Swansea City vs Manchester United match report: Disjointed United left exposed as Wayne Rooney's malaise spreads

Swansea 2 Manchester United 1

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The Independent Online

As expected the threat to Manchester City’s Premier League hegemony emerged in Swansea, and it wasn’t Manchester United. An indifferent if unbeaten start to the season fed into a ramshackle display leaving Louis van Gaal seemingly no further forward than he was a year ago.

Indeed he may be further adrift – short in goal, short up front, and his talisman captain in no sort of form. A half-functioning Wayne Rooney of old would have buried the chance that fell to him with two minutes to go. The 2015 vintage allowed Ashley Williams to recover when clean through on goal.

It was not the first opportunity he squandered as the warm glow of that Bruges hat-trick dissipated in the frenzy of a Premier League afternoon. Swansea did not have to do that much to prosper. They were organised, had a plan and adapted quickly after falling behind.

Even when Van Gaal resorted to the nuclear option with 15 minutes to go, throwing Marouane Fellaini into the piece at the point of attack, Swansea did not miss a beat. It would be a disservice to Swansea and their enterprising young manager Garry Monk to focus on United’s failings.  Swansea had a purpose to their work that United did not. Yes they chased a lot of leather in the first half but they never lost sight of the demand or faith in each other.

United took the lead shortly after the break through Juan Mata, who hitherto had struggled to influence the game and later made way for the cavalry. This was his 50th goal in the Premier League, his 17th for United and should have been the catalyst to a performance of substance. It was, but not by United.

It was symptomatic of his display that Rooney should start the Swansea ball rolling, surrendering possession with a casual pass in the attacking third. The excellent Williams swept the ball wide to Gylfi Sigurdsson advancing into space down the right.

United were left flat-footed with Chris Smalling, one of the few positive contributors to United’s season – along with Luke Shaw – caught out of position by Rooney’s mistake. Sigurdsson crossed early, finding the head of the excellent André Ayew, who had no trouble guiding the ball past Sergio Romero.

Five minutes later Swansea were ahead. This time Ayew was the architect, picking out Bafétimbi Gomis with a smart diagonal ball that, as good as it was, still needed help from United to make it profitable. First Daley Blind failed to make a tackle, allowing Gomis a free swing. Even then there was no pace on the ball but that did not stop Romero diving over it.

The grand game of cat and mouse that Van Gaal has conducted with his first-choice goalkeeper David De Gea and suitors Real Madrid finally bore poisonous fruit. Romero was not even first-choice at Sampdoria, had barely kicked a ball since January, and here it showed. 

Ayew.jpg
Andre Ayew heads in Swansea's equaliser

There must be some concern, too, at the rate at which the heat is draining from Memphis Depay’s boots. The Dutchman has a few nice touches and plenty of pace, but Van Gaal is nowhere near unlocking it in this system. Perhaps the two goals he fired against Bruges raised expectation beyond his capacity to deliver. Either that or he is a victim of Van Gaal’s muddled thinking.

The selection of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who does not appear fully fit, at Michael Carrick’s expense has not improved the team. And so United follow Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool into the false prophet’s corner while Manchester City go marching on.

United had no problem dominating possession, and forced a couple of early saves from Lukasz Fabianski. Again the focus fell on Rooney, who was released in the 18th minute with a clear path to goal only to find the boot of Williams decisive, as it proved for most of the afternoon.

Two minutes later a nicely worked move involving Rooney, Ander Herrera and Memphis released Mata, who pulled his shot narrowly wide. None of this was discomfiting Swansea, who kept their shape, and for the most part the play in front of them.

The home side’s first flourish came from a crunching tackle from Jonjo Shelvey on Schweinsteiger, with the ball falling to Ayew, who curled a beautiful pass into the path of Gomis with the outside of his right boot. Gomis was in the sweet shop now, and like a child he went for everything and ended up with nothing, his shot blasted wide.

Gomis.jpg
Bafetimbi Gomis rolls in the winner

Sigurdsson was inches wide seconds later, and then a poor clearance from Romero gave Shelvey a shooting chance that he wasted. Gomis did far better with a second attempt, turning Memphis, wriggling past Blind and firing narrowly wide.   

Rooney wasted another opportunity shortly before the break, tamely attempting to lob Fabianski after Herrera split the Swansea defence with a neat pass through the middle. When United did break through three minutes after the break it came via Shaw’s pace down the left. His cross was missed by Rooney, allowing the ball to reach the back post, where Mata arrived to squeeze the ball home.

The introduction of Ki Sung-yueng for Wayne Routledge in 58th minute proved masterful, changing Swansea’s shape and the rhythm of the match. Within three minutes they were level. Rooney gave the ball away, Williams picked out Sigurdsson and Ayew did the rest.

Swansea go into the international break unbeaten, a point behind the equally enterprising Crystal Palace and four behind the leaders. Van Gaal must wait to see how the transfer window plays out before preparing for the visit of Liverpool. He continues to talk a good game, but there is as much diversion as truth in his commentary.

He can deny the validity of his accusers’ questions all he likes but the evidence on the pitch does not lie. United are five points behind City after just four games and, on this display at least, that is a position that flatters them.

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