Manchester United dropped their first points from a winning position this season and registered their first draw of the campaign as they were held 1-1 by Swansea at Liberty Stadium.
The result leaves United four points clear of Manchester City at the top of the table, but Sir Alex will feel his side could, and perhaps should, have picked up three points in Wales, even though winning at Liberty Stadium is no easy feat – only Everton and Norwich have beaten Swansea at home so far this season.
Rotation policy over the festive period last year arguably cost United the league as much as anything else, and Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a strong side against Swansea, with Nemanja Vidic making his first Premier League in over three months on his 250th appearance for the club, partnered by Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra in front of David De Gea.
The midfield was the same that secured the win against City, with Rooney and Van Persie up front and it was the former Everton man to create the first real opening of the afternoon as he tested Vorm from 20 yards out, the Swansea keeper repelling the shot with some difficulty.
Vorm was called into action 60 seconds later as Young pounced on a magnificent ball through by Carrick but saw his shot parried away from a corner. The former Villa man seems to have made the left flank spot his own over the last couple of weeks, and repaid Fergie’s trust with a lot of hard work and some very intelligent runs across the box, but he still seems to be lacking the cutting edge necessary to provide the final ball.
On the ensuing corner, Robin Van Persie’s cross found Patrice Evra who put United in front with his third league goal this year thanks to a fine header, albeit one aided but Leon Britton’s diabolical lack of positioning at the far post.
United looked in control and well organised but their lead was short-lived. With 29 minutes gone, Routledge’s pass cut United’s back four wide open, allowing De Guzman, who had been played onside by a rusty Nemanja Vidic, to force a smart stop by De Gea, before Michu pounced on the tap-in to level the score.
The Spaniard – arguably the buy of the season at £2m – is in fine form, but United’s defenders should have protected De Gea much better. Fergie will be pleased to have the Vidic and Evans back, but the Serb endured a torrid first half against the Swansea number 9.
After the goal, Swansea got their tail up but the best chance of the half fell again to United when, on the stroke of half-time, Patrice Evra ghosted past Swansea’s right-back and squared the ball back to Rooney, who hit it straight at Vorm with his left foot. Rooney’s body language was the one of a player having a bad day at the office, and it would worsen in the second half.
After De Gea had denied Routledge from a tight angle soon after the restart, the second half began to resemble a siege, with United constantly peppering Swansea’s box, even though their purpose going forward wasn’t as sharp as in other occasions and often hampered by sloppiness in the final third.
With an hour gone, Hernandez replaced Valencia to notch his 100th cap for the club but he’d have to wait 10 minutes to get his first opportunity of the game, Van Persie’s ball falling behind the Mexican who still did well to force a save from Vorm. Prior to that United had gone agonisngly close to regaining the lead, as Robin Van Persie’s volley hit the bar, after he had brilliantly met Rooney’s cross.
Rooney’s afternoon wasn’t getting any better and, after picking up a yellow card and misplacing the simplest of passes as United threatened to break on the counter, he too was off, replaced by Ryan Giggs, with Paul Scholes coming on for Tom Cleverley with five minutes left.
United struck the woodwork a second time, 12 minutes from the end, as Michael Carrick saw his header crashing against the bar after a brilliant corner from Robin Van Persie, who had earlier been involved in a scuffle with Ashley Williams, as the Swansea captain appeared to have kick the ball against Van Persie, with the Dutchman lying on the ground.
United couldn’t produce another famous late winner, but they had a half-hearted penalty appeal as Young’s goal-bound shot was blocked by Davies’ arm.
United will be disappointed with the draw but can take some solace in the knowledge that Swansea are a very good side, and one very hard to beat at home, and that the team that top the table at Christmas has gone on to win the title in the last three years. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, particularly when one considers that United have the luxury of playing the next two games at home.
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