Old Trafford, Manchester
16 August 2014 ,1145 UTC
Following a hectic World Cup and the lull after, its finally that time of the year again – mid August and time for the return of the English Premier League with a brand new season as twenty clubs lock horns in what is arguably the most competitive top flight football league in the world.
Manchester United open their season this time with a home game against Swansea. Both clubs faced each other in the inaugural game last season as well though that game was held at the Liberty Stadium.
Team New and Tactics
This match carries special significance for Manchester United as it will be new manager Louis van Gaal’s first competitive match for the club, that too at home. United had been a shadow of themselves last season under Moyes, crashing to their worst ever Premier League finish of 7th at the end of their season. The failure cost Moyes his job and now the Old Trafford outfit are under new management. Preseason has been good for the club, having won all of their matches and the International Champions Cup, and this has lent a lot of positivity to the club, its players and its fans. The EPL, however, is a very different animal and only time would tell how well United handle the rigmarole of playing week in week out against clubs that are all vying for positions in the league table.
United will be playing an all new formation based on LvG’s three man defense that was used to great effect by him managing the Dutch side in the recently concluded World Cup. That said, United do not possess wingbacks of the quality of Daley Blind and Bruno Martins Indi. United, like most other English clubs, have been biased towards the four man defensive structure that allows one to play dedicated wingers down the flank. These wingers are fast but their defensive abilities are circumspect and the onus of defense remains with the back 4. In the new 3-4-1-2 formation, the flank players play in a wing back role, bombing forward in attack as well as stepping back to help out in defense. It is a more fluid formation but much more physically demanding on the wing players. With this in mind, there has been some unwelcome news for Manchester United for the start of the season as first choice left back/winger Luke Shaw has picked up a hamstring injury and has been ruled out for four weeks, thereby missing the season opener. Reece James, who has been an ever present fixture in the reserves side since 2012 and also had a good pre-season, is likely to replace him, especially given LvG’s propensity to blood youngsters. Ashley Young will start on the opposite side. The English winger had a perfect pre-season tour, hardly putting a foot wrong. LvG’s squad and tactics might be exactly what Young needed to revive his Old Trafford career and he would do well to grab this opportunity with both hands and then hang onto it for dear life.
United’s other summer purchase, Ander Herrera is however fit and would be one of the first names on the sheet, given a great runout in the pre-season. Herrera is like a breath of fresh air for United’s midfield that has been bereft of any real threat since Cristiano Ronaldo left for the Bernebau. Paul Scholes did play on for a few more years but his game had evolved into one where he sat deeper and used his exceptional skill to pass the ball upfield via point perfect crosses. Herrera is more in the mould of a younger Scholes, passing the ball around, bringing all his team mates into play and not afraid of going into a tackle for the ball. Herrera will have Fletcher for company in central midfield as the senior partner will play in a deeper role to steady the ship and be the interface for the three man defense behind him. The defense will be a proper source of headache for the manager with Johnny Evans’ injury just thinning out LvG’s already lean defensive stock even further. Tyler Blackett is likely to be his replacement. The trio of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and young Beckett would however have their work cut out as they look to keep it tight at the back. They would take heart from the fact that David de Gea will be minding the goal. The young Spaniard was one of the best and most consistent players for United last season and there is no reason why he should not start for United.
With the modified formation, Juan Mata will get to play in his favoured No. 10 role feeding to the forwards ahead of him. Mata’s combinational play with Herrera, Young and Rooney in the pre-season games was impressive and bar injury or fatigue, this combination would be odds on to start every game for United this season. Star striker Robin van Persie’s recovery from his World Cup fatigues is behind schedule and he will miss out on the season starter. Newly appointed skipper Wayne Rooney would most probably be partnered by Danny Welbeck, given that Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez has reportedly been earmarked as “for sale”. LvG prefers players with a high work rate and while the Mexican striker is lethal in front of goal, his work rate leaves much to be desired as the player is lazy in tracking back to defend.
