If Manchester United intend to spoil their neighbours’ party next week, this was ideal preparation.
There were moments during this win over Swansea City - particularly in a dominant first half - that were reminiscent of United’s imperious early season form, back when a genuine title challenge to Manchester City looked possible.
Instead, Jose Mourinho and his players will have to merely make do with delaying their rivals’ coronation by avoiding defeat in the Manchester derby at the Etihad next weekend.
That was not the intention at the start of the campaign but it is all that is on offer now. This win will bring renewed confidence that they can do just that.
Carlos Carvalhal called Mourinho a “king of football” in the build-up and hoped that ‘parking the bus’ - a move straight out of his compatriot and counterpart’s
playbook - would see his relegation-threatened side through, but they were picked apart by an irrepressible United attack.
Romelu Lukaku scored his 100th Premier League goal, Jesse Lingard put in another excellent, inventive display and perhaps most significantly, Alexis Sanchez finally looked at home at Old Trafford. This was his best United display so far.
That trio were relentless in the first half and it was their link-up play that led to the opener less five minutes in.
Lingard’s pass evaded Mike van der Hoorn and found Sanchez, who squared to Lukaku. His shot deflected off Alfie Mawson, returning to club action after his spell with Gareth Southgate’s England, but still rose up and into Lukasz Fabianski’s net to strike up the Belgian’s century.
United doubled their lead a quarter-of-an-hour later after more neat work from Lingard. After darting through the middle of the park, his pass slipped through Van der Hoorn’s legs and reached Sanchez. The Chilean drove a low shot into the corner, out of Fabianski’s range, and celebrated his first goal in two months with gusto.
Swansea ended the first half without registering a shot on goal, let alone one on target, but re-emerged for the second half with more purpose.
Though Sanchez and Juan Mata both went close to extending United’s lead at the start of the second half, Tammy Abraham quickly responded with the visitors’ first attempts of the afternoon and drew two superb saves out of David De Gea.
Having been a spectator up until this point, the Spaniard first denied Abraham with an athletic, one-handed stop. Moments later, the substitute thought he had scored again, only for De Gea to reach down low and tip a rasping effort round the post.
That was a good as it got for Swansea, who at least prevented the rout United had threatened in the first half. Following Southampton’s defeat at West Ham United, Carvalhal’s side remain three points above the drop zone.
For United, attentions turn to next Saturday, the derby and delaying the inevitable.
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