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Tactics & Analysis

The Tactics Board- Missed chances United’s Swan song?

This game started out slow, as United appeared to be deflated after the derby loss and City winning against Newcastle 30 minutes before this game kicked off. Swansea played with little passion or pace, which allowed United to take control of the game as they eventually stirred to life. United’s front 4 played some very strong attacking football, moving between Swansea’s lines and getting the ball into dangerous spots. United created numerous scoring opportunities to narrow the goal differential with Manchester City, but they were let down repeatedly by poor finishing. Swansea ended up sitting back deep on defense, and tried to counter with Dyer into the space behind Evra, but he received little support from his teammates and United’s defense responded well. With 2 first half goals, United’s attack looked dangerous throughout the second half, keeping Swansea pined deep in their own zone, but again the Red Devils struggled to turn chances into goals.

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Manchester United vs. Swansea City

Old Trafford – May 6th 2012

Starting Formations-

Manchester United-
After a disappointing display against City, Sir Alex Ferguson returned to his standard attacking 4-4-1-1. David De Gea got his 28th league start of the year, with Sir Alex retaining the same back four that he used against Manchester City. Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes started in the middle of the pitch again, but there Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were given the start at right and left wing respectively, with Nani and Ryan Giggs started on the bench. Danny Welbeck picked up an injury towards the end of the Manchester Derby, so Javier Hernandez was given the start up front with Wayne Rooney starting again behind him.

Swansea City-
Brendan Rodgers has been talked about most of the season; with his freshly promoted club gaining some notable wins at home this year over Arsenal and Manchester City. His team has been known for playing possession-based football, using short triangle passes and movement off the ball to open up a defense in a style similar to Barcelona. They came out in a 4-2-3-1, with Dutchman Michel Vorm in the goal. After worries that he might miss the game with an injury, Angel Rangel started at right back and Neil Taylor got the start at left-back. Ashley Williams started at center-back with Steven Caulker, who is on loan from Tottenham. Joe Allen started as the holding midfielder with Mark Gower, who got his first start of 2012, while Allen’s usual partner, Leon Britton, started the game on the bench.

Up front, Nathan Dyer started on the right-wing, with Scott Sinclair at left-wing. Starting at center attacking midfielder was Gylfi Sigurdsson who is on loan from Hoffenheim. Since his arrival in January, Sigurdsson has scored 7 goals and 3 assists in just 17 appearances, which is leading to speculation linking him with several English clubs, including Manchester United. Danny Graham started up front as the striker, making his 35 league appearance of the season.

Starting Formation

Key Points-

  • Manchester United wasteful in front of the net.
  • Swansea shows little fire and energy.
  • Attempting to play the ball behind United’s defense met with little success for the Welsh club.
  • The Red Devils excel on the counter, creating numerous opportunities.
  • Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia prove dangerous attacking options from the wings.



Slow Start

This wasn’t a game full of tactical battles, but was more about Manchester United applying pressure and overwhelming Swansea, who struggled all game to play with any energy or fire. While Manchester United started off very slowly, mirroring Swansea’s problems, they were eventually able to display the effort needed to win the game. For Swansea, it appeared as if they were playing a pre-season friendly.

Both teams started the game slow. They both struggled to get into any rhythm, and both repeated misplaced passes. It took 15 minutes before United started to play with any energy. With Swansea struggling, United started to control the ball and force Swansea deeper into their zone.

United applies the pressure

Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes played in the middle of the pitch, operating as a double pivot. For one of the few times since he returned from retirement, Paul Scholes struggled with his passing and wasn’t as sharp as United fans have grown accustomed to. Fortunately, Carrick was able to pick up the slack and he took up the role of switching the play from side to side, playing the ball out to the wingers in an effort to stretch Swansea’s defense.

It wasn’t until the 21st minute that United got their first chance of the game. Young took a corner, and played the ball to the near post. Carrick flicked the ball on to Patrice Evra at the edge of the box. Evra took a slicing half-volley which Vorm was able to deflect. It dropped for Rooney at the far post, but Vorm was able to steer his half-volley out of bounds.

