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Jan 132014

Manchester United 2-0 Swansea City

72225055 461811975 Another Tale of Two HalvesTalk about agita! After finally pulling ourselves together in the second half, everybody can forget about both the first half and, while they’re at it, the first part of the season. Looking more and more like a red-headed, ultra-exhausted Gollum from Lord of the Rings, manager David Moyes was still clearly very much relieved at the post-match press conference. The pressure he has undergone this week at the hands of the hungry pigs and dogs of Fleet Street has been unprecedented. Considering the tide of anti-United hatred and bile he’s been swimming against the current in, had the Red Devils not been purposeful enough to reverse last week’s FA Cup defeat, it may really have been the beginning of the end for him. 53 years have gone by the wayside since they last suffered the indignity of four successive defeats in 1961. Perspective-wise, that was when Bill Nicholson’s Tottenham Hotspur won the Double, which, in this day and age, at a club where the Chairman picks the team, is unimaginable. But anything is possible in football.

One thing is for sure, United made us suffer before getting themselves together. They took their time and there were parts of the first half when, once again, this looked nothing like close to the erratic team which won the Premier League championship last season. Yet–in a peculiar way they now remind me more and more of the seesaw hijinx of the late great Tommy Docherty-managed Chelsea team of the late sixties’/early seventies–they suddenly shifted gears and cruised to victory after Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck scored brilliant goals during the opening 15 minutes of the second half. At the center of it all, an 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj casually moved all around the midfield, repeatedly toying with whoever attempted to snuff out his threat, daring defenders tostop him, causing panic at will and drawing fouls. Indeed, United so battered Swansea’s crew of normally confident young bucks that they spent the last fifteen minutes with ten men behind the ball in their own half, their complex passing system eradicated.

All the usual new hair-dryer jokes aside, one can’t help but wonder what was said at half-time. For all those who’ve taken cheap shots at Moyes for “trying to turn them into Everton,” as Alan Shearer put it on the radio last week, they looked awesome for a solid 25 minutes there. Of course, something similar happened against Bayer Leverküsen a few weeks back before the wheels fell off again. Considering the absence of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney, not to mention losing Phil Jones just as he was having his first true purple patch for the club, and the sheer conjoined Manc-hating Rottweiler rage and joy in the club’s problems exhibited by the media, I felt proper proud for the Lads on Saturday. It’s a bit soon for us to expect too much against Chelsea next week, but Swansea City really are no pushover. Crisis? What bloody crisis?

Well, okay, we needn’t get too carried away, though. The raucous crowd were truly up for this one and it seems to be no accident that the fans really are that much more up for later games. Feeling up against the wall and under the cosh surely does have something to do with it. But neither the team nor the fans can carry on this way. At any rate, three important things happened that give me much hope.

No Tom Cleverley! I’m terrified Moyes will bring him back next week, but our new manager is a stubborn man. With Darren Fletcher fresh and fit in his place, United’s passing capabilities fall off a bit, but Daz’s desire and sheer love of playing in a Manchester United shirt makes all the difference in the world. The Scotsman should be a fixture on the pitch and I would prefer it if I was never forced to watch Cleverley’s mopery ever again in a United shirt. That is not to say, of course, that too much can be read into one result.

Kagawa as a second striker! Shinji is never going to be Wesley Sneijder, or a left-winger. I don’t care what he does on the Japanese national team, or those fans who insist he’s not good enough for the PL. His interplay with Lewandowski at Borussis Dortmund was exquisite and the team would have won it all had he stayed last season. There were glimpses of what he is capable of in his interplay with Welbeck and Januzaj against the Swans in the second half. They ran a kind of rolling diamond of bait and switch that repeatedly left Ashley Williams flat-footed, useless and marooned. Perhaps he’ll never be able to work well with Van Persie or Rooney, but Moyes should consider carefully before giving him the heave-ho.

Januzaj and Welbeck! I don’t want to hear one more word about United being so reliant on an 18-year-old. This kid is the real deal and we only need to worry about him getting hurt. I also think it’s no accident that Danny Welbeck is in his element when he’s flitting hither and thither, back and forth with other slightly eccentric accompaniment. His relationship with Daniel Sturridge for England promises much if they find a more consistent accompaniment. But what we saw against Swansea between Welbeck, Januzaj and Kagawa could yet turn out to be key in saving the season if we can acquire a quality passing midfielder and Rooney can adjust. Januzaj can even take consistently good free kicks, which means we’re less toothless if RVP, Giggs or Rooney aren’t around.

After a disastrous first half. United might have been without Wazza and RVP, but Swansea have a lot less bite of their own without the injured Michu in particular. Michael Laudrup’s team also had to contend with the early departure of Jose Cañas, but they still maintained 67% possession throughout the first half.Januzaj was made the fulcrum of everything in the second half.

To say United were flat in the first half is the understatement of all time. Repeatedly careless passing from Smalling, and even skipper Nemanja Vidic and an incredibly nervous Rafael had the crowd audibly upset. Repeatedly overmatched on the left flank, Patrice Evra got an early yellow card and seemed to be in a shouting match with Nemanja Vidic who, to his credit, repeatedly made it clear that he wanted him to hang farther back. Instead, Evra who is incapable of any mode of stasis, still ventured forward. This left huge amounts of extra work for Smalling and Vidic to do, although both rose to the challenge. Repeatedly blotting out Swansea’s swift but predictable style of tikki-tak attack, United did have a couple of quite simple chances but one was mishit by Rafael after a brilliant solo run and Welbeck missed yet another sitter after a fine set-up by Rafael and Valencia had left him alone in front of goal.

At half time, Moyes clearly did more than shout in the dressing room. With Januzaj switched over to the left against serial fouler Angel Rangel, United were now in business. Already on a yellow card, his feet probably sore from kicking lumps out of Kagawa’s back thighs, Rangel had to mute down his game. Only two minutes in, Ashley Williams failed to properly clear a loose ball off Januzaj. The ball bounced off his head and a cat-quick Kagawa was in there to head toward goal. Somehow, Swansea’s veteran goalie Gerhard Trammel shifted in mid-air and push the ball clear, but an unmarked Valencia was there to side-foot his shot into an empty net to make 1-0.

Welbeck scored the second United goal in the 59th minute and it clearly offered him a chance for redemption over the easy chance he had botched in the first half. A bad throw from Trammel toward a slow-witted Routledge was intercepted by Januzaj. The baby-faced Belgian double-clutched and made a sweet backward pass to a sprinting Evra. Januzaj and Evra made a lightning one-two, Januzaj hit it quickly on the diagonal toward goal and Welbeck was on the spot to stick a toe out and send the ball flying in the opposite direction into the net to make it 2-0.

Very much helped by the performance of Nemanja Vidic, who was flawless after a couple of uncharacteristic early mistakes, Wilfried Bony, who scored Swansea’s winner last week and really gave United a lot of difficulties with his raw physicality, was quiet throughout. Remarkably fluid and easy on the eye for the rest of the game, United would have scored at least four goals save for Chris Smalling missing a simple chance when he volleyed over the bar from five yards out after connecting to a superb Kagawa cross. And with minutes to go, Kagawa was also too generous to the Swans when he dribbled around goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel but had his weakly hit effort cleared off the line by Leon Britton.

United can now, we hope, approach their next game against Chelsea, with less trepidation and a cautious sense of confidence.
72224493 461811927 Another Tale of Two Halves

Ivor Irwin

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