This was not the triumphant beginning that Louis van Gaal must have pictured when thoughts turned to his Premier League bow. Swansea City weren’t predicted to simply keel over in the Dutchman’s presence, but neither were they expected to pose such a problem, given how much confidence had been instilled into the club in the last month. Instead,
Manchester United’s new manager was presented with a stark example of where his new side are currently at, as the Welsh side ran out deserved winners at Old Trafford to leave the home side with plenty to ponder before the transfer window closes.
United’s bubble of optimism wasn’t burst immediately, but they spent most of the first half putting on a rather uncanny impersonation of their time under David Moyes. This was the first important test of Van Gaal’s 3-5-2 formation, with league debuts handed to Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard due to a number of first team injuries, but familiar patterns were rife; United frequently looked in vain for inspiration out wide and moved the ball at a rather pedestrian pace. Swansea were rarely tested, in truth, and looked more dangerous than their hosts going forward. Phil Jones was grateful to Ashley Young for cutting out Wayne Routledge’s cross having been left for dead in front of goal, and a useful dipping shot from Gylfi Sigurdsson pointed towards an increasing confidence. A knee injury to Lingard hardly helped matters, but there were few complaints when the visitors took the lead before the half-hour mark.
Nathan Dyer managed to find Ki Sung-Yeung on the edge of the area, who tapped in with a well-paced strike whilst Jones was craftily blocked from interfeering by Wilfried Bony. Van Gaal didn’t appear enraged, but spent the half’s remainder pensively watching his side struggle. Set pieces came and went without incident and Lukasz Fabianski and his defence largely untroubled, as the opening period of the new season ended with rather uncomfortable familiarity.
Once again, the Dutchman’s measured tweaking elicited something of a response as the second half started in a far more positive fashion. Nani was introduced for the ineffective Javier Hernandez with Ashley Young slotting into a back four offered United a little fluidity, Adnan Januzaj suddenly unleashed and terrorising Neil Taylor on the right flank. His sheer pace forced Swansea into conceding a crucial corner, Juan Mata delivering a great cross which Jones helped on towards United’s newest captain, who needed no encouragement to slam home acrobatically. He almost added a second but for a last-ditch lunge by Ashley Williams after a delicate nutmeg, but nevertheless, the home side looked much sharper as the second half continued.
Garry Monk’s side responded with a dangerous break, with Jones carefully stopping Routledge’s dangerous run into the box. Such a dangerous reminder seemingly prodded extra caution from the home side and the pace of the game noticeably dipped, with Rooney striking the outside of the post with a gorgeous curling free-kick in a rare moment of activity. Shortly after, United’s issues were laid bare in one incisive movement, with Wilfried Bony took a quick free-kick of his own on the halfway line. Routledge slipped after an inviting cross with Young, his marker, nowhere near, but Sigurdsson squeezed a strike under De Gea’s body with less than 20 minutes left to regain the lead. The Icelander combined wonderfully with Bafetimbi Gomis and almost doubled their lead minutes later but for a last-ditch tackle by Jones as United struggled to muster a response. A visible sense of urgency was missing until the 93rd minute, with a few dangerous deliveries prompting a brief flutter as Januzaj drilled a shot against his captain and Mike Dean waved away claims for a late hand ball. As it was, the final scoreline brought no surprises.
Pre-season had provided Van Gaal and United’s fans with plenty of reasons to be positive ahead of this game, but instead, the negatives took centre stage; a makeshift defence that frequently struggled to deal with Swansea’s pace will be chief in the minds of most, but the continuation of last season’s poor character when faced with defeat was troubling. Such a result is not disastrous by any means, but those in the club’s hierarchy were this afternoon treated to an unflinching vision of United’s season if reinforcements are not brought in before the month’s end.