After beating Preston in the FA Cup, United had to travel to Wales to face Swansea in a not too common 3pm kick-off on a Saturday. When the line-up was announced, we were all smiling as Ander Herrera was starting in midfield, with Captain Rooney next to Robin van Persie up front.
As soon as the game started, we could see that as good as United might have seemed going forward, there was every chance they’d concede every time Swansea attacked. And they could have gone two behind in the first fifteen minutes alone. That didn’t happen only because Swansea didn’t have much firepower up front. When Herrera justified his start by scoring to put United ahead, we stopped worrying about our defenders for a whole sixty seconds! That was how long it took Swansea to get another set play, and this time they made the most of the space they were getting to equalise.
In the second half, United started pressing more, especially after Young replaced Shaw on the hour mark. For the next fifteen minutes, they were by far the better side, though the few chances created were wasted by the likes of Van Persie and Rojo. For all the pressure United put on, it was Swansea who scored again with just over fifteen minutes to go.
After that, it was all about hoofing the ball onto Fellaini’s head and chest for United, making it easier for Swansea to defend. When the final whistle went, we were all deflated as this 2-1 defeat seemed like a little unexpected.
It had been coming though. For all the statistics about losing just one game in nineteen, United weren’t really setting the world alight with their football. Of course most of us were happy with the results, but it was only a matter of time that a defeat like the one against Swansea happened. Quite ironic that it had to come when Van Gaal’s side was playing a lot better than they had been lately. United weren’t even excellent, but we’ve become so accustomed to seeing average performances in the past season and a half, that the first twenty five minutes of the second half made us all giddy and excited. Once Swansea got their second goal against the run of play, United went back to hitting it high and hoping. And yes, this WAS long ball football. It probably would have been much better if United had kept their patience and played as they had before Swansea went ahead again, as the ‘crosses’ only made it easier for the Welsh side to defend their lead.
It is slightly worrying that one defeat has put so much pressure on the club in the fight for a top four finish. Personally, my bum is not in squeaky mode yet, as I still believe that United have more than enough to finish in the top four (third place is still very much achievable). Of course, we know that the team has to play against all the big guns in March and April, but those have to play each other too, so points will be dropped everywhere. The quicker Van Gaal realises that the players need to play the ball forward and create chances, rather than win the possession game by passing sideways, the better for all concerned.
We also know that if this was David Moyes he’d be getting criticised all over the place, but Van Gaal comes with a pedigree that keeps the vultures at bay, at least for a while longer.
Elsewhere in the league, Chelsea could only draw 1-1 at home to Burnley, but only because there’s a conspiracy against them according to Mourinho. Yes, Barnes’ tackle on Matic was a terrible one, but isn’t this the same Mourinho that said that “football is for men” when one of his own players (Mikel) tackled Arsenal’s Arteta in a similar way last season? He also said that “this is English football. Be proud, play with pride.” He even called Sky Sports and asked them to have him on ‘Goals on Sunday’ just so he could moan some more about it. Keep it up Jose, hopefully the English media will start treating you like their Italian and Spanish counterparts did; Manchester City beat Newcastle 5-0 to reduce the gap at the top to five points; Arsenal won 2-1 at Pardew’s Palace to climb up to third in the table; Southampton lost 2-0 at home to L’pool, which at least means United stay in the top four; Martinez’s Everton could only draw 2-2 at home to bottom club Leicester, meaning they’ve only won three games in the league at home this season. Even Moyes was better than that!
Looking at other news, a FIFA task force has come out and suggested that the 2022 World Cup should be held in winter. Only last week they gave the TV rights to the 2026 World Cup to FOX in America (we don’t even know where that will be held yet), without opening tenders. That obviously happened because FOX were complaining very loudly about the World Cup in Qatar being played in winter. I doubt they’ll be complaining much about it now. Talk about scratching each others’ backs eh? Now, apart from the fact that according to one of FIFA’s basic conditions, nations were bidding for a World Cup to be played in June and July, how will this affect countries where domestic leagues are in full-flow in November and December? My thinking is that unless nations just boycott the World Cup, it will still go ahead as FIFA dictates, and we’d all be sitting there watching the games like everything was ok (something FIFA know and play on).
Meanwhile, FIFA executive member Michel D’Hooghe has been cleared of corruption by an investigation into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. FIFA… the gift that keeps on giving, to themselves and their cronies at least.
Back to United, we now look forward to another Saturday game at home to Sunderland (3pm UK time). Against a team with just four wins in the league, and one that hasn’t won away from home for over two months, we hope United get back on track with a win to stay in the top four, even if they lost in this same game last season (when Giggs was wearing a suit on the touchlines). Gulp… COME ON UNITED!!!