Lingard proves worth amidst expensive acquisitions
Manchester United 2 Swansea City 0
Paul Pogba returned to the starting line-up, Romelu Lukaku scored his 100th Premier League goal and Alexis Sánchez rediscovered his finishing prowess, though this comfortable victory over slow-starting Swansea was about more than Manchester United's expensive acquisitions.
Watching Jesse Lingard run the show and lay on both United goals it was hard to believe he was considered peripheral a few months ago, or that his first-team appearances seemed likely to be rationed after the arrival of Sánchez.
At the moment it is Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial who are suffering that fate, the attacking pair once again on the bench, but there is no doubt that Lingard deserves his place in the side. In the No 10 position with Sánchez and Juan Mata either side of him, the 25-year-old occasionally finds himself occupying the same space as the other two, but United were at their most effective when he was calling for the ball in the middle and calling the shots with unerring distribution.
The two first-half goals both came in that manner, with Lingard sending Lukaku through on goal after just five minutes, then doing the same favour for Sánchez with the help of an unwitting deflection off Federico Fernández that might have spared the Chilean an offside flag.
Slick as United were in those opening stages, they were helped by some fairly naïve defending, with Swansea trying and mostly failing to play a high line. Lukaku could have had another in the first half when Sánchez's flick sent him clear, except this time the finish was not as instinctive and Lukasz Fabianski was able to save.
Lingard himself could have scored on a couple of occasions, first missing the target from an Antonio Valencia cross, then controlling a short pass from Lukaku to elegantly make space for a shot from the edge of the area but taking one touch too many to carry the ball too wide.
Carlos Carvalhal's response to a 2-0 interval deficit was to send on Tammy Abraham and Tom Carroll for the second half, closely followed by Wayne Routledge when Sam Clucas was injured.
Abraham at least made a difference - David de Gea was given something to do for the first time in the match. The substitute twice tested the United goalkeeper early in the second half to discover that inactivity had not dulled the Spaniard's reactions. De Gea flew to his right to produce a one-handed save from Abraham's initial shot on the turn, then got down low to make a more routine stop when the striker slightly scuffed an attempt from near the penalty spot.
United were not sitting back, Sánchez and Mata both put difficult chances over the bar when found by Lukaku and Pogba respectively with their backs to goal, but in the second half Swansea looked more like their old selves, or perhaps their new selves since Carvalhal arrived to transform their chances of survival. All the same, Lukaku should have made the margin of victory more emphatic 10 minutes from the end when he took Pogba's unselfish cross on his chest but fired straight at Fabianski from point-blank range.
The three points ensure United will go to Manchester City on Saturday second in the table - for a few hours after Liverpool's win at Crystal Palace they were back in third - and José Mourinho insists that is a sign of progress. "We want to be the top team in the Premier League but that is not realistic this season," the United manager said. "It is clear for everyone to see that this club is in a moment of transition, but we are 10 points better off than we were last season, we have scored more goals, and that first-half performance was almost perfect.
"We should have killed the game in the first half, because in the second half the intensity dropped, and I think you can blame the international games for that. We will now fight every match to stay in second."
Swansea continue to fight to reach safety, though Carvalhal was encouraged by the second-half improvement. "We made a few adjustments in the second half and Old Trafford would have been a nervous place but for two fantastic saves from De Gea."
Sunday Indo Sport