With the game settling down, Swansea started to drop deep in defense. This allowed United to control the ball, and with good movement off the ball, and space, United’s attacking front four were fluid around the box and this caused problems for Swansea’s defense throughout the game.

Rooney was one of the keys in United’s attack. He moved laterally at the top of the box, and both Allen and Gower were reluctant to track him out to the wings (See A). While he struggled with some of his passing, completing only 74% of his passes, he did well on between the lines and on the wings to play wall passes and through balls with Young and Valencia to open up Swansea’s defense. He used his lateral movement and link-up play with the wingers to create several chances.

MUFC Attacking Gaps

Swansea’s fullbacks played deep, and they played narrow to stay near the center-backs. This allowed Young and Valencia plenty of space to operate on the wings (See B). Ashley Young on the left prefers to play inside, so Patrice Evra continued his growing partnership with Young and provided additional width with his overlapping runs to give the Red Devils a 2v1 advantage in that zone. On the opposite side, Phil Jones was more cautious with his forward runs. Valencia has developed a dangerous attacking partnership with Rafael, but with Rafael on the bench and Phil Jones less willing to make the forward runs, it was left to Valencia to provide the main attacking energy on the right side.

With Swansea’s left back playing deep and narrow, this gave Valencia room to receive the ball and run at the defender. This is when Valencia is most dangerous, and it was shown in the 28th minute. Jones played the ball forward to Valencia on the right, who received the ball and ran 10 yards towards Neil Taylor. Valencia was easily able to slip by Taylor, and he headed towards the byline. As he neared the byline, he pulled the ball back for Michael Carrick just inside the box. Carrick was left wide open when Joe Allen was forced to try and help Taylor with Valencia. Wide open, Carrick received the pass and took a shot which Paul Scholes deflected into the net with the back of his heel for a 1-0 lead.

United press… on the ball and off

After the first 15 minutes, Manchester United started to play higher up the field. They pressed the ball on defense, which prevented Swansea from getting the time and space needed to settle into their short passing rhythm. Valencia and Young combined to win 4/4 tackles, and 5 interceptions, on Swansea’s side of the pitch.

Swansea’s attack struggled. They were tried two different options. With United pressing up the field on defense, and Evra coming forward on the attack, Swansea tried to play the ball to Nathan Dyer in behind Patrice Evra. This didn’t meet with much success, between poor passes, good defending from United, and very little support as Swansea was slow to transition.

Their other option came through Sigurdsson, who operated in the gap between United’s midfield and defensive lines. He managed to find this space, but their attack lacked any real bite. He repeatedly tried to play through balls in behind the Red Devil’s defense but Ferdinand and Smalling did a great job tracking the runs and intercepting the passes.

Sir Alex Ferguson increased the pressure on offense, with Scholes and Carrick stepping forward on the attack to pressure Swansea’s defense. Sigurdsson was slow to track back, which often left United with a 3v2 overload in the center of the pitch. Both Scholes and Carrick would stay near the box, which pinned Swansea deep and gave Rooney and the wingers more freedom to create space.

The midfielders playing up the field and pressing defense lead to United’s second goal. In the 40th minute, as Swansea tried to play the ball out of the back, United applied heavy pressure. Joe Allen tried to play a rushed pass up to Scott Sinclair, but Jones was able to knock the ball to Paul Scholes. Scholes took the ball, played it back to Rooney on the edge of the penalty area. Rooney’s shot was blocked by a sliding Angel Rangel, but Young took the rebound and curled it in past Michel Vorm at the far post.

Swansea change it up

At the start of the second half, Mark Gower came off and was replaced by Leon Britton. He took up his normal position aside Joe Allen, as the second holding midfielder. With this change, United altered their defensive assignments. Michael Carrick sat deep on Sigundsson, trying to prevent him from getting space to operate in. Scholes stepped forward to pressure Joe Allen, who was more willing to come forward on the attack now. Wayne Rooney dropped back on defense to shut down Britton.

