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.