In a week that began with United fans having to witness our first dropped points of the season, followed by a blistering start to his Chelsea career from long-term target/non-target, Pedro, we reach the weekend and round four of the Premier League in far greater spirits.
The more impatient among us spent Sunday and Monday lambasting the decisions of both Ed Woodward and Louis van Gaal for failing to add to five earlier additions to the squad, with extra firepower upfront on top of the agenda.
With the transfer window nearing it’s close, little time remains for van Gaal to add to his squad, but a 4-0 victory away in Brugge on Wednesday evening gave fans a heightened sense of optimism, particularly given Wayne Rooney’s return to goalscoring with his well-taken hat-trick and Ander Herrera – also getting on the scoresheet – on his first start of the season.
United will be faced with perhaps their most daunting task of the season so far this Sunday in the form of a tricky encounter at the Liberty Stadium and Garry Monk’s in-form Swansea City, who can boast doing the Premier League double over the Reds last season.
With United yet to concede in their opening three Premier League matches this term, Smalling, Blind & co. will likely be given their liveliest challenge of the season so far. Dropped points again yesterday for Chelsea hands United the opportunity to open up an early six points gap over Mourinho’s men, and up into second, two points behind Manchester City, the only side to maintain and 100% record so far.
Here are five keys to another United victory at the Liberty Stadium:
Herrera keeping his place
United’s midweek trip saw Ander Herrera handed his first start of the season, having been bizarrely overlooked for the four opening games of the campaign. Having been United’s standout outfield performer last season, the Spaniard has once again found himself out of favour under Louis van Gaal, just as he had been for extended periods last season.
Despite understandably looking rusty during the opening 45 minutes, Herrera was replaced in the middle of the park at half-time by Bastian Schweinsteiger, with the Spaniard instead moving to the number 10 position vacated by Adnan Januzaj. The change brought almost instant results, with Herrera able to make the assist for Rooney’s second, just four minutes after the restart.
Januzaj has looked careless in possession in recent weeks, with either Herrera or Mata long called upon to take up the role in behind Rooney. The Reds looked decisively more in control following the restart, with a cutting edge found wanting since the season began. Herrera rewarded the manager for his decision with a goal of his own, latching onto a defence splitting ball from Schweinsteiger to put the tie even further beyond doubt.
With Januzaj set to miss out through injury, Herrera’s midweek performance will likely see him given the nod again in the role in which he excelled during the second 45 minutes in Belgium. A strong Swans midfield might rely on Herrera having more defensive responsibilities than he did in Belgium, but his drive and vision in the middle of the park will once again be vital to United’s chances of victory.
Rooney to keep his shooting boots on
You wait 10 games for a Wayne Rooney goal, and then three come along at once. Club Brugge were by no means a high calibre of opponent, but Rooney’s hat-trick midweek will give him the confidence and the kick-start to the season to which he so dearly needed.
The captain must shoulder many of the attacking responsibilities this season, particularly if no further arrivals are to come in before Tuesday’s transfer window closes. The defence can’t be expected to keep clean sheets every week, and so Rooney will be expected carry that Champions League form onto the domestic front and avoid going 10 Premier League games without a goal for just the second time in his career.
The England striker looked much sharper midweek, with some smart movement and crisp finishing to ensure United’s European exploits would continue, for a few months more at least. The addition of Herrera to the midfield again at the Liberty should offer a more creative output, and more clear cut chances for United’s frontmen to feed off.
More of the same please, Wayne.
Defence to come through their biggest test
United’s defence has – to some surprise – been the biggest positive of the season so far. Despite operating with only one recognised centre-back and an inferior goalkeeper to last season, United remain the only Premier League side other than Manchester City, yet to concede.
Two recognised full-back in the form of Darmian and Shaw have been exceptional, while Smalling and Blind have started to show glimpses that they’re developing an understanding which has been lacking for sometime. Blind’s ability to carry out the manager’s instructions in a number of role highlight’s his importance to the squad, while his intelligence and reading of the game allows him to make key passes from the back.
