Preview: Swansea City vs. Manchester United

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By Richard Evans

Introduction

Manchester United make the trip to Wales looking to become the first side to take three points from the Liberty Stadium. Swansea have played five home games this season and remain unbeaten, winning three and drawing two. Even more impressively, no opposition player has scored on Welsh soil, with Danny Graham’s own goal against Bolton the only one they have conceded.

The Red Devils will certainly be looking to change that stat, as they look for a vital three points which will keep them in touch with current leaders Manchester City. However, if previous trips to the Swans’ are anything to go by, United will have their work cut out to secure three points.

They visited the Old Vetch Field ground eight times, and only on two occasions did they leave undefeated. Even then though, the Reds could only manage draws.

Sir Alex’s men go into the game on the back of four consecutive wins in all competitions, keeping a clean sheet every time. It has been an encouraging response following derby day despair, and should Man United make it five wins out of five, then the season will be right back on track.

Last time out, they disposed of Sunderland in routine fashion, without ever getting into second gear. A Wes Brown own goal was enough on Sir Alex’s big day, but at this stage of the season, a win is all that matters.

Swansea head into Saturday’s encounter unbeaten in three. After defeating Bolton 3-1, they made the trip to Anfield, where they put in a superb performance, outplaying Liverpool for large spells, and were unlucky to leave Merseyside with only a point. Although, this weekend should provide Brendan Rogers’ charges with their toughest test yet.

Team Selection Thoughts

United have been at their best this season when Tom Cleverley has orchestrated proceedings from midfield, and it comes as a huge blow to learn that the youngster will be sidelined until Christmas. Despite only reporting slight pain after limping off at Everton, scans have revealed a recurrence of the ankle injury he sustained against Bolton ruling him out for the near future. In his absence, Fletcher, Carrick and Anderson will be vying for a starting berth in the centre. The Reds will need energy and the passing will have to be sharp, traits that Anderson can show when on top form. Also it is imperative that United’s midfield stop the likes of Joe Allen and Leon Britton from playing, as they could pose a significant threat to United’s chances of success.

Because Swansea like to get the ball down and play, Sir Alex may opt to start Park, either in the middle or on the left taking into account his work rate and effort towards the cause. If so, the manager will have a selection headache, in terms of who to play on the wing. Nani has shown glimpses of what he can do this season without reaching the scintillating form of last year, although he scored a cracker in midweek for Portugal which won’t do his chances any harm.

Ashley Young is back to fitness after recovering from a toe injury and goes straight into the squad, whilst Antonio Valencia is pushing for a start in the league. Valencia’s pace and directness would provide a useful outball, and if United decide to let Swansea have the ball and soak up pressure, then the Ecuadorian is the perfect player to hit them on the break.

Up top, the decision for Sir Alex is whether to play two strikers, or deploy someone on their own and flood the midfield. Berbatov may be saved for the Champions League tie in midweek, so it is likely to be Hernandez and Rooney that are trusted with the task of firing United to victory. Danny Welbeck will not travel after sustaining a muscle injury on international duty, whilst Michael Owen is likely to be out until Christmas.

At the back David De Gea should start after sitting out the Sunderland match, although the game comes too soon for Chris Smalling. Rio Ferdinand is likely to partner Nemanja Vidic at centre back, with Phil Jones and Patrice Evra filling in at right and left back respectively.

Opposition View

Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of Planet Swans forum and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:

Saturday’s Match

Saturday’s match will be a lot closer than United fans might anticipate. Swansea play a 4-3-3 which takes on a 4-2-3-1 look when we attack. The midfield will be key for us as usual and it’ll be one place we’ll look to take advantage of and exploit given United’s relatively weak options there. With United lacking both the controller in midfield (Carrick arguable can fill this role, but form is an issue) and a true creative midfielder, if we can get on top early on it’ll be a very interesting encounter.

The result at Anfield has given us a lot of confidence and I expect Swansea will have a good go. United’s full backs will be in for a busy afternoon trying to contain our flying wingers who are in good form. There is a possibility Evra will struggle against Dyer.

Swansea will expectedly start as underdogs with the talent down the other end of the field. A lot will rest on who gets the first goal.

Premier League Life

Doubts did arise early on after the loss to City and subsequent performances where we looked less than exciting. Transfers weren’t pulling up trees and we weren’t dominating midfield like we were used to. Since those first 2/3 games, we’ve gone from strength to strength and look a very decent outfit in the division. January will be vital if we’re to progress and cement out place in the division.

Would you rather stay up playing with a less attractive approach, or go down knowing you held your principles a la Blackpool?

We’ve an identity as a club, an identity we’ll stick to whether we stay up or go down. Besides, we haven’t got the personnel to play football in any other way and it’s served us well so far.

I don’t think we would ever change our philosophy to be honest. What will be, will be. I am really proud of the way we play.

The Manager

Brendan Rodgers is a true gent, a motivator and an excellent tactician. He’s destined for bigger things that us, that’s clear. Hopefully he’s learned his lesson in moving too early after his Reading experience and he’ll stick around for a few years. If he does lack something it’s experience in substitutions. Sir Alex Ferguson has developed a knack for bringing on that player who can make a difference- be it scoring a goal or shoring up the defence. Rodgers has displayed some inexperience in this department (see Wolves game, away) but it’s something that will come with experience.

Struggled and Flourished

Mark Gower and Joe Allen have been absolutely outstanding so far whilst Leon Britton has been his usual solid self. Danny Graham had a difficult start to life at the Liberty but has really come into his own as of late and is tipped by our manager for an England call-up, along with the brilliant Nathan Dyer. Stephen Dobbie, meanwhile has really struggled to adapt to the pace of the game and his inability to retain possession deems him a risk.

Great Britain Football Team

No reason to oppose it. Assurances have been given that it will not be a permanent thing and those who do oppose it just seem to ignore this fact. There will always be a Welsh national side regardless of what happens at the Olympics.

Three Key Battles

Darren Fletcher vs. Joe Allen

The energetic Scot will have to be on top of his game to stop the tricky Allen who pulls the strings for the Swans. If Fletcher can stop the playmaker from getting on the ball then United can win the midfield battle and ultimately the match. It is doubtful whether he will be asked to man mark the diminutive creator, although he will have to keep a close eye on him.

Wayne Rooney vs. Ashley Williams

If Rooney can replicate some of his performances in recent matches, then Ashley Williams will be in for a tricky afternoon. Rooney is a nightmare to mark for defenders, often dropping deep to pick up the ball, before arriving late into the box or even hanging back on the edge. The Swansea centre half has been dependable all season, but his credentials will be put to the test here. If Rooney comes out on top then I think United will as well.

Scott Sinclair vs. The Back Four

Sinclair has been the main reason behind Swansea’s brilliant start to the season, and the Reds will have to be very wary of his threat. The winger often interchanges positions so marking him will prove a challenge. If he gets on the ball regularly, then he will pose problems, but if United can stifle him it will pave the way to three points.

Summary

It should be a fast paced encounter, with Swansea looking to get on the ball and ask questions of United’s backline. The Red Devils will have to be patient, but will have to play with pace and energy if they are to emerge victorious from this one.

Expect the contest to be very tight, but I think the men from Old Trafford should just have that little bit more class on the day.

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