Sport Soccer

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Swagger back for Red Devils in latest rout

Romelu Lukaku celebrates with team-mate Daley Blind after scoring Manchester United’s second goal in the 4-0 win at Swansea City yesterday. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Romelu Lukaku celebrates with team-mate Daley Blind after scoring Manchester United’s second goal in the 4-0 win at Swansea City yesterday. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Sam Wallace

The painful reality for Swansea City is that with ten minutes left on the clock, they were still in this game and then Jose Mourinho's team went in for the kill in a way that Manchester United sides once did as a matter of course once they detected weakness. From 1-0 to 4-0, for the second week running.

It was, all told, a ransacking led by the big players in three raids: Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba scoring in a four-minute blitz of Swansea's retreating defence. Possession was turned over, knock-downs were won and even when the game was decided and Swansea had all but offered their surrender, United came back for more. By the end Anthony Martial, an effective substitute, had swept in the fourth.

Not since 1907 have United begun a season scoring four goals in their first two games and while they have faced West Ham and Swansea, clubs who seem to have emerged from the summer without a clear idea of the kind of teams that they want to be, it does at least seem that Mourinho's players have no such doubts.

"The word that describes the team now is confident," Mourinho said. "I don't want to see it but, if it happens, I want to see the team losing and see the way we emotionally react to it. It will be another stage, losing and trying to change the result, because at the moment everything is going in our favour.

"It's not always motorway - you find difficult roads and roadworks. I prefer to say we started last season with two matches, six points, and we finished sixth. Two matches are not the end of the world for people who lose, and it's not paradise for people who win."

On United's victory, he added: "The last 10 minutes [looked impressive] because the opponent was losing and trying to get the goal. The reality of the game was 75 minutes 1-0. For 75 minutes the result was open, even if I felt we were in control of the match."

Pogba was the game's standout player, surviving a challenge on Martin Olsson that might well have been a yellow card had Jon Moss not given him one earlier for a foul on Tom Carroll.

Pogba looms over every aspect of the game, the kind of player whose considerable presence must appear in the peripheral vision of just about every opponent when in possession of the ball. He seemed to be there at every critical moment of this game, winning a corner late in the first half, winning the subsequent header that led to Eric Bailly's first goal, and then in the second half, the Frenchman led the way again.

Pogba's form is a continuation of the excellent performance he turned in for United during their victory over Ajax in the Europa League final in May, a combination of the physicality and the delicate touch that he showed in scoring United's third of the afternoon. Between them, Pogba and Lukaku now have five goals in two games and it is Pogba whose personality seems to be key to this team - when he is confident and diligent, then so are United.

Mourinho did not feel that the decision of referee Moss, an official with whom he has history, to award the first yellow card was justified, let alone the second that never came. Paul Clement could not bring himself to claim a missed dismissal either and he has more pressing concerns on his mind.

Swansea have barely had an effort on goal in their first two games, and the closest they came this time was Jordan Ayew's clever shot with the outside of his right foot in the first half which grazed David De Gea's crossbar from an unexpected angle. Tammy Abraham, on loan from Chelsea, showed some nice touches on his first-team home debut with Fernando Llorente still out, but it looks like a tall order to ask the teenager to shoulder all the burden.

Mourinho expressed the hope on Clement's behalf that he would get the £45m (€49m) from Gylfi Sigurdsson's sale to spend on the team, the kind of remark the Swansea manager would probably rather someone else had made.

Clement also lamented the absence of the injured Ki Sung-yueng and yet he could make no guarantees about new arrivals before Swansea play Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Clement was also angry about his team's concentration wavering at the end of the first half, when they conceded what he considered a rare goal direct from a set-piece. Bailly had already put one clearance on the roof of the main stand before he was the one who reacted the quickest to score when Fabianski made a good save from Pogba's header.

Clement had earlier switched from a three-man defence to a 4-3-3 formation and tried to put some pressure on Daley Blind at left-back, United's weakest link in the back four. Mourinho responded by bringing on Martial and then Marouane Fellaini into the midfield at the expense of Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford.

"I don't want to be the kind of manager who is happy to lose 1-0 at home," Clement said, and once his five-man defence had been dismantled, United's response was impressive. Henrikh Mkhitaryan claimed two of the assists as the space opened up, redirecting the ball from Martial's driving run into the path of Lukaku. Then the Armenian did the same for Pogba who nonchalantly lifted the ball over Fabianski, having intercepted Carroll's ball to begin the move.

Swansea had coped badly with the tactical switch and the fourth transformed the scoreline into something much more painful for the home crowd, Pogba again involved before Martial cut on to his right foot and picked a spot in the corner.

Mourinho reminded everyone that United had won the first two games of last season and he did not have to add that they were nothing like title challengers come May. But a certain confidence has returned to United that has not always been detectable over the last four years.

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