Probable Starting XI: de Gea; Smalling, Jones, Blackett; Young, Herrera, Fletcher, James; Mata; Rooney, Welbeck
Swansea are undergoing a change of their own. Led by club legend Garry Monk, the club is moving away from its passing style of play and evolving towards a more direct attacking one. Garry Monk, who took over from Michael Laudrup and lifted the club’s spirits has now been handed over the managerial job on a permanent basis and he is changing his side and how they play. While Swansea’s pre-season may not have been as successful as United’s, they did try out a variety of combinations and formations, evidently in a bid to iron out their strategy for the upcoming season. In their last pre season game against Villareal, Swansea played a hybrid 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation that could well be the formation that they would largely play in the upcoming season. Swansea finished the 2012-13 season in sixth place surprising many people. However, the added burden of European football combined with a smaller squad took its toll as the Swans coasted to a disappointing 12th place finish. Swansea have had a rather busy transfer window. Chico Flores, Pablo Hernandez, Alvaro, Ben Davies, and Vorm have all left from Liberty Stadium while hero of the 2012-13 season Michu has left on loan to Napoli after a rather non-descript 2013-14 season.
On the other hand, Montero, Sigurddson and Fabianski have moved to the Swans amongst 5 new signings. Yet, Swansea’s coup of the summer transfer window would have to be them holding onto their Ivorian star sriker Wilfried Bony. The striker who scored 25 games for his club in all competitions last season, had been on the radar of a lot of clubs not only in the Premier League but other leagues as well. Swansea have hitherto hung onto their star player and by the looks of it should be able to see out the transfer window safely. Bony will head the Swansea attack playing off new signing Sigurddson. Fellow arrival Montero and Routledge would most probably give him company to complete the three man attacking midfield setup. South Korean Ki Sung-yueng has returned from his loan stint at Sunderland after helping that club survive the relegation battle last season. His season at the Stadium of Light ended in early April after a persistent tendonitis in his knee finally took its toll. The midfielder however seems to be fit to start on Saturday and will accompany Englishman Jonjo Shelvey in midfield. Williams and Bartley will hold fort in central defense with Rangel and Taylor entrusted the unenviable job of controlling United’s flank runs down the flank. New arrival Fabianski who moved from Arsenal to Swansea in a bid to become the first choice keeper is expected to start in goal after the departure of regular first choice goalkeeper Michel Vorm to Tottenham Hotspurs.
Playing the 4-2-3-1 formation will allow Swansea to apply pressure on the fragile United defense and create the slip up that might be required to put in that all important winner against their clearly superior rivals.
Probable Starting XI: Fabianski; Taylor, Bartley, Williams, Rangel; Ki Sung, Shelvey; Montero, Sigurddson, Routledge; Bony
- Swansea have met United on 6 occasions in the Premier League, having draw only one of them and lost the remaining five.
- In the season opener last year, United defeated Swansea 4-1 at the Liberty Stadium with both Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck scoring a brace.
Manchester United 2 – 0 Swansea
The new arrival at Old Trafford has been a welcome one at the club. Herrera is young and raring to go. He also has skills to complement his natural flair. Herrera would be vital in the game against Swansea to open up space in the middle and bring Juan Mata into play. Swansea would target Reece James on the ball to put pressure on the youngster and Rooney may need to drop into midfield on more than one occasion to help out Young and James to cope with pressure but Herrera would still be the lynchpin of this midfield combination who would need to ensure that United keep moving the ball around quickly and switch play to either flanks to prevent Swansea from sustaining pressure.
Bony will look to reprise his performance from last season and what better way than to put in one (or a few) against Manchester United. On numbers alone, Bony would be outnumbered by the three man defense. However, numbers are not what win games and Bony would be aware of the fact that United’s defensive line is makeshift at best. He would obviously target the inexperienced Blackett in the defensive line but Smalling is not too confident aerially either and it would be mainly up to Jones to control Bony and Sigurddson’s forward runs into the United third.