With the busy festive season approaching, the cluster of games that arise can prove troublesome for sides, with dropped points a real threat and league tables giving a different picture.
Manchester United made the trip to South Wales for a game at the Liberty Stadium against Swansea. Michael Laudrup’s side have impressed so far this season with many solid showings and the possibility of a tough game. Sir Alex Ferguson named a strong side for the Sunday game, with David De Gea in goal, with Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans in front of him, with Phil Jones and Patrice Evra at right and left back respectively.
In midfield, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick lined up centrally, with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young occupying the wings. Finally, spearheading the attack, was Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney.
The first half was an open affair in which both sides had chances to score and lead. Michu went close early, as did Young, who forced a low save from Vorm. After 15 minutes though, United took the lead, through a corner, with Evra meeting the ball and heading home to the far post. 0-1 after a start in which the home side had been better.
With the opening goal scored, the game remained open, with Swansea getting forward and just before the half hour mark, were level when De Guzman’s shot was saved by De Gea only for Michu to meet the rebound. After a spell of more pressure from the hosts, the game settled down as the half time whistle approached and the teams went in at half time 1-1 with all to play for.
The second half began with both sides going at each other, continuing the open play that was the story of the first. However, as the half progressed, the visitors applied the pressure in search of a winner. Hernandez, having replaced Valencia, went close after being played in by Van Persie. Van Persie hit the bar from a Rooney cross.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, after Giggs replaced Rooney, a corner was played in and was met by Carrick, his header looking to be destined for goal, only for Vorm to tip it to the bar. As the game drew to a close United looked the more likely to score. However, it was not to be as Swansea held on for a draw, to provide United with their first stalemate of the season.
With that here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Sir Alex using mind games?
In the second half, just before Rooney was taken off, there was an incident, where a free kick was blown for, but Ashley Williams kicked the ball away, hitting Van Persie in the process and producing angry scenes. Post-match, Sir Alex made comments that tended to the hyperbolic regarding Williams’ actions.
In truth, what occurred was dangerous, and could have caused an injury given the power with which the ball was hit and the proximity that Van Persie was to it on the floor. To be in Williams’ shoes in this situation would be difficult. On another day, a referee might have seen it fit to send him off for kicking the ball away with the whistle having been blown. However, realistically, considering how quick the situation occurred, and with Williams likely reacting to seeing the ball and instinctively wanting to clear, such a consequence would be harsh.
As much as Williams almost certainly did not intend what happened, one can also understand the anger United’s side, given that an injury would have been possible as well as their view that the ball was kicked with the whistle having gone. It was an unfortunate incident that took away from what was a good game of football from the neutral standpoint.
Regardless of how one sees the issue, it is not hard to see that Sir Alex’s comments were somewhat exaggerated, and one might suggest they were merely his way of drawing attention to the incident and taking away from the other issues of the game, mainly his side’s own failings.
One cannot help but feel these have been used as mind games to detract from the main points of what was a very open game, one in which Swansea were often the better side, particularly in the first half.
2) Vidic tough game in start
Having spent time on the sidelines, Vidic returned after a lengthy lay off and made a start against Swansea. In a first half in which the home side made life tough for United, both he and Jonny Evans struggled, with Michu causing problems up front, culminating in the hosts deservedly equalising in the first half.
Ultimately, Vidic needs a run of games to get back match fitness, and a string of performances to gain consistency and strength at the heart of the defense.
3) Valencia’s struggles continue
One cannot help but question Valencia’s performances of late. The winger, usually keen to charge at defenses and cause problems down the right has been more hesitant and less effective.
He has seemed more predictable and more easily contained, his crosses less deadly. Fans will be hoping it is merely a slump that needs time to correct. Perhaps he has taken on a few new ideas and has not implemented them into his game as quickly as one might hope. However, with Nani nowhere to be seen at the moment, Valencia needs to find his form quickly and provide the danger that he is capable of.
4) Goals from various players
When United signed Van Persie, one might have imagined most goals would be coming from him or Rooney as part of a deadly duo up front. Although they have been potent going forward, one must also note the goals contribution from other members of the side.
With Rooney and Van Persie providing plenty of assists as well, players like Evans have stepped up and got their names on the scoresheet. On this occasion it was Evra, a rare goalscorer who popped up at a corner to give his side a lead.
As much as having the strikers firing on all cylinders is crucial to any side, the importance of goals from other members of the side cannot be dismissed, particularly if the front men are going through a dry spell or are frustrated in their efforts on a certain day.
5) The first stalemate, not a disaster
With United taking their first draw of the season, in a performance that was not up with their best, some may have jumped at the result and bemoaned the dropped points, with rivals, City having closed the gap at the top.
However, at this time of season, dropped points are always a possibility, and going to the Liberty Stadium was always going to be a tough task. Swansea deserved to be level by half time, and although the second half became more one sided, one could argue a draw was probably a fair result.
Certainly, United had chances to win it and came extremely close as the game progressed, but on this occasion it was not to be and a draw had to suffice.
United are going into a time of the season where dropped points are a problem, and the most pressing matter is that of the leaky back line. The need to gain clean sheets and add some stability at the back is crucial during this period, particularly on days when goals are hard to come by and narrow results are the order of the day.