United stop the rot thanks to Januzaj's increasing influence
Man United 2 Swansea City 0
Alex Ferguson was not at Old Trafford for this one -- but maybe he left his hairdryer behind.
United gained a precious victory, arresting a slide of three crisis-inducing defeats, but it only came about after a remarkable half-time transformation. It looked like David Moyes had torn into his players because they came back out and, finally, tore into Swansea.
The architect of the win -- with Wayne Rooney recuperating in Egypt, Robin van Persie injured and in the stands and Ferguson apparently taking a winter break in Barbados -- was Adnan Januzaj, whose emergence has been a significant boon for Moyes in this troubled campaign. Finally United had 45 minutes that set a standard. Question is: can they now maintain it?
Given last week's FA Cup victory and United's predicament, there was a belief and purpose about Swansea even though they had registered just one win in their last seven in the league. But there was no lack of desire from the hosts either. There had to be.
Januzaj was again handed the playmaker's role, pulled into the centre with Shinji Kagawa on the left. It was another extraordinary show of faith in the 18-year-old from Moyes -- and also a reminder of United's creative deficit that they were so reliant on the teenager. Not that Swansea were cowed.
After David de Gea had comfortably held Jonjo Shelvey's poked shot, the Swansea midfielder slid a pass through to Wayne Routledge who sprinted into the penalty area. He pulled the ball back into space but no Swansea player was there and United were reprieved.
Swansea's confidence grew and so did their share of possession with United's head of steam having quickly lost its heat. It might have helped the hosts had they been able to hold on to the ball for longer themselves. In the first half-hour Swansea claimed 68 per cent of possession. After more misplaced passes, the frustration began to simmer. United needed to gain a modicum of control and Moyes altered things, with Januzaj pushed further forward, interchanging with Danny Welbeck.
United had chances -- not many -- but had not taken them. Would Moyes continue or try to shake things up? We quickly got the answer. There was more urgency from the restart and again Januzaj was the instigator as he turned and twisted and crossed. Antonio Valencia flicked on and Kagawa headed goalwards. Gerhard Tremmel parried but the ball fell to Valencia, who swept it into the net from close range.
It was Valencia's first league goal at home for more than two years. Suddenly United had more purpose with Januzaj and Welbeck combining only for Kagawa to fire over and Ashley Williams, just, touching the ball away from Welbeck inside the six-yard area.
United appeared transformed. There was more purpose and belief and pace and they began to hunt down possession with Januzaj again involved as he regained the ball and linked with Kagawa once more. Januzaj crossed, Welbeck's header was deflected and the ball ran out to Patrice Evra, who miscued his shot under pressure. It turned into a pass for Welbeck who reacted quickly to poke the ball beyond Tremmel and double United's advantage with his sixth goal in six matches.
United were pressing far higher up the pitch with Swansea far less comfortable and Chris Smalling should have added a third goal. Not that Swansea capitulated. Michael Laudrup introduced another striker and United were still vulnerable, with Jordi Amat heading one good chance into the turf for De Gea to hold.
Januzaj then released Rafael who ran on, rolled the ball to Kagawa who cut back inside, but he stumbled, scuffed his shot and it was poked off the line by a falling Leon Britton.
There is still work to do for the champions, but they took the points and remain in touch.
Moyes, meanwhile, is still in talks to bring Real Madrid defender Fabio Coentrao to Old Trafford on loan for the rest of the season. Moyes had tried to sign Coentrao on the final day of the last transfer window after a last-ditch bid to take Leighton Baines from Everton was rejected, but the deal broke down late that evening.
Galatasaray are increasingly confident that they will sign United captain Nemanja Vidic when his contract expires at the end of this season. The Turkish club are hoping to hold further talks with Vidic's representatives this week and hope that the Serbian will sign a pre-contract agreement this month.