Louis Van Gaal lost his first league game in charge of Manchester United at home to Swansea City. Goals from Ki Sung-Yeung and Gylfi Sigurdsson gave the Welsh club the victory, despite new United captain Wayne Rooney scoring his first goal of the new season.
United lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Tyler Blackett making his debut in the back three, and fellow debutante Jesse Lingard playing as a wing-back on the right hand side. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Darren Fletcher all started for the Red Devils in a lineup that highlighted the club’s lack of quality in depth.
The performance from United definitely failed to match the euphoria surrounding the new manager. Van Gaal had taken charge of the club after the World Cup came to a close, having been in charge of the Netherlands and taking them to a third placed finish at the tournament.
The Red Devils had an impeccable preseason, as they won all of their games, beating the likes of Roma, Real Madrid and Liverpool. So the expectations were that United would follow that up and hit the ground running in the league, even without new signing Luke Shaw and Dutchman Robin van Persie. But the game was incredibly well matched, with Swansea following their game plan to the letter.
United started brightly but Swansea were content to soak up the pressure and an incredible passing move led to the opening goal. The Swans made 29 passes on the way to Ki scoring from 20 yards out, into the bottom corner beyond a sprawling David De Gea.
No goal in the Premier League last season saw that many passes in the build up, and it epitomized what Swansea are all about. They were able to bide their time and play the right pass at exactly the right moments, and manager Garry Monk – the youngest manager in the top flight – punched the air with delight.
Van Gaal switched his tactics at half time – something of a trademark move for the Dutchman – and United were level within eight minutes. The Red Devils reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Nani replacing Javier Hernandez and Ashley Young moving into left back.
Some good work by Adnan Januzaj – who had replaced Jesse Lingard in the first half – on the right wing led to a corner for the home side, and when the ball found its way to Rooney, via a flick on from Jones, the skipper turned the ball home with an innovative overhead kick.
Then United tried to increase the pressure on their visitors but were nowhere near incisive enough to cause Swansea enough problems at the back. The closest United came to taking the lead was when Rooney curled a free kick against the post, with goalkeeper Lukas Fabianski well beaten.
Eventually, Swansea grew back into the game and a counterattacking move saw the ball break out wide to Jefferson Montero. His cross wasn’t dealt with by Young – who was defending the back post – and a mis-hit volley from Wayne Routledge landed at the feet of Sigurdsson. The Icelandic midfielder – who signed from Tottenham in the summer – duly converted the winning goal.
Van Gaal took notes, but for all of his tactical ability he was unable to find a route back into the game for United. Swansea held on to take the three points and it leaves United with plenty of questions to ask – and indeed answer.
They know that the squad isn’t good enough yet for a title challenge, but this defeat leaves fans and pundits alike wondering whether or not the squad is even good enough to challenge for a place in the top four. Van Gaal must strengthen between now and the end of the month if he is to avoid a David Moyes-style disaster this season and get United back into Europe. If he didn’t realize that before the Swansea game, he undoubtedly knows it now.