The eagerly awaited Premier League season finally got under way over the weekend, with the first fixtures of the season being tough ones, with managerial changes, new players in, old players out and the usual teething problems faced in any league, with Manchester United being no different. The fixtures have given United a tough start in the first three games home to Chelsea in their second game and away to bitter rivals Liverpool in the third. That said the first game is a tough one too, away to Swansea City.
The Swans finished 9th last season in their first season under Michael Laudrup while playing an excellent brand of football. Swansea lost 2-1 in a very tight game at Old Trafford last season and earned a 1-1 draw at home to the Champions. This was United’s first Premier League game under new manager David Moyes. The outcome of this game would give Manchester United fans the first real feel of what their team is about under Moyes.
It was a stern test for United in very wet conditions at the liberty stadium in front of the 20,000 in attendance. Fans eagerly anticipated the first team sheet of the season. Would it include want away striker Wayne Rooney? The answer no! Take a look at the team’s below.
Swansea played a 4-2-3-1. United started with formation that flowed between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3. Looking at United’s set up below, there was the Gk and 4 defenders, made up of 2 full backs and 2 centre backs. In midfield they started with 2 centre midfielders and 2 wide midfield players. Up front they had a centre forward (slightly off the front) and a striker.
Swansea dominated possession and control of the game for the first 15 minutes with united having to work hard off the ball. United coped well with Swansea’s passing game. In the first few seconds after losing the ball united would press hard on all Swansea players regardless of the area of the pitch. If the ball was not won back in the first few seconds they dropped off as a team to the half way line. This worked well for united keeping the play in front of them and not leaving space between the lines for the Swansea players to find space off the shoulders of the united players. Individually the work rate from every player was very high. In the next diagram take a look at United’s set-up when dropped off. Note the pressing was triggered by Van Persie’s (red line) run to make the play of the centre back on the ball predicable. Making sure he could not play the ball to the opposite centre back (yellow x). Once the ball was played by the Swansea centre back united pressed intensely forcing Swansea to keep the ball in front. If they played it into the feet of a Swansea player the pressure would force them back or make the player on the ball make a mistake. Winning united possession of the ball again.
As expected for the first game of the season, the tempo of the first 45 minutes was very high. This was helped by the fast wet surface. Both teams tried to get a possession game going with the defending team working extremely hard to close them down. Swansea has a reputation for playing out from the back but so do united. Swansea used a high pressure strategy too, closing down every ball quickly. Below, you can see the pressing movements of Swansea when united had the ball. The initial 6-8 seconds after Swansea lost the ball this pressure was applied intensely. In this example the ball broke to Vidic from a tackle between Cleverley and Shelvey. As the ball arrived at Vidic’s feet the pressure was already on with Dyer closing him quickly, all United players were covered by charging Swansea players fully committed to winning the ball back as quickly as possible. By the time Vidic played it to Cleverley (pass marked yellow) there was nowhere to go and Shelvey nicked the ball from him, stopping United from creating anything. Both teams were very committed.
As the game settled it was united who excelled, the movement and attacking prowess of United extremely difficult for Swansea to deal with. The ease of the united players interchanged positions was top quality. Interchanging as they attacked yet defending well regardless of position at the time of transition between attack and defence. Showing rivals in their first game that it’s business as usual. The movement between Giggs and Welbeck being the most notable. The shape on the ball was 4-3-3 with the wide left player coming in off the line making space for the left back Evra to push on and cross the ball. This is a common feature with this United side. They can play good short passing possession game and mix it with direct fast balls to their forwards. United took the lead after 33 minutes with a excellent forward play and finish by Robin Van Persie, assisted by Giggs with a lobbed pass through the centre. The Second came quickly as Swansea struggled to deal with united’s direct play. The move for the second goal is a move that is a constant feature under Moyes both in the Community Shield and V Swansea.
