Manchester United’s reign under Louis van Gaal has started poorly as they were defeated 2-1 at home by Swansea City. Swansea fans will be delighted because this is the first time they have ever beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Premier League. For van Gaal, questions will be asked because the team looked woefully poor of quality, and it is clear there need to be some defensive additions made before the season gets into full swing.
I said earlier in the week that it was important to start the season as well as possible because Old Trafford lost its illusion of impenetrability that it had under Sir Alex Ferguson. Well, the Manchester players started very slowly and did not perform well in the first-half. They had a lot of possession, but they failed to turn possession into opportunities. Their best effort in the first-half was Phil Jones’ mishit cross that almost caught Lukasz Fabianski off his line. Swansea drew first blood in the 28th minute when Ki Sung-Yeung found space on the edge of the area to hit a nice left-footed effort past David de Gea. This goal was evidence that the team is still adapting to their duties within the new formation. Juan Mata failed to follow Ki back, and with no one else picking him up, he was in acres of space when the ball fell to him. United failed to respond to the goal and went into half-time behind 1-0.
In the second-half van Gaal switched formations to give United more of an attacking threat. Nani was brought on for the disappointing Javier Hernandez, and the formation switched to a 4-2-3-1. Adnan Januzaj, who replaced the injured Jesse Lingard in the first-half, was United’s bright spark in the second-half. He had the beating of Swansea’s Neil Taylor which begged the question, why weren’t United’s other wingers running at defenders? Both Nani and Ashley Young were on the field, yet neither player ever took on the Swansea defense. In the 53rd minute Manchester United were level thanks to new captain, Wayne Rooney. His acrobatic effort from six-yards out gave Fabianski no chance. After United equalized it could be expected that they would have pushed for a winner, but instead they stagnated. They were unable to carve out any real opportunities.
Swansea had been kept at bay until the 72nd minute. Until that point the Manchester defense had done a good job of preventing them establishing any meaningful possession. But in the 72nd minute Wilfried Bony cleverly took a free-kick quickly and it caught out the defense. A series of calamitous defensive mistakes meant that the ball fell to Gylfi Sigurdsson, who scored on his return to Swansea. Despite having 15 minutes left, Manchester United were unable to create any meaningful opportunities. It was a disappointing end to the game that had such potential to be a good result for United before kick-off.
This result is not the end of the world for United fans. Van Gaal is known for having slow starts at many of his teams, but this result does highlight the need for strengthening, particularly at wing-back. With Luke Shaw and Rafael injured I don’t understand the sense in playing with wing-backs. Van Gaal has had to play wingers in that role and it was not successful against Swansea. Januzaj is wasted so deep and it meant that there was no threat from the wings. Young seemed too concerned about staying tight defensively, rather than pushing forward and creating any opportunities. I think that the formation was a waste of the players that we had on the field, and the first-half showed it. When van Gaal switched United looked more threatening, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he maintains that formation for the next game.
The other big question mark is new signings. This United squad needs an injection of fresh faces. There is no depth to this squad. Ashley Young is playing left back, and that is problematic. His missed header led to the second goal, but Young is also not a defender. Tyler Blackett looked really good again today, but there still needs to be some more star power in this squad. It says a lot when a team is drawing and Marouane Fellaini is brought on to inject life to the squad. Van Gaal will be disappointed with the result so it will be interesting to see the response from United next weekend.