Swansea still struggled finding any energy. They were left with less than 40% possession in the first hour of the game, which is well under the 57% they average per game this season. It took until the 60th minute for their first chance of the game. Joe Allen passed the ball into Danny Graham at the penalty spot. Graham redirected the ball, and De Gea was able to stop the ball with his feet, grabbing up the rebound before Scott Sinclair could poach a goal.

Counter Attacking and missed chances

The best chances for the Red Devils in the game came on quick counter-attacks. United struggled 6 days earlier when they tried to counter against Manchester City, but against Swansea they put on a master class on counter-attacking football. When the Red Devils recovered the ball on defense, they made a quick incisive first pass to get the ball forward and they transitioned quickly into the attack. They were quick to move forward at Swansea’s defense, but they frequently wasted their chances with slack passing and poor touches inside the penalty area.

A great counter attacking chance for Manchester United came in the 52nd minute. Paul Scholes cleared a Swansea corner, and United broke quickly on the counter. Hernandez got the ball and played a short pass to Rooney before being pushed to the ground by Neil Taylor. Rooney played a ball for Valencia to run onto, and the Ecuadorian played a great through ball by Britton for Rooney in the penalty area. Instead of taking a poor shot, Rooney made an unselfish pass across the goal mouth to Ashley Young at the back post. Unfortunately for United, Nathan Dyer slide in and just bumped the ball to prevent Young’s shot.

In the second half, United looked hungry for goals, after apparently getting instructions at halftime. The Red Devils started attacking with pace and pressed Swansea even deeper into their own zone. In the second half, only 12% of the play took place in United’s final third. While United looked dangerous on the counter attack, their chances were limited by Swansea’s impotent attack.

United created chances all game, but they suffered from poor finishing. Manchester United has struggled with this problem at several times during the season, and Chicharito specifically struggled. He took 4 shots within the 6 yard box. 1 was blocked, but the other 3 weren’t even put on target. Hernandez missed several chances, but he wasn’t alone in wasting goal scoring opportunities.

United created another scoring chance on the counter in the 74th minute. Valencia blocked a clearance by Allen in Swansea’s final third. He ran the ball 15 yards straight at Ashley Williams near the penalty area. Williams stepped forward to challenge Valencia, who then passed to Carrick in the penalty arc. Britton stepped forward to stop Carrick, who made a great one-touch pass into Rooney, who was in the space vacated by Williams and Britton. Rooney got a great look, but curled his shot wide of the far post.

Final Changes

Sir Alex Ferguson made 3 changes over the final 20 minutes of the game. He brought Tom Cleverley on for Paul Scholes. Then he brought Dimitar Berbatov on for Wayne Rooney. In possibly his final home appearance as a Red Devil, Berbatov got some well-deserved recognition for his efforts for the club. With these changes, United moved to a 4-4-2. Berbatov moved into the box with Hernandez, while Tom Cleverley played near the box and Michael Carrick sat deep in the midfield.

The last change for United was Rafael coming on for an injured Rio Ferdinand. Both Chris Smalling and Rio Ferdinand appeared to suffer injuries in the final 10 minutes of the game, but Ferdinand’s was determined to be more serious so he was taken off. Phil Jones took his spot at center-back, and Rafael took up right-back.


Swansea Player's Average Position

This game was a poor showing for both teams. Swansea struggled to do anything during the game, playing with little passion or energy and they seemed disinterested. United started the game in the same state, but they eventually woke up and started to play with more interest. They ended the game taking 28 shots, but they only scored 2 goals and only put 7 on target. The Red Devils struggled with their finishing, missing clear scoring chances. This was a chance for United to reduce Manchester City’s 8 goal advantage in goal differential. The failure to achieve this means that United now must depend on Mark Hughes and the Queen Park Rangers to get points next week at Etihad Stadium.

By RangeRooney