Below you can see the variation in United’s play. Vidic finds himself in the same situation as I showed earlier. He’s in possession with everyone in front of him marked tightly. Instead of passing to feet and possibly losing possession, he turns and plays the ball to his goalkeeper and starts again.
The next pass played to centre back in this case Ferdinand. The full backs pushed on and Carrick dropped between the two centre backs to collect from the centre back.
Carrick was not followed in by Shelvey and played the ball back to Ferdinand (now in wider position) his pass was long to Welbeck who set Cleverley in front of him to play it wide to oncoming Evra. Evra carried it forward, as Rangel dropped off he crossed early to Van Persie who headed into the keepers hands. This is the exact move that let to the Opening goal in the Community shield last week. This gives United good variety in attack as they can go direct too!
Swansea did have a few good attacking moments in the last ten minutes of the first half with Danny Welbeck slow to get into position in front of Evra on the left side leaving Evra exposed to 2v1 situations. Welbeck was now on the left as Giggs joined Van Persie through the centre. Swansea found themselves two nil down at the break against a very effective United side. Laudrup had a lot to do at half time and reacted by making two changes. Leon Britton was off as was Routledge, On came new striker Bony who started on the bench as he was on International duty during the week. Highly rated wide player Hernandez also came in. This showed an changed in shape for Swansea now playing 4-4-2 with Bony pushed slightly more forward than Michu. This didn’t stop United’s free flowing football. It did give Swansea an option of a more direct route forward with Michu and Bony both being big physical players. Swansea were a threat even two goals down. On 60 mins United brought on Wayne Rooney for Ryan Giggs. Rooney was playing slightly deeper linking the play with midfield and Van Persie. United showed real class with their third goal on 72 minutes. Rooney played an excellent part with the work rate for the united forward line all game had being very high. Closing down quickly and intelligently. The third goal was as follows;
Swansea centre back Flores was on the ball with option’s to his left Rangel and one in front Shelvey. Rooney busts a gut to close Shelvey off.
With Shelvey on the ball after a short pass from Flores, Rooney now fronts him up. This was good defensive play from Rooney knowing that if he goes tight that Shelvey will play a 1-2 around him. Instead he showed him one passing option making Swansea play very easy to read for United’s midfield when the pass was played in.
With only one option for Rangel he played it to Canas who needed to play with one touch as Cleverley was closing in quickly. The pass was read and won by Carrick who set it to Cleverley. Cleverley played to Rooney. Rooney to Van Persie’s feet.
Swansea were in trouble here. Van persie was running at Williams with the ball, Welbeck making a run on the outside. Rooney had a choice to make with his run. He could have made the run through the centre for Van Persie to put him in (yellow line in next diagram). Instead his intelligent run (black line) brought him around Van Persie. This showed Rooneys trust in Van Persie in 1v1 situation to finish the move.
Van Persie wasted no time on the edge of the box cutting back onto his left foot and finishing with power and accuracy into the top of the net. 0-3 United.
Swansea made a change on 76 minutes with Canas off for Ki. Ki Played in the centre. Swansea continued to pass the ball finding it difficult to create clear cut chances. Most chances were shots from range. Swansea made it 3-1 in the 81st minute, with Danny Welbeck not clearing the ball quick enough it was nicked from him. A short ball into Bony’s feet and he finished neatly into De Gea’s bottom left corner. Swansea pushed on for more goals with nothing to lose. United counter attacked quickly each time, with Evra still finding himself in advanced area’s late on. United brought on Anderson on the 85th minute taking off Van Persie. United were now set as 4-5-1 to close out the game. Some patient play from United brought their 4th goal, with Rooney supplying an excellent through ball for Welbeck who finished with a excellent shot.
Interestingly the stats show Swansea having more possession than United. Swansea had more open play chances than United and a better passing accuracy. It may be too early to tell, maybe United’s style has changed to a more direct style. One thing that certainly hasn’t changed is the quality of the play. Manchester United picked up where they left off; winning matches!!