Venue: Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales
Kickoff: 30th August – 16:00 Hours, BST; 20: 30 Hours, IST
Swansea City’s home clash against Manchester United is easily the most engrossing encounter of Matchweek 4 of the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League season, with both sides going into the game unbeaten across all competitions so far.
Both teams drew their respective league fixtures last weekend, and would be looking to sign off with a win before the first international break of this season. Sunday’s hosts have played adventurous football in their three games so far while the visitors have taken the safer route, whereby they have looked to nullify their opponents’ threat by holding onto the ball for longer periods in each of their games.
Garry Monk, 36, has been rather impressive during his 18 months at the club, an ongoing stint that has so far seen him thrive under intense pressure of the English top-flight and exhibit great tactical acumen, especially in some of the marquee fixtures throughout his reign.
Louis van Gaal deserves credit for taking the Red Devils back into the UEFA Champions League, a target he was set when taking over from David Moyes at Old Trafford last summer. The Dutchman has probably not got them playing artistic football, a big criticism of the Old Trafford outfit this season as well, but the results and targets have been achieved during his time at the club so far. Yes, for a majority of the last campaign, United didn’t achieve convincing results – though they were firmly in the hunt for a top 4 finish – and that trend has followed in the 3 games so far, too. However, van Gaal has the chance of putting things right against the Swans this Sunday.
Can he do it? What should United do to beat Swansea? Will Monk continue to have the better of van Gaal, having done the double over the 64-year old in the league last season?
Answers and much, much more to follow…
Barring a couple of new faces, Swansea are pretty much the same side as last season. Andre Ayew has been a great signing for the Welsh club, who signed the 25-year old on a 4-year deal and free transfer from Ligue 1 outfit Marseille this past June. The Ghana attacking midfielder has scored a couple of league goals in 3 appearances so far, exhibiting intelligent wing play and showing great striker’s instincts whenever he has got into the box. Lanky Portuguese forward, Eder, left-back Franck Tabanou and goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt, have been the other major signings to have arrived at the Liberty Stadium this summer.
Swansea have begun the season well despite winning just one of their first three league fixtures. The 2-2 draw against Chelsea on the opening day of the season spoke a lot about their character and the potential they have as a group; the West Londoners, taking into account they didn’t play particularly well, were given a run for their money by Monk’s men, who equalized twice on the evening to earn a point. They followed it up with a comfortable 2-0 win at home against Newcastle United, before having to settle for another away draw, against Sunderland, last weekend.
Bafetimbi Gomis continues to lead the line well, scoring a goal in each of his side’s 3 games. To the right and left of the Frenchman, Ayew and Jefferson Montero have been equally scintillating, with the Ecuadorian winger creating an impressive 8 chances in three league games so far. That front three will take some stopping, as the trio of Montero, Gomis and Ayew are in-form players and more importantly, playing with confidence at the moment.
Behind the aforementioned trio, Jonjo Shelvey (the leading creative player in the league, having created 13 chances), Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jack Cork offer defensive solidity and plenty of creativity, which have been an integral part of the Swansea blueprint since the beginning of last season, playing in midfield. Shelvey, in particular, has matured into an exciting box-to-box midfielder who is largely consistent, too, these days. His midfield tussle with United’s Michael Carrick could be crucial to their teams’ chances this Sunday. Swansea’s backline has been marshaled well by Ashley Williams, and will need to put up a good display if they are to have a good chance of winning against van Gaal’s side.
Ahead of Sunday’s fixture against United, the home side does not have any injury casualties, with Monk having a full squad to choose from. Ki Sung-yueng, who suffered a Hamstring injury against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, returned to action during his side’s 2nd round Capital One Cup victory over York City in midweek and could at least be on the bench for the clash against the Old Trafford outfit.
Tactically and statistically, there is a lot to admire about Swansea City, if you look at their exploits in the 3 league games so far. They have created the joint-most number of chances (49) in the league, along with Arsenal, but have scored 3 goals more than the North Londoners. Another key aspect about Swansea has been the way they have nullified their opponents’ attacking threats, even of the caliber of Jose Mourinho’s side, with the Blues, Magpies and Black Cats together creating only 15 chances against Monk’s side. And this is precisely the reason why the headline states that Manchester United face a test of character; the hosts not only have created the most chances, but they also edge the Sunday’s visitors when it comes to average possession: 55% to United’s 54%.
