No, it was not a dream. Manchester United got back on the winners list with a good first half display which saw Paul Pogba score a goal which mocked his critics with a fantastic hit from outside the box, whilst Zlatan Ibrahimovic got back on the scoresheet with a brace. Additionally, his second goal was his 400th in club football. No small achievement.
Swansea City embarrassed themselves with a lifeless display, one of the worst in the modern Premier League era. They were never in the game and it was almost a miracle that they got on the scoresheet. Fans chanted “we want our club back”, but the afternoon in Wales was all about United.
Michael Carrick was superb, keeping his 100 percent winning record in five starts this season. Jose Mourinho watched from the stands as his thrown together and frankly disjointed eleven got the job done. They are now sixth, heading into the pivotal clash with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal next weekend.
The Replacements Get It Done
Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian were more likely to all be sold than comprise a back four in a Premier League fixture, but that’s exactly what they did on Sunday as injuries and late withdrawals of other players meant they got their chance at the Liberty Stadium.
Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw both declared they not right to play, and this meant Darmian replaced Shaw on the left flank, and he did a good job and was certainly better than Englishman has been lately. Young did his job on the right as he always does when called upon, getting back to clean up and always getting forward to support and get crosses in.
Jones and Rojo were the odd couple pairing at centre back, and both were good. Rojo continued his run in the team, and has been solid for the most part though admittedly he didn’t have a heap to do. Jones returned to the team without training such was the need in the middle of defence, and that spoke volumes for Mourinho no doubt. It was the Englishman’s first appearance since January, and many will wonder now whether it’s sustained.
Mourinho Demands More
Making headlines as he always has done, Jose Mourinho was forthright in his post match views about certain members of the Old Trafford squad. Mentality and toughness have been an issue at the club since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, and they haven’t been solved simply because of the Portuguese’s arrival.
Shaw and Smalling’s withdrawals irked the manager, and he called them out. Perhaps rightly so, because even though the team won Mourinho would not have said so without reasoning.
“If I were to speak with the many great football people of this team, they will say many times they played without being 100 percent. For the team, you have to do anything. That is my way of seeing it. Of course, it is not just the players, it is the people that surround the players.
We have players with problems — but we have, on the pitch, players with problems. In every sport, when they play at the highest level, see how many times they play and are not 100 percent. I have a friend who is a big tennis player and he remembers more the times he played with pain than the times he played without any pain, and that is what I mean.
To compete, you have to go to the limits. It is a cultural thing for some. That is not my culture.” Asked whether some players had to change their approach, he said: “Exactly. More than for me, more for Man United.”
It is not unfair to say that Shaw’s tentativeness would come from the fact that a year ago it was unknown whether he had a playing future. Like Ferguson did though which some seem to have forgotten, Mourinho is challenging his players. That is what top managers do. They get the best from them even if it means calling them out.
Mourinho’s reputation means he will be chastised for this, but we must first see how it plays out before reserving judgment. There was a clear culture problem at the club and the players need to give better effort. That might be what Mourinho is attempting to contrive here.
Pogba’s Day Out
Paul Pogba put in a very good display alongside Michael Carrick in midfield, and the Englishman’s calming influence seems to bring out the best in the Frenchman. Marouane Fellaini had an alright day (he didn’t elbow anyone), and was tidy in possession but had no real influence.
Pogba however was brilliant, moving the ball around well, gliding past players and his fantastic goal early in the first half. Yes, it was only Swansea but nevertheless his display was an encouraging one. He hasn’t had a great deal of luck but when he lined up his shot on goal he could not have hit it any sweeter than he did. And it flew into the right side of the net to open the scoring.
He linked well with Ibrahimovic and the dead leg that felled him against Fenerbahce appeared to not be an issue. Heading into the International break with Arsenal on the other side of it this was very promising for the French midfielder.
Ibrahimovic Returns To Form
Zlatan Ibrahomovic has been the biggest target of criticism for Manchester United in recent times, and his good day out will hopefully be the end of a barren six game run for him.
His post match comments summed up what many had said despite his struggles; even though he has not been scoring, he has been putting himself in positions to score. That’s more that can be said for the likes of Wayne Rooney.
— Wes Beuvink (@WesBeuvink) November 6, 2016
It remains to be seen whether this will last, but getting back on the scoresheet was the first part of the battle. Ibrahimovic showed why he certainly has a role to play in United’s season, as he tries to win back fervour after losing the club points with his misses in recent weeks.
Rooney Does Alright
There will be no criticism of Wayne Rooney today, who despite an awful campaign so far put in his best display in quite a while. He was lively, running at defenders and causing trouble for Swansea’s struggling defence. His pass led to Ibrahimovic’s first, and he was unlucky to have a goal ruled out for offside.
He has a long way to go to win back his first XI place, but if not playing every week means he’s fresher to perform like this when he does get a chance then perhaps he still has a role to play. But it will take a lot more than one performance for him, Ibrahimovic and the team to convince after what has been an underwhelming month for the club.
Players now head out to International duties and Mourinho must prepare for the clash with Arsenal. Though International breaks are generally unwelcome, this might give United further chance to regroup as they try to get their season back on track.