SWANSEA CITY vs MANCHESTER UNITED
After mid-week defeat in Turkey United returned to Premier League action with an away game at struggling Swansea. With six teams above them in the league playing each other over the weekend his was an opportunity for United to make up both points and places.
In: Young, Jones, Carrick, Fellaini, Mata and Ibrahimovic.
Out: Blind, Shaw, Herrera, Schneierlin, Rashford and Martial.
- This was an easy win for United for Swansea City were very poor, especially in the first half. Having said that United will be pleased to record their first Premier League win in six weeks and there were a number of outstanding individual performances.
- On such performance was by Michael Carrick who provided a calm presence at the base of the midfield in the 4-3-3 shape. He controlled the tempo of the play, screened the defence and notably provided the vertical passes from the deep which allowed United to develop play in a controlled manner.
- Wayne Rooney was also excellent here. Playing as a wide left attacker he combined well with Ibrahimovic but the difference was that he was a dynamic presence chasing the loose ball down but also running with the ball when in possession and playing seemingly without thinking.
- In the second half Swansea changed shape introducing two quick wide player. This allowed them to press United across United’s defensive line and prevented Darmian and Young getting forward. United were still in control but with a three goal lead they did not have to make a significant effort to adjust to this and became complaint. This allowed Swansea to have a good spell and to score a goal.
- Paul Pogba and Mata had great games and Fellaini was quietly effective. All together United’s spine looked strong and their midfield looked better balanced than in recent games.
Perhaps as a reaction to the defeat in Turkey or perhaps as a consequence of player non-availability, (for whatever reason), United made 7 changes from the previous game. In for the first time in 10 months came Phil Jones to play alongside Rojo at the centre of defence. Darmian swapped sides from right to left back and Young came in as right back. In midfield Carrick came in as the deepest player with Pogba further forward to the left and Fellaini to the right. The shape was a definite 4-3-3 with Rooney wide on the left and Mata on the right. In the defensive phase this pair would drop back to create a 4-1-4-1 shape. The worry was that none of these three have genuine pace. Swansea formed up as a 4-4-2.
United’s attacking and defensive shapes throughout the match
Right from the start United took control of the game and moved the ball about at a good tempo. Swansea appeared flat footed and reactive rather than proactive. United certainly took the initiative pressing Swansea when they had the ball. United were helped in this by Swansea’s loose passing. Swansea usually dropped deep when United had the ball resulting in their shape becoming more of a 6-4-0. This meant that there was little pressure on the ball and players had time and space to look up and pick passes. Most noticeable was that United players had time and space in a zone about 25-35 yards in front of the Swansea goal. All United’s goals in this game came from that time or space, whether because players were unchallenged or challenges were loose and ineffectual.
A pleasing feature of United’s play here was the movement and link play of Mata and Rooney. Both played narrow in the half spaces either side of Ibrahimovic and from here as the ball was fed into them they would turn and run into these channels combining with each other or Pogba, Fellaini or Ibrahimovic. Passing and movement was good and whilst Swansea allowed United time they didn’t take it, instead passing at a good tempo through one and two touch moves.
Behind this was the calming influence of the majestic Michael Carrick. He had a superb game screening the defence and directing the focus of United’s forward movement from the back. Carrick was a more static presence but he showed good press resistance and provided probing vertical passes which took the ball away from the danger zone to start a move. But he only did this when the pass was on. If it wasn’t he inter-passed with centre-backs and full backs until the opportunity arose. This however was all done with a sense of purpose which ensured that United retained possession.
Width for United in the first half was provided by the fullbacks, Darmian and Young getting forward. The advanced midfield and forward line tended to stay fairly narrow, perhaps with the exception of Pogba who seemed to have been granted a freer role. This left space in the wide areas for the fullbacks to exploit.
United’s first goal came on 14 minutes. Good possession play at the back eventually saw a long pass into Rooney in the inside left channel. He chipped the ball back to Ibrahimovic who contested a header, (a half-hearted challenge by the Swansea player). The ball dropped awkwardly to Pogba unchallenged about 30 yards out. He drilled the spinning ball into the corner of the goal on the volley doing well to keep the shot down. Boom! 1-0.