Swansea are probably the only side at the moment, that will want to have possession while playing against United and not compromise on playing their natural game. Yes, they will respect the opposition and the attacking dynamism United will bring to the table, but, when they win the ball back, expect them to pass with purpose and subsequently, create chances. Van Gaal’s side, therefore, not only has the challenge of trying to score goals while not enjoying as much possession as they have enjoyed in the first three games, but also keep the home side out from scoring.
Sunday’s visitors have not been as bad as the media has had us believe, but their performances, like last season, have been a tad unconvincing. In three league games, they have found the back of the net only once by way of Adnan Januzaj against Aston Villa, with their opening day victory against Tottenham Hotspur coming as a result of Kyle Walker’s own goal. Their rearguard, however, has fared well and three cleansheets, though against opposition bereft of attacking firepower, are evidence that they have defensively been a lot better compared to van Gaal’s first season in-charge of the club.
United have so far splashed £84m this summer and brought in players with flair and a fair bit of pedigree at the top-most level of the game. Every new signing – Sergio Romero, Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay – has shown glimpses of what United will be getting once they settle in, but Sunday’s clash against Swansea will provide them their first major tests of the campaign.
Sunday’s visitors have struggled to score goals in the league so far, with Wayne Rooney leading the line and Javier Hernandez looking sluggish since returning to Old Trafford after his season-long loan deal at Real Madrid. United’s skipper scored a hat-trick in the 2nd leg of his side’s Champions League playoff tie against Club Brugge on Wednesday, thereby putting an end to the 10-game run without a goal; despite the striker’s claims after the game that he was never worried about the drought, this weekend’s game against Swansea will tell us a lot about whether scoring a hat-trick in a different competition can help him resurrect his league goal-scoring form.
We are only 3 games into the Premier League season, however, from United’s perspective, they can’t continue struggling, this much, for goals; last weekend’s 0-0 draw against Newcastle is a wake-up call to find a way of scoring more goals and not become predictable in their approach. Because if they continue being flimsy in front of goal, there is little doubt that the Magpies’ heroic defensive performance will make every other club, including this Sunday’s opponents, feel confident when approaching United.
Ahead of the visit to Liberty Stadium, David de Gea’s exclusion from the 18-man matchday squad seems likely to continue. In terms of injuries and suspensions: Januzaj is not fit to feature against Swansea, after picking up a knock in the 4-0 win over Club Brugge on Wednesday; Phil Jones continues to be sidelined with mild thrombosis and is at least a few weeks away from returning to action; Marouane Fellaini is back in contention after completing his 3-match suspension for picking up a red card in last season’s final game against Hull City. It has also been reported by Sky Sports that West Bromwich Albion have agreed a fee of £6m with United for Jonny Evans, and we await further developments on the Northern Irishman’s prospective sale before the September 1 Transfer deadline.
Looking ahead to this Sunday’s game, a confident United side will turn up at the Liberty Stadium, looking to stamp its authority on the hosts, who did the double over them last season. Dynamics have changed for United since going down to the Welsh side back in February, when they let the home side come from behind to register a 2-1 victory. The back four looks settled with Darmian and Luke Shaw, who looks in better shape and is performing well after a forgettable first season, operating on the right and left fullback positions while Chris Smalling and Daley Blind have done well at central defence so far. Unlike his first season, van Gaal seems to have come to terms with what is his best side if his team selection for United’s first three league games is anything to go by and that aspect should stand them in good stead against Swansea.
As aforementioned, the big questions are whether United can dominate possession while playing away from home and then, can they nullify the Swans’ attacking threat? Given the way they have played in their first three games, United scoring first would significantly brighten their chances of winning against Monk’s side. Swansea are good at keeping the ball and they have creative players who can create chances, but falling behind by a goal could see them come out more and leave gaps for the likes of Depay and Rooney to exploit. Also, given United’s relative bluntness going forward, a counterattacking game would not be such a bad thing.
Both the clubs’ fans and neutrals are in for an intriguing tussle. Both the sides are unbeaten so far, and the impending international break will definitely be playing on the managers’ and players’ minds, but it should not change the winning mentality the two sides have thrived on in the last 12+ months. Manchester United are a bit under-rated ahead of the game, but a good performance here will get the rest of the Premier League sit up and take notice; that is the sort of challenge Swansea are expected to provide. Monk’s men pride themselves in playing good, attractive football, and United coming to town should not force them to go on the defensive.