Monday, 13 January 2014

Manchester United steady the ship against the Swans

Starting 2014 with 3 straight home defeats, it certainly hasn't been a happy new year for David Moyes and Manchester United so far this season. The FA cup win for Swansea last weeke
nd was their first at Old Trafford for 83 years. Could they repeat this result in the premier league?

Born in the early 90s, I have grown up seeing Manchester United win trophy after trophy both in Europe and in domestic competitions and I have always been naive to think that this would continue forever. However these are very different times for the red devils. The 1-4 win against today's opponents in the opening day of the season made it look like the transition from Fergie to Moyes was going to be seamless, although this has been far from the case. The problems for Manchester United have been there for all to see. Only 4 wins from 10 premier league games and only 6 goals from the midfield this season just hasn't been good enough by the English champions.

I certainly don't feel Moyes helped himself by bringing Fellaini into the club. At the time I felt it was a panic buy. It was difficult to see where he would fit into the team and has been a difficult transition for him and David Moyes. United are not simply a couple of players off being a great team again, but need a complete overhaul of the current team. The team doesn't have the "x-factor" it used to have and the pictures before the game of the Swansea players sharing jokes and seeming relaxed in the tunnel reflected for me the lack of fear teams used to have standing opposite the likes of Ronaldo, Keane, Beckham, Scholes etc. before the game. Apart from Rooney and RVP, you would struggle to think of many players that could break into the City starting 11 for example. When Rooney and RVP have started together since August 2012, they have lost just once. When neither play, they have lost 10 games. RVP has scored half of United's goals this season showing how much they have missed a player of his caliber. However, despite the gloom over Old Trafford, there have been glimmers of light from the impressive Januzaj and also Welbeck who is on a goal scoring run of 5 goals in 5 games. However, when asked in the pre-match interview of what team he has gone with, Moyes responding with "I've gone with what I got" suggests he lacks option and highlights the desperate need to recruit new players in the summer. Despite only half the season gone, it's hard to deny that Manchester United have little chance of retaining the premier league title being 12 points adrift of leaders Chelsea and that the club needs to start NOW looking towards the rebuilding process in the summer.  

Despite the never-ending list of problems at Manchester United, their opponents Swansea were certainly not short of problems themselves: only 4 points off the bottom of the Premier League and having an increasingly large injury list. Although the Swans have had a glimmering light of their own in the form of Wilfried Bony. A very strong striker who can score all types of goals and is a danger Manchester United need to track and be well-aware of after his last minute winning goal at Old Trafford last weekend.

Two changes were made by David Moyes with Carrick returning to the midfield in place of Cleverly and Chris Smalling being pushed into the middle of the defense alongside Vidic. The amount of injuries picked the Swansea team for itself with Tremmel continuing in goal for the injured Vorm and Canas replacing De Guzman. Davies, Williams and Rangel however all returned back in defense for Swansea. Manchester United haven't lost at home for 3 consecutive games for over 50 years, so there was no doubt pressure was on United to gain a result and after the tough press over the past week towards the players, everyone expected a response.

The game started as an open affair with half chances for both teams in the early moments. Swansea showed excellent promise in only the fourth minute when Shelvey picked out a good run from Rangel, but a poor first touch allowed the ball to run away and what could have been a great chance on goal had gone. Soon after, Shelvey found himself in a promising position outside the box, but could only shoot straight at De Gea. Swansea were certainly in no mood to make life easy for United. Only a couple of minutes later United had chances of their own. Vidic could only snap at a shot which fell nicely 6 yards out over the bar and Januzaj who was very unlucky to hit the bar off a superb free kick.

Swansea are probably the worst team to play under pressure as their ability to dominate possession can easily frustrate opposition supporters. With Swansea happy to retain the ball in ineffective areas as well as United giving the ball away cheaply, you could feel the anxiety and frustration growing around Old Trafford as Swansea continued to dominate possession in the first half. However, possession doesn't necessarily translate into results. Swansea have had more possession than any other team this season, but their precarious position in the table will suggest this doesn't always guarantee results. The only player who seemed to have a creative spark for Swansea was Pozuelo who was very i
mpressive for Swansea in the first half. Always looked comfortable on the ball, willing to run at the United players and seemed to be everywhere on the pitch. A real impressive talent and a player football fans should watch out for in the remainder of the season.

