Last season Garry Monk’s Swansea City team got some great results against the ‘bigger’ teams in the Premier League, including a historic double over United. They started this season in fine form too, with Gomis and new boy Ayew among the scorers, and Jefferson Montero carving out chances for fun from the left wing. Scoring 2 goals at Stamford Bridge is no mean feat, and the Swans are firing on all cylinders.
In contrast, United have found goals rather tricky to come by, but gained 7 points from the opening matches by staying solid at the back. New keeper Sergio Romero was yet to concede in the league, keeping clean sheets in his 3 previous league appearances in a defence led by Chris Smalling. After a straightforward start to the campaign, the showdown at the Liberty Stadium would be the Red Devils’ most stringent test so far.
Swansea 0-1 Manchester United: Mata 48’
Herrera receives the ball from Romero after the Argentine keeper catches a Swansea free-kick. Controlling the ball on the left flank, Shaw overlaps on the inside and receives a pass from Herrera in central midfield, a lot like an inverted wing-back. Shaw manages to put some distance between himself and Ayew, beginning his charge towards the opposition central midfielders.
With 3 Swansea players around him, it started to look like Shaw was running towards a white-clad cul-de-sac. That didn’t deter him, and tried his luck anyway. With Ayew trying to track back and add to the Swansea defensive shape, the hosts’ right back, Kyle Naughton, made an effort to cover the space by pushing up past his defensive line and into midfield, creating a bank of 4. There was already a Swansea central midfielder ready to challenge Shaw, but the right-back’s decision to double-up on Shaw left a sizeable gap in behind, leaving a gaping hole in the channel Naughton was supposed to be defending. Shaw’s gamble paid off, gaining control the ball after it pinballed off both Swansea men he was up against.
Naughton, creating this hairy situation by initially deserting his zone, failed to track back in time. With Shaw having left him in the dust, Ayew displayed the sort of energy that is already endearing him to Swans fans by chasing down the United left-back to the best of his ability, but the young Englishman had an insurmountable head start. A player as quick as Shaw should not have been afforded this sort of space to run into, and he exploited it.
With Shaw at the byline, Memphis had a chance to move infield, giving the Englishman the option of the short pass for the Dutch winger to crack off a shot. Shaw doesn’t choose that pass, deciding instead to cross towards the the 6-yard box. Rooney’s diagonal movement towards the near post is key, with him momentarily pulling both centre-backs towards the ball. It was this miniscule lapse that enables Mata to gain ground and enter the danger area.
Neither Rooney nor Swansea centre-back Fernandez were able to make contact with the ball. When neither manages a telling touch, the ball finds its way to Mata. Williams sees the ball moving towards the Spaniard, and almost makes up ground, sliding in to close the gap. It was a last ditch tackle from the Swans’ skipper, and would have gone a long way into putting pressure on Mata. Williams is moving towards the ball at full tilt, and Fabianski is also scurrying across to make up ground towards his left-hand post. The defending team is often vulnerable in these situation, but Fabianski and Williams did everything in their power to keep the ball out.
A one-touch finish would be the only way to get the ball over the line. Most players would have hit across the goal with plenty of power, aiming for the zone near the far post that typically gets exposed in these situations. Williams blocked off that option, and with Fabianski having successfully made a recovery towards his near post it would be a tricky situation. However, the Spaniard lifted the ball over the two Swansea men and watched the ball smack into the roof of the net.
Key man: Luke Shaw – he was United’s most potent attacking threat all game, the only one in a red shirt willing to take risks and beat a man. He deserved to pick up an assist.
Culprit: Kyle Naughton – his overzealous closing down, and subsequent lack of recovery, enabled Shaw to make the difference.
Swansea 1 -1 Manchester United: Ayew 61’
Having scored the opening goal United played like they were in control. Full-backs kept pushing high up, dominating play, but this eagerness to attack brought problems.
