The penultimate match. As the season draws ever closer to it’s conclusion, it could be said that thoughts are already being put forward for next season. With Manchester City securing victory away to Newcastle in the lunchtime kick off on Sunday, the mood at Old Trafford became rather more subdued knowing that with one game remaining, the situation was out of their hands. Still, there was a game to be played and something to enjoy for the Manchester United fans as their side came up against Swansea City in the final game at home for the season.
Sir Alex Ferguson lined his side up with David De Gea in goal, Chris Smalling continuing at centre back alongside Rio Ferdinand, with Phil Jones and Patrice Evra on the right and left respectively. In midfield, Michael Carrick partnered Paul Scholes as Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia took position on the wings. Up front, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez were to be found leading the line.
The game kicked off with both sides looking lively and aiming to get forward. United looked to start positively, using the wings with both Young and Valencia regularly involved in play without creating anything clear cut in the opening stages.
28 minutes in, and the home side were in front, as Valencia created space on the right, playing the ball in to Carrick, who’s shot was then flicked in casually at close range by none other than Paul Scholes. Little in the way of celebrations as United brought the ball back, looking for quick goals. United began to take more control, attacking with more purpose and showing more threat than they had done prior to the opening goal and in the 41st minute, it was made to count as a ball from Scholes found it’s way to Young, who finished smoothly and smartly into the bottom right corner. 2-0, could there be more?
The second half began with United arguably taking their foot off the pedal slightly but maintaining possession comfortable. Swansea had chances to pull one back, forcing De Gea into saves, in particular after the hour mark, when Allen’s shot was directed at goal, with the Spaniard getting his feet to it and reacting fast enough to prevent Sinclair to get to the ball before he did. 2 minutes later and United could have found themselves with a third goal, but Valencia’s shot was well blocked. With 22 minutes remaining, Cleverley was brought on for Scholes as United continued to control possession, although without truly eliminating Swansea’s potential to grab a goal back. With 11 minutes remaining, Wayne Rooney, after picking up his first booking of the season, made way for the scarcely seen Dimitar Berbatov. Finally, Rafael replaced Rio Ferdinand who appeared to pick up a knock in the closing moments of the game, and although United continued to look comfortable, they were unable to add to the 2 goals scored in the first half, seeing the game out 2-0 in the knowledge that although mathematically possible, the chances of a 20th league title this season are extremely low.
As the players did a lap of honour and the traditional speech was made to a crowd, of which some of whom had left early, one can be sure that plans and thoughts are already being turned to next season, ready to take on the new challenges that await them. And with that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Phil Jones continues at right back…
One must admit that the decision to keep using Phil Jones at right back is an odd one. Given that it has become clear in recent weeks that he should not be used in such a capacity it seems strange that there appears to be a perseverance with playing him there. What’s more it would seem that Rafael has been dropped after what was in fact a strong run of games in weeks gone by. In fact it probably would have been a better fit for Chris Smalling to occupy this position, something which he has impressed in in the earlier part of the season.
2) Wayne Rooney’s first booking – a disciplined season
One criticism of Wayne Rooney has always been with his temperament on the pitch. Prone to losing his cool he has been no stranger to bookings and controversy at times. However, this season has seen a clear improvement in the way he has conducted himself. Continuing his good form in being United’s top scorer, he has also spent the year without picking up a single booking, until Sunday’s game against Swansea. Admittedly, it was a deserved yellow in a game where he appeared was not having his best moments, but despite this one cannot deny the strides he has made in improving his disciplinary record.
3) Ashley Young - quality finish, a constant threat
One of the more impressive players on the day was Ashley Young. Since returning from injury his contributions have been more positive than not, pitching in with goals and generally creating a strong avenue of attack down the left hand side. His finish for United’s second goal was smart and well placed, finishing well into the bottom right corner and found himself involved in much of the play throughout the game. One hopes that going into next season, he picks up on this and augments his contributions further.
4) Darren Fletcher in the stands – his influence missed
It was not so long ago the Darren Fletcher’s place in the side was a point of question for many. Some believed that while good he was simply not up to the standard that was to be expected at the heart of the midfield. Then, opinions began to change. With a string of influential performances and a style of play that helped to break up play and possess a more assertive role in the centre of the pitch, his role in the side began to find appreciation. However, with time out from the game being confirmed by the diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis, it would appear a career cut short by unfortunate circumstances. Fans and players alike no doubt wish the Scottish midfielder all the best in finding good health again, perhaps even hoping for the day he may take to the pitch once again, but seeing him present in the stands at Old Trafford was a timely reminder of what contributions he may have made had he been able to take part in the action this season.
5) Out of United’s hands, goal difference the key?
With an 8 goal deficit in goal difference with both sides even on points, the situation is firmly in the hands of City going into the final day of the season. It has always been said that such a tally may prove an extra point in certain circumstances, and it would appear that the title race may just come down to that. Although one cannot rule out an upset taking place, with City due to play a Queens Park Rangers side desperate to avoid relegation, Sir Alex Ferguson will be left to rue a situation that his side could well have avoided, given their 8 point advantage only weeks ago.