Friday 21 July 2017

Hernandez keeps United in the hunt

Javier Hernandez's goal enabled Manchester United to sully Swansea City's pristine home record and keep in touch with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. Alex Ferguson's team were made to earn their victory by the hosts, who might have secured at least a point if their finishing had matched the finesse of their build-ups.

With Manchester City's swagger becoming ever more jaunty since their historic 6-1 victory at Old Trafford, United went into this match eight points behind neighbours who are threatening not merely to emerge from United's shadow but sashay off into the distance.

United fans' unfamiliar sense of foreboding intensified this week with the news that Tom Cleverley's ankle injury is graver than initially thought and will keep him out of action until after Christmas -- there is a widespread belief that he represents the best solution to the creativity deficit United's central midfield has suffered from, prompting Ferguson to deploy Wayne Rooney there in recent matches.

For the trip to Wales, however, Ferguson decided to give Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs an opportunity to remind people of their worth, allowing Rooney to rejoin Javier Hernandez up front and attempt to rekindle the explosive strikeforce that did so much damage to opponents last season.

That would entail breaching the Premier League's best home defence.

Swansea had only conceded one goal in their previous five home matches and, what is more, were protecting a record of never having lost to United at home in 11 encounters. Not that avoiding defeat was the summit of Swansea's ambition: far from it, Brendan Rodgers' newly promoted side have delighted with their stylish intrepidness so far this season and they were not about to change their approach for visiting aristocrats.

They forced United onto the back foot early, with the impressive Nathan Dyer finding Danny Graham with a fine cross in the fourth minute. The striker's shot from 14 yards was charged down but Swansea recycled possession cleverly, their move culminating with a Mark Gower shot from the edge of the box that bounced wide.

Rooney continually dropped back into midfield in a bid to seize the initiative from Swansea, whose snappy passing has enabled them to dominate possession against most teams this season. He was soon to be frustrated by the other aspects of the Welsh side's play, however: when they do not have the ball they pester teams relentlessly to get it back, and as early as the ninth minute Rooney was throwing his arms up in frustration at the regularity with which the hosts were able to close off options when he had the ball.

But United can do that too, as Angel Rangel was about to discover. The vigour of United's pressing took the right-back by surprise in the 11th minute, when Ryan Giggs intercepted his pass outside the hosts' area. For once Welsh fans were aghast to see Giggs dart into the box and deliver a perfect low cross.

Hernandez, as is his wont, flipped the ball nonchalantly into the net from close range. Swansea did not panic. They never do. But United kept them at arm's length and showed that they were primed to pounce on the slightest error; Patrice Evra robbed Dyer in the 19th minute and was denied a goal by Michel Vorm, who saved his 20-yard drive.

Swansea have yet to develop ruthlessness. They picked their way through United in the 22nd minute but, after Gower's shot was deflected, Scott Sinclair mis-hit when presented with a clear sight of goal from 12 yards.

Shots were few in the first half. This was a high-quality spectacle that heartened because of the interplay rather than incidents. United, though, should have scored a second on the stroke of half-time, when Rooney released Hernandez but, with Rooney awaiting a return pass in front of goal, the Mexican over-hit his delivery.

Rodgers replaced Wayne Routledge with Joe Allen after the break and the new arrival made an impact. His pass in the 49th minute released Sinclair, who this time made a proper connection with his shot, but David De Gea beat it away.

Two minutes later, Ferguson also made a substitution, withdrawing Evra, who had been given a yellow card for a hack on Dyer and seemed in the sort of mood that might have led to a red.

Perhaps the ongoing furore over his dispute with Luis Suarez has angered him or perhaps his funk was down to Swansea's slickness. The hosts, speedy and insistent, continued to apply pressure after his departure even though Rooney had by now reverted almost permanently to midfield in an attempt to secure more possession for United who, though not quite being dominated, were frequently made to defend doggedly.

Nemanja Vidic typified their ability to do this when he dived full-length to nod away a Garry Monk header following a Swansea corner. The captain led by example again in the 66th minute when he intervened to repel a menacing cross from Gower after more promising play by Swansea.

Fabio and Rio Ferdinand had to move quickly to repel further attacks as Swansea finished strongly.

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