After securing a place in the group stages of the Champions League United turned their attention back to domestic matters with a game against Swansea City in south Wales. This was the last game before the international break, and whilst a game with a side against whom United have struggled recently following favourable results the day before it was an opportunity to move into second place in the league.


In: Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger.
Out: Carrick and Januzaj.


  • United started the game well, they passed well with conviction and at a high tempo for the first 20 minutes. Thereafter the tempo of their passing dropped and the ball took too long to reach the attacking third.
  • United’s measured build-up play and slow delivery to the attacking zone means that players tend to drop deep to help recycle play. When the ball was then delivered into the box United were outnumbered.
  • United lacked pace and runs in behind the Swansea defence in attack.
  • Luke Shaw is a threat going forward, but he has to be careful not to over commit. When Swansea changed shape after United’s goal the game became stretched and Shaw was twice caught out of position leaving space on the United right from where Swansea delivered two crosses leading to two goals.
  • Plan B did not work. After introducing Fellaini United delivered quicker ball to the front, but far too many long passes were inaccurate.


Both teams started this game in a 4-2-3-1 shape but it was United who dominated the early play. United paired Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin as the double pivot with Herrera behind Rooney as the number 10. United dominated possession from the off, moved the ball around quickly and passed early. They penned Swansea in and pressed. As a consequence most of the play was in the Swansea half. The problem was however that United didn’t create many shooting opportunities. Swansea were stretched but they just about coped and United lacked that cutting edge in the final third. Throughout this period it was noticeable that Taylor and Routledge doubled up on Darmian and this prevented the full-back from contributing by moving forward as much as he has in other games. They were able to do this because Mata, as ever, came inside.

1st half 1852292

First half team shape and Rooney; still struggling for form

This pattern remained unchanged for about 25 minutes until Swansea enjoyed a couple of breakaway chances. At this point the tempo of United’s play dropped and this seemed to further allow Swansea a foothold in the game. As Swansea came into the game it was noticeable that Gomis whenever possible looked to target Blind in the inside right channel, and when he was successful in doing so his pace and power led to problems for the United man leading to most of Swansea’s better moments.

United were still controlling the game but to be kind their passing could be described as measured rather than a more realistic description as lacking urgency. Little was happening in the final third with Rooney dropping deep when they did advance into the forward area they were usually outnumbered and now passing at a slower pace Swansea were more easily able to cope.

Halftime arrived with the score still 0-0. Swansea had had the best chance when Gomis hit the outside of the post.


At the start of the second half United picked up the tempo of their passing again and instantly looked to be carrying more of a threat. Then on 48 minutes they scored.

This goal came from a burst forward by Shaw on the left. He outpaced the Swansea defence and whipped in a cross which Rooney missed. The act of Rooney missing the ball seemed to put the Swansea defence off and the ball travelled through to the far post beyond Ashley Williams where Mata arrived to shoot home. Boom!

Immediately after this goal United could have doubled their lead when Herrera picked up a pass threaded inside from wide on the left. He in turn threaded a pass through for Mata who should have scored. Instead it was Swansea who equalized.

Swansea manager Gary Monk made a substitution. United was controlling possession in the middle of the park so he chose to withdraw Routledge and introduce Ki changing shape from the 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 diamond. This did two things; firstly it allowed Swansea to play two out and out forwards effectively making it easier to isolate Blind against Gomis and secondly it allowed Swansea to outnumber United in the middle of the pitch and so compete for a greater share of possession. What this also meant was that there was now space outside the diamond which United’s fullbacks could attack. We would be speculating if we said that this was the reason that Shaw was twice caught out of position as Swansea broke; Shaw had made a number of surging runs forward prior to this change, including the move for the United goal, but there is a lesson here. Don’t over commit. United failed to adapt to Swansea’s change in approach both in terms of team shape and in terms of their level of adventurousness.

Swansea’s first goal came after 61 minutes when Ki found space on the Swansea right with Shaw caught upfield as Rooney lost the ball. His cross was met by Ayew who headed beyond Romero.

Within 4 minutes Swansea had scored again, and again Shaw was caught upfield. Again the ball came in from the right, this time a threaded pass beyond Smalling was met by Gomis who ran at goal. Romero came and hesitated allowing the Swansea centre-forward to shoot past him at his near post. Romero should have done better.

2nd half        1440953031-f2cbe58eefab864be67d44e78855ed81-600x423

Second half shape after the first changes and Shaw; over adventurous?

Van Gaal’s response on 69 minutes was to with draw Mata and Schneiderlin and introduce Carrick and Young. Young was positioned on the right, Carrick moved to the left hand side of the pivot and Schweinsteiger switched to the right. Young, as at Brugge stayed wide and demonstrated an increased propensity to run at the Swansea back line. He delivered a number of crosses from here but to little effect because of United’s lack of numbers in the box. In this game Memphis had been fairly ineffectual with his tendency to come inside crowding the centre of the pitch.

Late 2nd half   Swansea City v Manchester United - Barclays Premier League

 United shape late in the game after the introduction of Fellaini

On 75 minutes Van Gaal removed Herrera and introduced Fellaini. United now looked to play long passes towards Fellaini who was occupying the inside right channel. Rooney dropped deeper and looked to play off Fellaini but unfortunately the majority of United’s long passes were inaccurate. United should have equalized however through Rooney when he was played through the centre of the pitch beyond Williams. Rooney delayed his shot and allowed Williams to get a tackle in. As a consequence the score remained 1-2 and United suffered their first defeat of the season.


This was a disappointing result and in truth a disappointing performance. For whilst United controlled long periods of the game they currently look toothless in attack. In part this is because of a lack of pace and presence in the final third and in part because their slow deliberate build-up play is simply too measured to trouble a half decent premier league defence. To hurt people United need to mix it up, deliver quicker passes to the front and refrain from continually re-cycling possession back and sideways.

Match statistics

Match statistics

In post match interviews Van Gaal commented that United played well and created chances. A stated they controlled the game and created a number of half chances but are not currently creating enough clear cut chances. The law of averages then dictates that United they won’t score many goals and a lack of a clinical cutting edge is further reducing the number. However much possession United have they need to score more for if you don’t score when you are on top at some point in the game the opposition will have a good spell and if their belief has grown because of your ineffectiveness then they will take encouragement and at that point you are vulnerable. If as happened here the opposition takes their chances at this point all your control, all your possession will count for nothing.