What we learned from Manchester United’s win over Swansea

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Saturday’s win for Manchester United was anything but perfect, especially in a first half sorely lacking in energy, ambition, ideas … well, it lacked pretty much everything as Swansea more or less ran the show.

But United did manage to quiet the growing unrest around the fabled ground, and right quickly past the break. Here are some of the take-aways:

More of the “missing midfield” from Manchester United

What does it say about the state of mighty Manchester United when the best central midfielder in a game between these two clubs – something of a meeting of “haves” and “have-nots” isn’t it? – belongs to Swansea?

ProSoccerTalk’s Richard Farley sank his teeth into this issue earlier this week, dissecting the ongoing issue around Old Trafford: since Paul Scholes began losing tread on the tire, the failure to find a worthwhile center midfielder to partner Michael Carrick. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey was the game’s most effective central midfielder for long stretches Saturday.

Twenty minutes into the match, Swansea had 60 percent of the possession, and much of that was about Shelvey’s talent and willingness to do the work on either side of the ball.

First corner kick … at the hour mark?

United didn’t take its first corner kick until almost an hour gone in the game. That’s how tilted the game was at times, with Swansea keeping the ball over long periods, not always doing so with menace and danger but managing to make the home players chase the game.

The final result will mitigate concern over this lack of attacking push from United. Still, it will be recorded in the minds of critics, sure to be trotted out during the next losing spell, or even after the next loss.

More desire in second half for Manchester United

The crowd was getting restless … and then some! About the time Darren Fletcher launched a directionless ball down the field to no one in particular, after about 30 minutes, the irritation around the ground began reverberating with some real teeth. More of the same about 10 minutes later as United simply could not gain and maintain possession against the visitors. It was really beginning to look like an awful match during a real stretch of them for David Moyes’ men.

But he must have said something at halftime, or a switch was flipped for some of the proud men or something. Because the second half was a world apart in performance and desire.

A lot came down the left, where Adnan Januzaj and Patrice Evra were tearing the Swans apart. Danny Welbeck was becoming more a factor, too.

Evra’s crosses weren’t always the best, but his constant pressure was an inspiration (and that pressure had a lot to do with Welbeck’s goal, which more or less finished this one off.)

Januzaj was the game-changer

His first-half free kick nearly changed the game before the break, a ball off the cross bar that would have been something of a classic “goal against the run of play.”

He was on the job after the break, too, whipping in the cross that led to his team’s breakthrough goal. A few minutes later, he intercepted a throw from Swansea’s keeper, then supplied another cross that would eventually become Welbeck’s goal.

A clever tactical tweak was surely involved, too; Moyes moved Januzaj out wide to the left and Shinji Kagawa shifted into the center, behind Welbeck. Both players looked better at that point.

Januzaj is still young and lacking in some consistency, but the Belgian up-and-comer proved his enormous worth on this day, providing the extra spark Moyes’ team so badly needed, and just in time.

Welbeck can’t miss many more like this

OK, this isn’t exactly stunning news, but Moyes’ men have missed, do miss and will continue to badly miss Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in those goal scoring positions. Perfect case in point:

Around the 30-minute mark, Januzaj released Antonio Valencia down the right. The sequence found its way to Rafael, who arranged one beautifully for Welbeck.

With only the goalkeeper to beat, Welbeck somehow pulled his first-timer wide left. The young England man helped make up later, but this was the kind of opportunity that Welbeck simply cannot miss, not if he wants to help United challenge for a top four spot, and not if he wants to make his mark when Rooney and van Persie are not available.

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.

Moyes: West Ham “low in confidence,” encouraged by crowd

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David Moyes is just trying to buy himself a bit of time with the West Ham United fans, who were roundly unhappy at his appointment — and the board which hired him, of course — an undertaking toward which he made a small step on Friday.

[ RECAP: West Ham come back to earn a point vs. Leicester ]

Following the Hammers’ 1-1 draw with Leicester, Moyes joined the Sky Sports broadcast crew field-side at the London Stadium. While acknowledging it’s still early days in his tenure, Moyes knows he’s got very little time to build momentum after being appointed manager of a bottom-three side mid-season.

“I thought [the players] worked great in the second half, I think that’s why the crowd reacted so well. I think they are low in confidence. The results haven’t gone [well] and they’ve lost a manager. When it’s like that, it’s difficult. You need some things to go for you now and again.”

As for the Hammers’ most mercurial player, Marko Arnautovic, Moyes has taken a rather hardline approach with the Austrian attacker, and he believes it’s already paying dividends:

“I thought he played really well for us on Sunday, without getting an awful lot of praise for it. Everybody’s said that he hasn’t run, so I said to him, ‘If you don’t run, I won’t play you.’ So, he’s running [now.]

“I don’t think you want to play against Arnautovic if you’re a fullback, because he’s got power, he’s got pace. He probably prefers to play on the left-hand side, but at the moment we’ve got people who want to do that role, so we’re happy to play him on the opposite side. We want him to be a big player, [the club] spent big money on him. We need him to score goals, make goals. He helped us tonight.”