For many fans, the return of Premier League football to Saturday afternoons is a welcome prospect and for those not involved in any games for their country, a return to regular action after what would have likely been a refreshing break of sorts. Manchester United returned to action with a trip to the Liberty Stadium for a 5:30 kick off against Swansea, a side who were as yet undefeated at home in the Premier League, and boasted a record of having never lost to United at home before. Some notable inclusions in the starting line up was that of Welshman, Ryan Giggs, getting a chance to play in Wales for the first time as a Premier League player, Wayne Rooney partnering Hernandez up front as well as Rio Ferdinand joining Vidic at the heart of United’s defence and Phil Jones placed at right back after his midfield exploits for England during the week. Although fielding a strong side, Sir Alex Ferguson will have been wary of the opposition his side faced, a side with confidence who play an attractive style of football and will have no doubt have looked to take the game to United. Indeed it was the Swans who started off the brighter of the two, with United opting for a cautious approach with Swansea getting plenty behind the ball and surging forward through Sinclair and Dyer. However, 11 minutes in, United struck the first, and indeed only, blow of the game, when a sloppy pass from Rangel was picked up by Giggs who placed a pass across to Hernandez for the simplest of finishes from a few yards out. The rest of the half played out with United looking to exert their dominance on the game with Swansea looking as though their confidence had dipped somewhat by the opener. However, they were not without their chances, proving to be creative but lacking a killer threat up front. Regardless of their attacking potential, there can be no doubt that Sinclair should have levelled when faced with a clear goal in front of him, only to miss the ball as it reached him allowing it through his legs. The second half saw Swansea maintain healthy possession, displaying their ability to keep the ball, showing patience on it rather than aiming to get it forward quickly but without troubling the United defence too much thereafter. David De Gea was forced into a good save from Sinclair, diving to his near post to palm away a good effort, but otherwise the young Spaniard had a relatively uneventful evening. United too failed to assert themselves on the Premier League newcomers, seemingly willing to sit back in the second half, although could have made it two when on the break Wayne Rooney played a superb ball for Hernandez who was surging into the box, only to fail to control the ball that would have left a golden opportunity to put the game beyond doubt. Although perhaps not the quality of performance they will have liked, a clean sheet and all 3 points are welcome nonetheless, but United will want to improve if they are to keep up with the League leaders, Manchester City. And so, with that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Michael Carrick was impressive
For all the comments and opinions offered on all manner of media on the internet, one would think Michael Carrick had made no real contribution to the United side since his signing a few years ago. Indeed, at times this season his performances have not been up to the standard expected and there are some who believe him to be the shining example of why United need to bring in a new midfielder as soon as possible. However, although undoubtedly some will disagree, there should be no argument about his performance on Saturday afternoon, passing the ball effectively and efficiently he got play forward without wasting possession, save for the odd misplacement. As the game wore on he dropped deeper to provide assurance to the United defence in helping prevent conceding a goal in the closing moments. All in all a solid performance from the much-maligned midfielder.
2) Wayne Rooney continues to drop deeper
Having played the last couple of games in a midfield role, embracing his inner playmaker and impressing in the process, one wondered how Rooney would be playing given it was only Hernandez and himself up front. It became apparent that he looked to play a deeper role again as he sat back getting more involved in trying to build up play than spearhead it. Not that he was not involved in attack, given the opportunity he surged forward, particularly when counterattacking and could well have found himself on the scoresheet if Hernandez had not overhit his pass across the box during the first half. n the second half, after Hernandez made way for Valencia, he found himself further up as the lone striker and forged a couple of chances for himself in the dying moments but ultimately could not take them.
3) Phil Jones back in defence, rightly so
His use in midfield for England was certainly an interesting decision given his lack of game time for United in that position, but nonetheless his efforts for England were admirable earning praise from Capello and continuing to make a name for himself after his summer switch to the Old Trafford club. Although displaying his versatility at present he has made it clear that he believes himself to be defending in future, and although not central, he found himself back on defensive duties at right back for the trip to Wales. Although perhaps not his finest performance this season, being caught out a few times, he still put in a good showing, tracking back well rather than going forward too often and very nearly scoring his first goal for United when a surging run forward and good link up play with Valencia put him into the box only to hit the post. Perhaps playing for England and being used straight after this week proved a little too much for the young star, but it cannot be denied that he continues to impress as the season goes on.
4) Vidic is back, clean sheets are kept. Coincidence?
It has been clear since Vidic returned, that he is the one who provides the leadership and voice among the back four as well as leading by example in the heart of United’s defensive line up. On Saturday he did his duties as expected getting himself involved in everything and organising his back four accordingly. Although there were times when United looked a little shaky, and as mentioned before could well have conceded had Sinclair made the most of his chance, but all in all the back four looked fairly solid. Perhaps against a side with greater attacking potency more double would have arisen, but all the same a clean sheet will have been pleasing.
5) Swansea play good football
Overall, it is probably fair to say United deserved the three points, creating the better of the chances. Although at times Swansea had the better of the possession and showed great patience on the ball, their failure to make greater use of it in the final third proved costly, and a lapse in concentration for one moments was punished efficiently by Giggs and Hernandez. One can only be impressed however, by their style of play, not looking to play too many long balls forward, instead aiming for slow build up and exploiting pace on the wings. Certainly an impressive side that has been brought together.