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Analysis: Clement outwits Mourinho as Swans earn deserved point

Manchester United dropped more points at home and lost further ground in their chase for Champions League football with a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Swansea City. Wayne Rooney’s first half penalty was cancelled out by Gylfi Sigurdsson’s late free-kick as United failed to win at home for the tenth time this season.

Jose Mourinho made several changes to the side that drew 0-0 against Manchester City, with Jesse Lingard, Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney coming into the starting XI to replace Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in what was a far more attacking selection from the Portuguese manager.

Despite the changes in system and personnel, Manchester United struggled to control possession in the opening exchanges. Swansea City dominated both with and without the ball, pressing United with high intensity and intelligence and winning the ball back regularly in advanced areas of the pitch. Manchester United failed to get to grips with Swansea’s midfield shape. Playing with a 4-1-2-1 diamond, Swansea were able to create numerical advantages in midfield and dominate circulation of the ball.

With Swansea’s four midfield players against the three for Manchester United, they were able to create angles for each other, move the ball quickly and always had a spare man to evade the United press and retain possession. As a result they were able to get the ball forward to Llorente and Ayew in advanced areas and cause United problems.

Swansea dominated the first 20 minutes at Old Trafford, creating multiple chances. Credit: Squawka.

In the opening 20 minutes, Swansea were dominant. They did all the running, had more of the ball, used that possession better and created more chances. They completed 84% of their passes to United’s 75% in the same time period, creating five chances to United’s one, resulting in that same number of chances for each side. Manchester United really could not cope with Swansea’s approach in the opening quarter of this match.

One of the most influential aspects of the first half was the role of Gylfi Sigurdsson. Everyone is aware of his technical qualities in possession of the football, but his defensive work in the first 45 minutes did more to stifle Manchester United than any other Swansea player. When his team didn’t have the ball, he became responsible for Michael Carrick, preventing the English midfielder from getting on the ball and building attacks from deep positions.

Michael Carrick cast a subdued figure in the first half against Swansea. Credit: Squawka.

Carrick was completely nullified in the first half and was rarely able to influence the match beyond the halfway line. We usually associate Michael Carrick with quick passes through the lines of the opposition, vertical passes into the feet of the forwards or into channels for players to run in behind. Due to the pressure exerted on him by Sigurdsson, Carrick’s role was limited to just keeping possession, passing the ball sideways or backwards and not having the same impact on a match that we expect him to.

In the second half, Manchester United started with a much greater control of the match, thanks in no small part to the tactical adjustment made by Jose Mourinho at half time.

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Switching to a midfield diamond as well, United match up against Swansea’s shape to re-establish control the centre of midfield. With greater balance to the side in this new shape, United were much more in control in the next half an hour or so. Without dominating, United were able to get forward and threaten far more often, creating more chances and becoming a much more competitive force within the context of this football match.

Manchester United performed much better in the second half but it wasn’t enough. Credit: Squawka.

Manchester United’s all round performance improved with a midfield diamond, completing 89% of their passes, restricting Swansea to just 81% of theirs and creating three chances. Had Rooney’s shot hit the back of the net rather than the back of Anthony Martial, would they have taken all three points instead of just one?

In the end, what should have been an uncomfortable and unimpressive victory was stolen away by a spectacular Gylfi Sigurdsson free-kick. Even if Manchester United had won, there would have been little to praise from a red perspective. Swansea out-thought and out-fought Manchester United for much of this game, particularly as the match wore on and the effects of nine matches in one month began to show. Another two points dropped from a winning position is unforgivable, particularly at home and especially at this late point in the season. If Manchester United are going to qualify for the Champions League, they are going to do it the hard way and they are going to owe a lot to the sides around them. They need a mistake elsewhere.

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