Manchester United 2 Swansea City 0 match report: Antonio Valencia steers United out of barren run
Ecuadorean winger follows up saved header to break the deadlock and Welbeck adds a second to ease the pressure on the United manager as Swansea misfire again
There was some love for David Moyes; exhortations to give the Stretford End a wave – which he complied with – and none of the encouragement of his players to “play like Fergie's boys”. Perhaps, after all that he has been through this wretched winter, Manchester United are learning that it is time to put the legend in the past and liberate Moyes to travel on alone.
There was a noticeable lack of celebration from the manager when his side went ahead, and still none when they doubled the lead – the signs of an individual who has already seen too many false dawns in the course of these six difficult months and who knows that Chelsea lie in wait for them in only six days' time.
It is part of the incredible nature of the roller-coaster ride United are on at the moment that a day he began in a searing spotlight ended with his fifth win in six Premier League games.
There remains a profound sense of perspective among the fans. The results of a poll by the Red Issue fanzine revealed only 7.26 per cent to be of the view that Moyes should be dismissed now, with 19.76 per cent thinking that he should be given until the end of the season to begin delivering and a full 72.98 per cent believing that the fruits of next season are the earliest upon which he can be judged.
In the here and now, Moyes possessed a team who for 45 minutes were pretty much on a level with Swansea. Yet the weight of 53 years' history – the period since they last lost four consecutive games in one season – did not seem to inhibit them and what unfolded as they went about their task was the moderately good United, which is better than the second-speed alternative.
Then Moyes made the switch which allowed Adnan Januzaj – the jewel in the crown for them, week after week – to turn the match, freeing him behind the striker to the left, from where he supplied United's first goal and was instrumental in their second, by seizing possession.
"He has been like that since day one," Moyes said of Januzaj. "I speak to him a lot and he tells me he could play everywhere, he would have no problem, he's not a nervous boy. He needs teaching and understanding because he is still learning. But his talent and natural ability is up there with the best. In time he will prove to be that."
He was a danger wherever Moyes billeted him, first curling an 11th-minute effort which hammered against Gerhard Tremmel's crossbar and then contributing to a fleeting flash of the imperious United of old after 36 minutes, when a flowing move down the right flank saw Antonio Valencia and Rafael ship the ball through to the advancing Danny Welbeck. Angel Rangel was in attendance as the striker shaped to strike it but it was a criminal miss when he sent the ball inches wide of Tremmel's right post.
United struggled for a conduit to knit play together. Shinji Kagawa's touch and anticipation was simply not there in the wide role – he has been a terrible disappointment this season – while Swansea's Jonjo Shelvey was in a different kind of class. Confident and intelligent, as he has been all season, Shelvey contributed to the sense that the visiting team were quite capable of striking the first blow.
In the central midfield space, Leon Britton for a time got the better of Darren Fletcher, starting his first home Premier League game since victory over Queen's Park Rangers in November 2012, and the Spaniard Alejandro Pozuelo's pace exposed Patrice Evra.
The manager said he had deployed Januzaj behind the striker "to see if it would give us any more creativity, any more positions, help us". But he took only two minutes after the break to supply from the wide position, whipping the cross which Kagawa got a header on to, with Valencia present to tap in the rebound.
The goal seemed to breathe some belief into Moyes' players. Kagawa advanced into the penalty area and took a tilt as Swansea's defence began to look very vulnerable. Luck materialised where it had been missing, too. The second goal came when an Evra miskick into the box was flicked in by Welbeck.
That United did not find a third soon after was down to the miss of this Old Trafford season. Kagawa swung in a dangerous cross which Chris Smalling – whose finishing is often questionable – somehow managed to spear over the bar from two yards out.
Kagawa was also to prove negligent 10 minutes later after a beautiful ball by Januzaj from deep sent Rafael off down the left with Swansea seriously stretched. The Japanese forward advanced around the defender and Tremmel's vital touch slowed the ball for Britton to clear off the line.
"I expected a Manchester United team very, very focused after all that's happened, been written, been said," observed the Swansea manager Michael Laudrup. In the final reckoning Moyes' team delivered against that expectation.
Manchester Utd (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra (Büttner, 79); Carrick, Fletcher; Valencia, Kagawa, Januzaj; Welbeck (Hernandez, 86).
Swansea City (4-2-3-1): Tremmel; Rangel, Amat, Williams, Davies; Britton,Canas (Chico, 17); Pozuelo, Shelvey (Alvaro, 63), Routledge. Bony.
Referee: Chris Foy.
Man of the match: Januzaj (Manchester United)
Match rating: 6/10
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