Adnan Januzaj was a constant torment for Manchester United against Swansea City
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After being knocked out of the FA Cup at the hands of Swansea only a week before, United were looking for their first win of the year. The Premier League Fixtures provided a quick opportunity to atone for that loss with the Swans visiting Old Trafford again. Rooney and Van Persie were still absent and Evans was also ruled out. Chris Smalling looked to put his image issues behind him with a solid performance and Danny Welbeck lead the line with support from Januzaj, Kagawa and Valencia. Tom Cleverley was taken out of the firing line with Darren Fletcher coming to provide some steel in the middle of the park.
After a dull first half from both sides with only a Januzaj free kick off the bar providing any sort of excitement, it would take some inspiration from Moyes at half time to dig out a result. A few tweaks of the line up resulted in United starting the second half well, goals from Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck resulted in the first 3 points of 2014.
Here we look at the talking points of the game at Old Trafford and invite comments/opinion from both sets of fans.
Januzaj’s Influence Continues To Grow
In the continued absence of Rooney and van Persie, it has been Adnan Januzaj who has stepped up to provide a creative point in the United team. I have written previously about my concerns with Januzaj being overused but in the form he is currently showing it is making him very hard to drop. In the first half he was deployed in a central role behind Welbeck but drifted out wide with the majority of Uniteds attacking play going through him.
In the second half though Januzaj swapped to the left allowing Kagawa to come inside. Januzaj still had a large influence on the left creating space for Evra to bomb on, whilst also bringing Kagawa into the game more as well. Januzaj is growing in influence with each passing game and it was also pleasing to see him trying to stay on his feet more when he took men on. Again the concern is how long we can continue to expect him to provide such influence but he is just a joy to watch.
Second Half Shinji And Moyes Tinkering
The decision to play both Januzaj and Kagawa alongside Valencia seemed to suggest we would look to play more centrally behind Welbeck. In the first half the plan didn’t seem to be working in the way hoped. Kagawa on the left with Januzaj central just wasn’t bringing the best out of either player. At half time the pair were swapped and it paid instant dividends for Moyes with Kagawa being involved in the opening goal for Valencia. Whilst many sought to give Januzaj the man of the match award for his overall performance, it was Kagawa in the middle that started to link everything together. He was unfortunate not to score after a breakaway and his scuffed shot was cleared on the line. A notable difference between the two halves was the constant pressure that United were able to place on Swansea around the box in the second half. Kagawa was the conductor in this pressure switching the ball at will.
Moyes must be given credit for identifying the need for this change at half time. There were several around me in the Stretford End who were suggesting Kagawa be replaced with Zaha or Lingard but Moyes stuck to his guns with the players he had selected.
The frustration with Kagawa is that this is the sort of role he can do but we need to see more of it to warrant his continued use in this position. Could Rooney move on in the summer freeing up that role for Kagawa?
Darren Fletcher Medical Wonder
I tweeted yesterday that Darren Fletcher is the spirit of this side right now. His return from what most felt was a condition that ended his top flight career has been a big plus in a season of woes. Fletcher brings a seniority and energy to the middle that has been lacking this season. His ability to read the game and take the ball forward as allowed United to get on the front foot more frequently when he has been involved. He also provided additional protection to the back four which was clear in that despite Swansea having significant possession they created few clear cut chances. Fletcher is great at being able to restrict sides from breaking the line of defence, he seeks out gaps and closes them.
Long term Fletcher will be a player for certain games and situations but right now we need to be especially grateful he has managed to make himself a first team player again.
3 points and a decent performance was pleasing after the difficult few weeks we have had but it’s by no means a corner turned yet. The makings of a decent first 11 are there if players like Welbeck, Januzaj and Kagawa can be complimented with quality signings in certain areas such as midfield. United still need to look at 3rd or 4th as a realistic target for a successful season and if this side can avoid more injuries then it is achievable. Long term however we are still a side that requires additions to make it competitive.
Coming out of the ground after a 2-0 win against a mid table side and feeling happy is a welcome change from the usual reaction of recent years in it being just 3 more points. Each result is being earned at the moment and the fans backing for the manager has been superb. The fans have fully backed Moyes whatever some might say and it’s important that continues.
A good performance was what I wanted most and we got a second half just like that.
The game on Sunday at Chelsea will be a much tougher test, even with Wayne Rooney expected to return, but we go into it in the right frame of mind now. Manchester United next play at Old Trafford against Sunderland on 22nd January.
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