Goals change games, but not here as United remained on top and scored again after 21 minutes. This time Rojo delivered the forward pass to Rooney, again on the left. He doubled back and laid a pass inside to Ibrahimovic. Zlatan sidestepped another half-hearted challenge this time around 25 yards out and fired low into the goal. The pattern of this goal was slow deliberate passing around the back and then a sudden injection of pace as the ball was moved forward. Boom! 2-0.
United were everywhere now, especially Pogba as they took complete control Mata was now tending to move further inside from the right and with Pogba also moving towards his left this made United attack very lop-sided. Pogba was directing the play in advanced areas and Carrick was doing the same in the deeper areas.
United scroed again in the 33rd minute after another long pass this time from De Gea saw Ibrahimovic cushion the ball into Rooney’s feet, he returned the pass into the inside left channel, a dynamic 1-2 and Ibrahimovic evaded another ineffectual challenge to fire home on the run. Three goals, three long passes to the inside left area, a lack of pressure or ineffectual challenges for the ball and three goals. Boom! 3-0.
United had played very well in this half even if Swansea’s performance had been fairly benign. United had played at a good tempo throughout and had been dynamic with good movement both on and off the ball. But they have played like this on a number of occasions recently against modest sides, notably Stoke City and Burnley. The difference here though was end product.
Swansea made a double substitution at half time introducing Barrow and Montero for Routledge and Llorente. These players are quick wingers and Swansea also changed from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 shape. Sigurdsson moved to the central striker role. This changed thing a little as it allowed Swansea to press more effectively when United had the ball at the back. Carrick et al had less time and space in deep areas. United remained on top in the game although they now had to work a little harder in their own half. This pressing also prevented United’s fullbacks getting forward as often.
Swansea now looked to be carrying a threat as a force on the breakaway. United were still in control of the game and with a three gaol lead very secure. Perhaps they were a little too secure as they seemed to be playing within themselves now. The certainly weren’t busting a gut to score again. Add to this that Swansea were working far harder as a team, pressing and covering so that United’s didn’t really look that likely to score again early in the second half.
The Swansea got a goal back in the 69th minute. This came from a free kick Van der Hoorn losing his marker, (Fellaini), to power home a free header. 1-3. Swansea now had a reasonable spell for about ten minutes with Montero and Barrow proving a handful for Young and Darmian as Swansea worked the ball wide quickly. Montero looked especially good at this point. Both full backs coped but their opportunities to push forward themselves were restricted. This inevitably made United’s attacking play look very narrow at times.
United’s fullback’s action areas in the first half and then in the second half. More attacking in the first, more defensive in the second after the introduction of Montero and Barrow
As a response on 81 minutes Jose Mourinho introduced Lingard for Mata. Lingard tended to stay further right than Mata and his fresh legs made a difference. Whilst Swansea looked a better side after their goal with a greater level of energy and purpose they provided minimal threat to United who maintained the lion’s share of possession. The Reds made two late substitutions to run down the clock; Schneiderlin for Rooney on 89 minutes and Fosu-Mensah for Pogba in injury time.
Post-match many have pointed out how poor Swansea were, especially in the first hour of this game, and this is true. For United however this was nevertheless a good and solid display. United passed the ball well even if there was rarely pressure on the ball in that first hour. The challenge is to maintain those patterns of play when the opposition is more competitive.
In the second half when Swansea changed their shape United were still able to maintain control although as an attacking force they were less effective. Was this because they had a three goal lead and had taken their foot off the throttle.
Michael Carrick was excellent here. We know he can play this way in more competitive contests. He provided a calm controlling presence at the base of midfield. Screening the defence, he is United’s most press resistant player in this role and perhaps the only deep lying midfield player who can consistently provide the effective vertical passes which can move United forward early opening teams up from the deep. He provided a platform which allowed Pogba, Mata and Rooney to pass and move further forward. Fellaini filled the gaps in these high areas as these three moved.
Above all though this was a welcome three points.