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A hugely disappointing afternoon at the Liberty Stadium came after the optimism of United’s return to Europe’s top table in mid-week. Once again the Reds started brightly but failed to capitalise in the opening 20 minutes.
Juan Mata put United ahead early in the second half but for the third meeting in succession Swansea ran out 2-1 winners with goals from Ayew and Gomis. Louis Van Gaal’s men controlled possession but always looked lacking in the final third. Here are 5 things we learned from the defeat to Gary Monk’s Swans.
1) Shaw Bet
It’s always good to start with a positive and against Swansea Luke Shaw, as he has been in every game so far this season, was just that. The young left-back continues to impress and is starting to look like the player the club thought he would become.
At right-back Matteo Darmian also gives great cause for optimism with solid defensive displays. Full-back has been an area of concern in recent years but the club look to have solved those problems for the long-term.
Yes, both full-backs were caught high up the pitch when United conceded, but their attacking impetus is a huge part of Van Gaal’s philosophy and it was Luke Shaw’s lung busting run and cross that opened the door for Juan Mata to put the Reds ahead.
2) Possession Over Penetration
Van Gaal’s fabled ‘philosophy’ has come under great scrutiny in recent weeks, not least from former Red Gary Neville after the defeat at the Liberty Stadium. The Dutchman stood firm after the match in his belief that United had ‘controlled’ the game but there was very little penetration despite the possession.
Once more, barring the first 20 minutes or so, the Reds were far too slow and pedestrian in possession, with players tangibly more concerned with maintaining structure as opposed to attempting to create and be incisive. It’s a big problem and United will need to find a lot more cutting edge in the coming weeks.
Whilst there is a lot to criticise about Van Gaal’s methods the flipside is that it is easy to see why managers who take over clubs after the Dutchman tend to enjoy success. For all of the lack of tempo and penetration, United’s manager does coach the technical side of the game very well, albeit with over-burdening restraints on creativity and natural instincts.
With the shackles off and greater urgency there is no reason why United won’t develop into a very good outfit. It will be interesting to see if that materialises under the Dutchman or his successor.
3) Keeper Crisis?
The David De Gea situation is nothing short of farcical and against Swansea Manchester United paid a heavy price. Make no mistake; Sergio Romero is not a goalkeeper who can be relied upon at the very top level if you have ambitions of challenging for titles.
Reports suggest that Manchester United have finally agreed a fee with Real Madrid for the transfer of their no.1 with the possibility of Keylor Navas making the switch in the opposite direction. One thing is certain; the whole situation has been handled incredibly badly and it is hoped that lessons are being learnt.
4) Blind Exposed?
Despite concerns Daley Blind has received high praise for the way he has adapted to a new centre-back role at the start of the season. However, Sunday afternoon and an in-form Bafetimbi Gomis saw the Dutchman face his first real test and it was far from a comfortable experience.
It should be noted that Blind was left exposed partly through what was going on ahead of him but, even so, there were multiple occasions where the utility man’s lack of pace and strength was exploited. Blind has showed he is capable of playing the position but against top quality opposition United will need more.
Chris Smalling has made a very impressive start to the season but there is no question that the Old Trafford outfit could do with an experienced campaigner along side him.
5) Where are we?
It’s important not to get carried away with knee-jerk negativity and pessimistic overtures. This is still very much a side in transition and United will improve. Two wins, a draw and a defeat to start the season is not the end of the world and Swansea in particular have developed into a very good side and the Reds could quite conceivably have played very well and still lost.
In one sense that the problems are so glaring and obvious can be taken as a positive. Don’t be fooled by diplomacy in front of the media, Van Gaal will be well aware of the areas United need to improve and the club will no doubt be working very hard in the final hours of the transfer window.
If reports are to be believed the Reds have moved swiftly to agree a fee of £36million for Anthony Martial, a 19-year-old French Striker from Monaco. On the face of it the deal looks to be littered with panic; an extortionate fee for an unproven teenager. But United’s best business often comes when buying potential. The club have a history of making stars, not buying them and if Martial develops his potential £36million may look like a sound investment in a few years; only time will tell.
Nevertheless, the club’s transfer strategy remains puzzling. After a very promising start to the window, with good business being done early, things have descended into farce.
So where are we?
There is no doubt that United need solutions in a number of areas: goalkeeper, centre-half and in attack. For a club that finished fourth last season the expectation was that strides would be made in the rebuilding process to push for trophies this season. As things stand, even with an astronomical fee for Martial, the sale of Chicharito and De Gea may leave United in profit for the summer whilst others have strengthened around them.
Most disappointing is the apparent lack of structure and forward planning. Players have been sold or released with no replacements lined up. Signing the very best should always be the target of a club of United’s stature, but there has to be an acceptance that those calibre of players are not always available and are very difficult to get.
If that is the case, the next plan should surely be to sign players with potential for smaller fees. Unfortunately, once again it seems as though there has been very little planning at all.
If they are going to challenge on all fronts this season, Manchester United will need to make significant movements in the coming hours.