It seemed that the first half was starting to go the same way other games have gone at Old Trafford this season with the game drifting by with very few chances and with other teams winning the game late on against United, there needed to be more of an urgency by United to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Carrick on the half hour mark took a quick free kick to provide Evra with an excellent opportunity on the left to pick out someone with a low cross, but could only find the hands of the Swansea goalkeeper. But finally some urgency shown by United and only 5 minutes later came United's best chance of the half. Good work by Valencia picked out the overlapping Rafael, squaring the ball to Welbeck who could only drag his shot wide of the post from 12 yards out. Should have been 1-0 and as an England fan I couldn't help think that when it comes to the world cup, our England strikers can't be missing opportunities like those.

An uninspiring first half came to an end and with only 34% possession it seemed Manchester United were no closer to breaking the rut at home. Januzaj frittered in and out of the game showing some good moments and Welbeck of course had a golden opportunity. Swansea played well having good possession, but were almost guilty of doing too many passes in the final third. Moyes had plenty to ponder at half time. Flecther and Carrick were almost instinctively sitting too deep, probably due to the recent poor performance; one of them needed to push forward in the second half to create a more positive United. This need to be more positive could also be applied to Swansea who could perhaps be braver in the second half and push more players into the box.

Most of Swansea's goals have been scored after half time this season so a definite need for United to up the anti second half and they couldn't have started better. Only one minute in and Januzaj provides a fantastic cross for Kagawa on the back post, who heads across goal and Tremmel could only parry the ball to Valencia who had an easy tap-in. 1-0 and you could feel the relief pour out at Old Trafford.

The goal suddenly gave Manchester United a surge of confidence and looked more relaxed after seeming edgy and over-careful in the first half. United had more rhythm and momentum to their play. The suttle change of pushing Januzaj out wide and moving Kagawa into the number 10 role which he was more accustomed to when at Dortmund proved to be a genius move and credit has to be given to Moyes. Januzaj continued to threaten out wide on 51 minutes when he threaded a lovely pass to Evra, where the low cross agonisingly fell behind both Welbeck and Kagawa. United were suddenly seeing more of the ball than they saw throughout the whole first half and Evra in particular looked very dangerous with his overlapping runs on the left.

Just short of the hour mark the revitalised United claimed their second goal and the two star players of the second half were both involved. A great whipped ball by Januzaj was headed out by the Swans only for Evra to react first on the edge of the box where his tame shot was very cleverly flicked in by Welbeck. That's 6 goals in 6 premier league games and the scoring run continues for Danny Welbeck.

Soon after Smalling was guilty of missing a sitter at the back post. Swansea cleared their lines off a corner, only for a pass back in left Kagawa in acres of space on the edge of the box and found Smalling on the back post, who somehow found a way to volley over the bar from a couple of yards out. Shocking miss and United would be guilty of doing the same after 76 mins when a counter attack by United from a Swansea corner allowed Kagawa through on goal, but his attempt was eventually cleared off the line after trying to be too delicate with his finish.

Swansea still looked comfortable on the ball and if they could put more bodies into the box, then they could perhaps make United regret missing those brilliant chances by Smalling and Kagawa and could make it a nervy affair. However it wasn't to be and the full time whistle was blown with a sigh of relief rather than a cheer around Old Trafford. Bony was particularly disappointing for me tonight for Swansea. He never really hit the ground running and looked a frustrated figure, which happens to many strikers when they are isolated for so long up front. Januzaj however was deservedly given man of the match and was the architect for most of the good things Manchester United did in this game. An outstanding talent and a certain superstar of the future.

With a tight first half, the rise in tempo by United in the second half swung the game their way and based on the second half performance, they deserved the victory. Swansea's next challenge isn't any easier hosting spurs in their next premier league game, but with the bottom being so tight, a couple of consecutive wins which I believe Swansea can get with their squad will steer them away from trouble.

Moyes will know there is still a long way to go to get United back to where they were under Sir Alex...but it's certainly a start. Could this result mean on wards
and upwards for Manchester United? Only time will tell and will make some interesting viewing in the coming weeks of the premier league.