with di Maria and Fellaini saw Shaw run free down United’s left to centre to Rooney, he instantly turned back laying the ball off to di Maria whose first time pass into the overlapping path of Herrera allowed a precise first time shot into the far corner across the goalkeeper. Boom! (This one was almost worth two Booms). 1-0, 28 minutes played.

The joy didn’t last long as two minutes later Ki Sung-yueng scored after Shelvey again exploited the space behind the diamond and had time to cross into Ki who found it too easy to get in front of Shaw and knick it past De Gea.  Where was Jones?

Shelvey space - too much space was left for Swansea in these areas

Shelvey space – too much space was left for Swansea in these areas

Half time 1-1.


Van Gaal brought Valencia on for McNair perhaps in an attempt to address the deep positioning in the right back position, push on to Shelvey who had been enjoying lots of time in possession. Ironically this may have led to the space Shelby had for the second goal where he’d switched over to the United left.

Valencia on for McNair

Valencia on for McNair

Near the hour mark Young was brought on for Shaw presumably to deliver greater attacking intent but this may also have been to close down the space behind the diamond on this side as well. With Young and Valencia pushing on we saw Blind take up a much deeper role.  Shaw had struggled to deal with the long passes and the runs across him made by Ki. Blind’s reaction to one instancew as evidence of this.

Swansea Heat Map  Swansea long passes

Swansea heat map and long passes chart

The second goal was scored on the 73rd minute and again Shelvey found himself in acres of space. Who was marking Shelby as the United midfield had been dragged over to their right hand side?

Swansea’s second goal saw a repeat of Shelby not being picked up

Swansea’s second goal saw a repeat of Shelby not being picked up

United dominated possession in this second period but did not do enough with in. Chances created were half chances rather than the clear cut variety. Then on 79 minutes Mata came on for Di Maria. The problem was that as United changed the game they felt inclined to keep Fellaini in a high position so Mata was positioned far too deep to be effective. He couldn’t hurt Swansea from here, the change proved ineffective and Swansea played the game out to achieve their first ever double over United.

United overall player positions

United overall player positions


With Van Persie’s injury does Van Gaal opt for a new frontline combination? Would a Wilson and Rooney partnership see greater attacking intent, movement, pace and space creation?

What next up front? A Wilson and Rooney combination?

What next up front? A Wilson and Rooney combination?

The diamond was exposed in a defensive sense and this explains why Van Gaal has played Rooney there, deeper, in previous games as he has the nous to assess danger better than others. He has also shown a positional discipline this season over and above what we have seen from him in the past.

United’s away form is an issue and without speedy forwards who can take chances then it may be difficult to see this improving.

The defence, not just Shaw, showed poor positioning however it was Shaw’s positioning which led to goals and near misses for Swansea.

Post-match Rooney talked of the need for an improved performance in the next game. No doubt but time has come for the talking to stop and the action to begin!