Saturday 10 December 2016

Swans prove sitting ducks as Carrick helps United to get back on track

Swansea 1 Manchester United 3

Jim White

Published 07/11/2016 | 02:30

Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates his second goal alongside Phil Jones as he gives Manchester United a kick start against Swansea. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates his second goal alongside Phil Jones as he gives Manchester United a kick start against Swansea. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

If only he could play Swansea every week, Jose Mourinho's job would be easy.

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Against a team doing a good impression of having given up all hope of remaining in the Premier League, his Manchester United side looked for much of this game as if all the goal-free miseries of recent weeks were an illusion.

With Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing with aplomb and Wayne Rooney looking as if he were enjoying the game again, things have rarely been so easy this season.

Yet before the kick-off, as both sides paid their Remembrance respects, there were few in the United sections of the Liberty Stadium who foresaw this.

Exiled to the stands, Mourinho had put out a front six that you would not back to win a foot race with a parked car. Behind them was what, on paper, looked the thinnest defence in the history of Manchester United; the club that once had Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at the heart of its enterprise fielded Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo at centre-back.

And when things began, never mind the high press or the gegenpress, United appeared to be going for no press at all.

Man United’s Michael Carrick in action with Swansea’s Fernando Llorente
Man United’s Michael Carrick in action with Swansea’s Fernando Llorente

Within moments of the kick-off Wayne Routledge had swished past Matteo Darmian and Marouane Fellaini. He ran into touch, but the suggestion was there nevertheless.

Sadly for the beleaguered Swansea manager Bob Bradley, the rest of the his side abjectly failed to take the hint. Instead of exploiting their moment, they began profligately surrendering possession.

The problem was the man they kept giving the ball to was Michael Carrick, the midfielder has long demonstrated that the most important place to have speed is in the brain.

This was just his sixth appearance of the season for United - by no coincidence all of his previous displays had concluded in victory. His reappearance here, in his first Premier League start of the campaign, was perfectly timed to spark a revival.

Manchester United's Paul Pogba (centre) in action against Swansea City's Mike van der Hoorn (left) and Ki Sung-yueng. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Manchester United's Paul Pogba (centre) in action against Swansea City's Mike van der Hoorn (left) and Ki Sung-yueng. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

The player who invariably makes his team-mates better was soon passing with his characteristic nous. No ball wasted, no time lost, suddenly the engine was purring again.

All around him, the same United personnel who had recently looked so leaden-footed began to move with ease and confidence.

As Carrick probed and pushed, it wasn't long before Swansea crumbled. Just 15 minutes in and Pogba, driving forward, fired the ball into his captain in the home area.

Rooney flicked it up for Ibrahimovic, the ball was half cleared, but landed at the feet of the Frenchman who curled a perfectly struck volley with the outside of his right foot beyond Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.

Moments later, Fellaini shot just wide before Juan Mata dropped a long dipping ball into Pogba's path on the edge of the area, but he fouled Fabianski in the attempt to retrieve it.

By now Swansea had given up all pretence of competing.

On 21 minutes, Darmian flicked the ball down the line to Rooney, he turned inside Angel Rangel and found Ibrahimovic on the edge of the area. The Swede, moving purposefully past Ki Sung-yueng, fired hard and low and through the legs of Mike van der Hoorn and beyond Fabianski.

Increasingly irate with the hoofed clearances and poor direction of their team, the home fans began to sound their ire from the stands. Gylfi Sigurdsson joined in, fuming at the lack of closing down as Carrick precisely passed round him.

Clearly no one was listening to the Icelander's critique. On 33 minutes, with United now in absolute control, Rooney went forward, exchanged passes with Ibrahimovic and passed the ball back to him.

The Swede moved forward sedately, ambled past Rangel's feeble attempted tackle as if he were barely there and popped the ball over the goalkeeper.

Three-nil down in the first half, the mood had now soured completely in the stands, with the Swansea fans chanting "we want our club back" and directing vitriol at their new American owners.

The one American who could initiate immediate change, Bradley, acted at half-time. Belatedly acknowledging United's lack of pace, he brought on Jefferson Montero and Modou Barrow, but it made little difference.

Here's how bad the home side were: they were doing their best to make the restored Rooney look a world-beater.

Then, against all the run of play, from a sumptuous free-kick by Sigurdsson, Van der Hoorn exploited the aerial weakness in the United defence to head home the lamest of consolations.

Afterwards, Mourinho suggested that there are players within his squad who need to change their attitude if they wish to remain at the club.

"To compete you have to go to the limits," he said.

Asked if some of his players needed to toughen up, he was unequivocal. "Exactly. More than for me, more for Man United."

Although he did not name them, the suggestion was he was talking about Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling, who had both ruled themselves out of the Swansea fixture complaining of niggly injuries.

"We have players with problems," Mourinho added. "But I have a friend who is a big tennis player and he tells me he remembers more the times he played when he was injured than when he was fit."

As for Carrick, Mourinho said: "I'd love to play him every game but it is not possible for the same reason I cannot go to the gym every day."

Bradley, meanwhile, cut a dejected figure after the match, admitting: "It's a tough spot, no two ways about that," he said of a situation which leaves his Swansea team second from bottom of the Premier League. "We understand very clearly where we are. Defensively in the first half we just didn't show enough." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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