Robin van Persie scores a brilliant volley as Manchester United beat Swansea City 4-1
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David Moyes took charge of his first league game away to Swansea – a tricky looking opening game particularly given that United could only draw there last season. Moyes named Rooney on the bench and made two changes from last week’s Community Shield as Ferdinand replaced Rafael and Valencia replaced Zaha. Swansea left new signing, Bony, on the bench after he’d had a busy week with the Ivory Coast. We welcome comments from both sets of fans.
Swansea start quickly
This was never going to be an easy game. United were thoroughly tested in south Wales last December and since then Swansea have only strengthened their squad. Two European qualifiers against Malmo FF provided competitive football and so maybe it was unsurprising that they started the game the faster and sharper of the two sides.
The rain had helped to create an even slicker than usual surface and that suited Swansea who kept the ball nicely, making United work hard to win the ball back in the opening half hour. Truth be told, Michael Laudrup may look back on that period and bemoan his side’s often poor final ball coupled with some generally solid United defending. De Gea was seldom forced into much more than routine saves and it seemed inevitable that for all the pressure that was building up on United, that if Swansea didn’t make it count they’d pay for it.
Where there’s work to be improved on, and maybe it was down to still shaking off the summer shackles, is that United became rushed and sloppy as soon as Swansea pressed high. Every United defender was put under pressure when in possession and at times the decisions to try and run the ball out of trouble or pass out of trouble were rash. On the few occasions it worked, United found lots of space behind Swansea’s midfield and eventually made it count but it took at least half an hour for United to get any kind of rhythm and for that, Swansea deserve plenty of praise – they’ll just regret not making it count.
Pre-season breeds sharp strikers
Although David Moyes would have preferred to have had Rooney and Hernandez available for pre-season, that Welbeck and van Persie were primarily his only two striking options meant they got plenty of time playing. Both look in excellent shape – lean, fit and strong, as well as clearly being confident. Both, in their own ways, have started this campaign excellently.
For Welbeck, this season is about adding goals to work-rate and all round technical bullying over defenders. David Moyes has encouraged Danny to not only shoot more, but get in the box more often. Having played last season in wide roles so often, he’s already been in a more central position in the two competitive games we’ve seen so far. Of course he’ll still drift wide and want to get on the ball in deep areas but his first goal against Swansea was the one that pleased the manager the most – a simple tap in from a couple of yards but, to paraphrase Moyes, all strikers that want to get a lot of goals have to score tap ins. If his first goal was about striking instinct then his second was about a player high on confidence expressing himself. The delicate chip was exquisite – to get that much loft on the ball so close to the goal and still get it in takes some doing. Three goals in a few days for Danny and all of a sudden he’s rejuvenated and looks a real handful.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore when van Persie reiterates his class on the pitch. Even if he hadn’t scored, it was a striker’s performance that could have easily been packaged onto a DVD and given to any young player who wants to be a successful centre forward. With his back to goal he was a monster, using his body and strength to hold off defenders, hold up the ball and eventually bring his team-mates into play. He and Danny Welbeck took it in turns to drop deep and then also make telling runs beyond one another. His hard work was of course rewarded with two different but equally exceptional goals. The first a flying volley on his weaker foot, made out of a bad touch and hopeful high ball; the second saw the use of some quick feet before lashing in an unstoppable drive from 20 yards out. Robin being Robin would no doubt have been slightly disappointed not to have taken a third excellent chance that came shortly before his second goal but his partnership with Welbeck looks promising and pre-season appears to have done exactly what it was meant to.
Moyes quick to react to Giggs’ indifference
Not that this is a Ferguson vs. Moyes thing but if there was something that could grate on you at times, it was that Fergie would sometimes leave a player on a little longer than maybe he should have been. In a strange way it was somewhat pleasing to see Moyes make his first substitution just after the hour mark, taking Ryan Giggs off having recognised the need to change.
It had been an all too familiar (of late) hour by Giggs. Deployed predominantly on the left, he’d naturally come in-field to seek the ball, create space for Evra, and give his legs a break from going up and down the wing. The only problem with that is that Giggs’ use of the ball has become increasingly erratic – capable of the jaw-droppingly sublime but more often than not, loose careless passing and poor decision making. This came to the fore last year at home to City when a flick inside our own half saw City win the ball and score. Against Swansea once again there were too many flicks or attempted round the corner passes – high risk moves which are ok to try in attacking areas but less sensible inside your own half.
Stats are not everything but considering Giggs wasn’t on set pieces, to have a pass completion rate of only 66%, the lowest of any player on the pitch (and the lowest United player by some distance) is incredibly poor but not uncommon for him anymore. What’s strange is that when he’s at his worst, he tends to make a contribution at a telling time. This came true again when, although it was via a deflection, his lobbed pass found van Persie for the opening goal. His involvement in the second half waned and Moyes took him off with half an hour to go which not only seemed to solidify the shape of the side, but added a bit more fluidity to attacks.
As with last season, Giggs will have games where he defies his age but, and it’s the harsh reality, more often than not he’ll be distinctly average – he certainly isn’t a central midfielder anyway and with such a worrying low accuracy rate with his passing, he’s in fact a liability there. Too many fans remain scared of being critical of Giggs because of his legendary status but it’s the performance that has to be judged, regardless of who the player is.
You’d be forgiven for being slightly pessimistic pre-match about United’s chances of winning without a fight. Swansea are a really good and improving side with a particularly strong Premier League record at home, so much so that United could only manage a draw there last season. What happened was more than just a nice surprise, it was completely reassuring that actually little seems to have changed too much – rarely threatened, rarely threatening but ultimately clinical and controlling when it mattered.
The rain did and didn’t help proceedings. The pitch was quick, suiting the style both teams like to employ but it was also slippery and as a result tackles weren’t always as controlled as they’d normally be. United picked up three rather soft yellow cards – although maybe it’s a sign Moyes wants the players to be a bit more aggressive.
If there were two things to have a little moan about then they were the fannying about by Welbeck that saw Swansea eventually score, and Jones at right back. Presumably picked for his height and because he’s played a lot recently, Jones never quite looked comfortable in either attack or defence. He’ll be an excellent centre back but the full back role just doesn’t come easily for him. It would be good to see Fabio get a chance there in the coming weeks whilst Rafael is injured – sure, he’s more of a risk in terms of experience and defensive naivety but you can’t help but feel the team’s balance would be better for it.
Of course it wouldn’t have been United without some Rooney drama. He played for half an hour, seemed to sulk and have a long face on him when balls weren’t played where he wanted them, didn’t chose to celebrate the last two goals, didn’t applaud the fans at the end but he still finished the game with two assists and was by no means bad. He did get a whack on his ankle and so will be assessed for that.
All in all, it’s a job well done and a great way to start the season. Chelsea a week on Monday will provide a much harder examination though.