Having been excellent during their opening games, the back four will endure their toughest test of the season so far, in a Swansea frontline who have been hugely impressive and equally as dangerous.
Having spent the opening half of last season in Wilfried Bony’s shadow, Bafetimbi Gomis has responded in superb style, making himself indispensible to Garry Monk’s side, scoring in the Swans opening three matches. The Frenchman offers a huge physical threat too, which must see both Smalling and Blind at their best once again.
Gomis will be aided in attack by both Jefferson Montero and Andre Ayew, both of whom have been exceptional so far this season, making the Swans one of the more aesthetically pleasing attacking sides in the Premier League this season. Ayew’s arrival from Marseille this summer has already seen the Ghanaian score against both Chelsea and Newcastle and will be a constant thorn in the side of Luke Shaw.
Keeping Shelvey quiet
While United have made plenty of additions of their own to their midfield during the summer, Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey has been one of his side’s key performers this year. The former Liverpool man has surely done enough to earn himself a recall to Roy Hodgson’s England squad, with an 87% pass completion in the Premier League crucial to the Swan’s early season form, with his 13 chances created, more than any other Premier League player.
Wednesday’s trip to Brugge saw Michael Carrick one again given the nod in the United midfield alongside Ander Herrera, with both Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin rested. While the latter will certainly come back into the starting line-up, the question remains which of Schweinsteiger and Carrick will partner him at the Liberty Stadium.
The Germany captain turned in another dominant display in Belgium, given a little more freedom playing alongside Carrick and slipping in an inch perfect through ball for Ander Herrera to round off proceedings. With Shelvey looking to control things for the hosts, Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin’s extra mobility and tenacity could be key to breaking down Swansea attacking and taking control in the middle of the park. With Sigurdsson to deal with on top of that, the Reds have a hard fought battle on their hands.
More of the same from Romero
With three clean sheets in his opening three Premier League games, Sergio Romero has – so far – stepped up on the few occasions he has been called upon. Despite at times looking suspect in possession, Romero has faced just five shots on target, the least of any team in the division, highlighting just how efficient the defence has been.
Questions marks still remain over David de Gea’s future with the current situation offering an unexpected opportunity for a goalkeeper undoubtedly brought in to be the club’s number two.
Romero has done well to stake his claim during that time, and with the transfer window sealing De Gea’s fate on Tuesday, the Swansea game will be another huge opportunity for the Argentine to prove worthy of keeping his place even if the Spaniard is to remain at Old Trafford.
Clean sheets in a goalkeeper’s first four Premier League appearances doesn’t come along too often, with Anders Lindegaard being the last to do so back in 2011.
The Swans have made an impressive start to the Premier League campaign, beginning by earning a point at Stamford Bridge, and perhaps being unfortunate not to get any more from the game. Garry Monk’s men have been playing an exciting, attacking brand of football, which will offer van Gaal his biggest test of the season so far, and will be looking to add to their streak of three successive victories over United.
For the Reds, Wednesday’s trip to Belgium will do us the world of good for so many reasons. With Champions League qualification firmly wrapped up, United can once again focus their efforts on the domestic campaign, with a renewed sense of confidence. With just two goals to their name in the Premier League, four goals in Brugge will certainly have United once again feeling as though they can outscore any opposition and create many more opportunities to do so.
Goals from Rooney and Herrera will give a much needed boost to either player, with the pair set to renew their second half partnership from midweek. With Swansea’s midfield a potential cause for concern, van Gaal will welcome back the combative Morgan Schneiderlin in the middle of the park, presumably to be accompanied by fellow summer arrival, Bastian Schweinsteiger.
While the Swans will certainly prove a tricky encounter, United’s midweek exploits will hopefully have the shackles firmly off Louis van Gaal’s side, who will benefit greatly from the presence of Ander Herrera in the number 10 position. United 2-1.