Wayne Rooney receives the ball, but a heavy first touch while turning (something that has been happening with increasing frequency) results in Ashley Williams (blue) picking up possession. With a sizeable gap between United’s midfield and attacking 3, Williams exploits the space, bringing the ball out of defence to launch a counter attack. United’s midfield and defensive shape is in shambles. Note Luke Shaw at the bottom of the image, far out of position.
Shaw’s aforementioned willingness to get forward and make things happen leads to a large gap (yellow box) on the near side. Williams, adept on the the ball, spots Sigurdsson in acres of space out on the right flank, playing him in decisively. One of the midfielders should have been marshalling this space in Shaw’s absence, or Blind could have stepped in with Schneiderlin temporarily moving into the centre-back role. The picture above illustrates the sheer lack of structure in the United back line in this instance. The visitors were asking for trouble, combining a high defensive line with poor shape.
Blind did his best to shuffle across and reduce the space for Sigurdsson to operate in, but one can always rely on the Iceland international to deliver dangerous whipped crosses. Due to his height and dominance in the air, Gomis is the obvious target, demanding Smalling’s undivided attention. However, the big Frenchman’s run fooled us all, peeling off and enabling Ayew to charge into the tiny bit of space created between the forward and Smalling.
The contact with the ball was as clean as they come. Attacking the space with a running jump, Ayew’s leap catches the United defence off guard, meeting Sigurdsson’s measured cross in between two defenders who thought that the situation was under control. With Smalling losing track of Gomis, and Darmian ball-watching, Ayew exploited the tiny bit of space. His header would not be out of place in any coaching textbook, slamming the ball into the floor for it to bounce past a helpless Romero.
Key man: Ashley Williams – winning the ball and taking into his own hands the transition from defence to attack. His decisiveness was vital in catching the United defence flat-footed.
Culprit: Luke Shaw – By leaving huge gaps in left channel while marauding forward, Shaw abandoned his primary defensive duties and the team was left exposed.
Swansea 2 – 1 Manchester United: Gomis 66’
Conceding the goal on the break would have been a kick in the teeth, but it wasn’t to be a learning experience for the visitors.
An unimaginative long ball forward from United was regained by the Swansea defence, and play was handed over to Swansea substitute Ki, who replaced left winger Wayne Routledge. After exploring some options, he passes to Shelvey.
While being key for Swansea so far this game, Shelvey’s dangerous passes only began to bear fruit in the final half hour of play. Playing a sumptuous first time ball between 2 United midfielders to find Sigurdsson, Shelvey was responsible for the increase in tempo that would lead to the goal.
A simple pass from Sigurdsson finds Ayew, who is thriving in the space on the near side left bare by the attack-minded Shaw. This time the United defenders responded better to the change of possession, moving numbers back quickly.
United had a numerical advantage but the positioning in midfield was suspect. One would have expected Ayew to play a whipped diagonal ball to the left wing, but what followed was spectacular. An inch-perfect through ball played with the outside of the boot towards the onrushing Gomis eliminated 3 players (defender nearest Ayew, 2 centre-backs) from the equation. The defenders didn’t see it coming, a moment of true genius. United maintaining their high backline also didn’t help, with the 2 centre-backs being drawn away from their positions by Gomis’ movement. This situation could have been avoided with a well-worked offside trap.
Gomis, having regularly showed his predatory instincts in front of goal since the departure of Wilfried Bony, didn’t have to be asked twice to put the ball in the back of the net. That being said, Romero should have done much better. The ball rolling under the United keeper was reminiscent of Adebayor’s goal vs. Kuszczak at Old Trafford in 2006.
Key man: Ayew – his stunning vision created a chance out of nothing. Shelvey’s fabulous pass also deserves a special mention.
Culprit: Romero – a soft goal to concede, a lot more should be expected from a Manchester United goalkeeper. It was an awful lapse in concentration. Shaw doesn’t get off scot-free though, his abandonment of defensive duty cost the team for the second time this match.
Written by Marvyn Paul
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