Friday, 28 August 2015

FIRST REAL TEST OF THE SEASON


Yes, we've had Spurs at home but Sunday will be the first real test Manchester United will have faced this season. Swansea City represent one of the few clubs in the premier division that on any given day can stand toe to toe with any of the established names of English football on the pitch. The Welsh club are beneficiaries of a fluid football philosophy but have now added a touch of doggedness about them to make for a difficult side to break down, let alone beat.

Team News
Louis van Gaal rotated his entire midfield for the first time this season for the mid-week trip to Belgium, handing a rest to linchpin Morgan Schneiderlin. The Frenchman is quickly becoming an indispensable part of the team-setup if only because of his excellent ability to shield the back four. His should be the most expected change from the starting line-up on Wednesday.

Ander Herrera yet again proved his worth to the manager in his 64 minutes of game time against Club Brugge in mid-week and so the Number 10 position could be the other spot of bother. Adnan Januzaj has been preferred lately from the start but going by current form, the expectation would be to drop him for Ander Herrera and export the exciting forward play from Belgium to Wales on Sunday.

The Opposition

Swansea City claimed maximum points from United last season so they will be under no illusions about what lies in store at the Liberty Stadium. The Swans defend deep into their box, limiting the space between the defence and goalkeeper so much so that it is impossible to build up play through them. That is essentially how United played into their hands last season. That philosophy is complemented by a menacing counter-attack through the pacy Montero. Montero now has the equally pacy Ayew to feed off his balls into the box. With the added physical presence of Bafetimbi Gomis to put away chances up top, the Swans have the tools to make life as difficult and as miserable as possible for unsuspecting opponents.

Gary Monk will have studied the laborious build up play of United and the uncertainty with which they respond to speed on a counter-attack. It's important therefore that United are not as predictable as they've been in the league so far.

United
It's almost a given how United will approach the game on Sunday given that few things change about van Gaal and his philosophy but there will be a profound shame if Manchester United approach the game in similar fruitless fashion to last season. It just won't work if United take up their usual predictable positions of pass without much movement in a bid to 'dominate the opponent'. Like the couple of games last season, possession will be ceded to Louis van Gaal's side if only because it will suit Swansea's approach of hitting United on the break.

Indeed, keeping a clean sheet in this one will be quite remarkable. Montero will undoubtedly be Matteo Darmian's biggest test yet (he made Branislav Ivanovic consider retirement the other day) whilst Gomis will fancy himself all-game against the slighter frame of Chris Smalling. The freedom United attacked with on Wednesday will obviously be curtailed which should afford the boss no choice but to start another consistent goal scoring player alongside Juan Mata. Quite how Herrera misses out on Sunday will baffle to say the least.

United need to vary it. I blogged in mid-week that the Ander Herrera goal scored on Wednesday is something we've missed, simply because not to many players in the side are looking to break away into space for a through ball. It's a dimension that could come in handy especially when the opposition mix up playing a high line in possession with defending deep without possession.

Bastin Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick will jostle for the extra midfield spot although the German is the favourite having played 45 minutes less than the Geordie on Wednesday. It remains a wonderful choice of options available to the manager.

Last season, United went full throttle at Swansea without much cover at the back and were resultantly vulnerable to the counter-attack. It should be safer this time. van Gaal effectively has six players designed to do defensive work at any given period in the game and just four licensed to share the burden of getting goals. Consequently, United are very hard to beat but because of a lack of insurance policy for goals, the club is almost always within striking range.

Sunday will be nervy. With an International break set to follow, a less than positive result will leave a 10 day window of inquiry into United's prospects this season. The upside though is that confidence ahead of future tests will sky rocket if the Reds can go to Swansea and pick up three points.  

The Sub-Plots
Marouane Fellaini is now available to Louis van Gaal having served his three match domestic suspension. It baffled a bit as to why he was left out on 'Rotation Wednesday' but maybe the plan is to start the Belgian up top ahead of Wayne Rooney on Sunday! Certainly stranger things have happened. Ideally he ought to be an impact sub when the football on the carpet has failed to come to fruition. Warning though: His style of play makes it easy for the opposition to win a free-kick off him and hence make him an easy target to break-up play. He remains susceptible to yellow cards because of his giant elbows, moreso when the game is not going according to plan. It's also common knowledge in the premier league that if you move the ball on the carpet quickly around him, you can easily get away from him and render him an ineffective out-field player.

Daley Blind will occasionally be asked to take care of Gomis. It's fair to say they rarely come much more handy or dreadlocked than that in the league. Another player who will be subject to a big test, if you will pardon the pun.

Wayne Rooney might have ended his general goal-scoring drought on Wednesday, but the clock in the league will continue to tick away until he registers one. Was it a false dawn? We shall soon find out.

The Bottom Line
Playing last on the weekend means that we'll be starring up at a few teams at kick-off on Sunday. No pressure then! Just like City's victory at Goodison Park marked them out as the force to reckon with, United's season could easily be judged on how they will cope at one of the most difficult places to pick up three points in the league. Lose, and suddenly United look ordinary again. Win, and Louis van Gaal's pragmatism will start to raise eye brows if only because he would have won 10 points in 5 games fewer than last season!

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