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What We Learned: Fantastic five minutes downs Swansea

In the first away match of the Premier League season, Manchester United made the trip to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea. United were coming off a flying start to the Premier League season having won 4-0 at home to West Ham United.

Phil Jones continues solid start to season

It was his defensive partner that got the goal this week but for the second match in a row, Phil Jones has been United’s best defender. Jones dealt well with every one-on-one situation he was confronted with whether he was up against the pace and craft of Jordan Ayew or the size of Tammy Abraham. Instructing and marshalling those around him Jones is showing great leadership at the back for United. This was evident when a positional mistake by Bailly gifted Tammy Abraham a free header.

Eric Bailly had chased Ayew deep into midfield, Nemanja Matic had covered well but Bailly returned to a position in front of Matic rather than picking up Tammy Abraham who was behind Matic. Despite not conceding Jones was visibly upset by the mistake. Phil Jones could have opened the scoring when he hit the bar with United’s first chance but his match-high – three interceptions and ten clearances to go along with the team keeping a clean sheet, capped another excellent performance from the English International.

The dam breaks

Swansea provided precisely the type of resistance that United faced in matches of this nature last season. They clogged the midfield to slow United’s ball movement and squeezed United’s attack in the final third by pitting three centre backs against United’s single striker Romelu Lukaku. United countered by playing Marcus Rashford in more of a wide striker (or narrow wing) position. With Mata, characteristically, coming inside from his wide right position, United played into Swansea’s hands unable to exploit the wide spaces either side of the home side’s back line for the majority of the first half. Despite scoring just before the stroke of half time United struggled to create clear cut chances until Swansea changed to a 4-4-2 on the 67′ minute.

The midfield had more space to operate and Lukaku was able to make a bigger impression on the game up against two centre backs rather than three. United then switched to 4-3-3 further increasing their numbers in midfield and United’s front four of Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and substitute, Anthony Martial sprung into life.  Improved hold up play from Lukaku helped United attack at pace, scoring three late goals in five minutes. For the second time in two matches, United have shown that they will pressurise defences for all 90 minutes of the match and teams that can’t keep their focus and concentration will be forced to succumb to that pressure.

Quietly productive

Rashford and Mkhitaryan were the only United attackers who consistently received the ball in the final third, turned around and challenged the defence. This was key in a match where there was not much space to operate in. In the first half, Rashford played a direct and aggressive style of attack that caused Swansea problems. He would, however, miss United’s first clear-cut chance, failing to finish despite being put through one on one by a poor back pass. The Armenian was quiet for much of the match but once being afforded space in the last 15 minutes with Swansea chasing the game, Mkhitaryan showed again that he is a devastating force when running at a defence.

First, collecting the ball from Lukaku’s chested pass and combining with Martial before playing in Lukaku for the easy finish. Then almost immediately running at speed at the Swansea defence before providing a deft pass for Pogba to chip home; Mkhitaryan blew the doors off Swansea’s resolve in a two minute period that proved decisive. With four assists in two matches having only managed one all of last season shows a return to the form that led to the creator’s signing from Borussia Dortmund a year ago.

Conclusion

Manchester United will be happy at managing another big victory, particularly in a match of this nature where the opposition were set up to stifle their attack. Fans, however, should keep their feet on the ground as United still struggled to fashion chances for the majority of the match.

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