United must be bold to avoid fourth straight loss

Posted by Musa Okwonga

Here Manchester United go again: playing Swansea at home in the Premier League, less than a week after the Welsh side defeated them with a last-minute winner at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. The last time these teams met in the league, on the opening day, the result was a 4-1 victory for Manchester United -- an outcome which owed far more to the firepower provided by Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, both of whom will be unavailable to David Moyes tomorrow.

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Also missing through injury, and perhaps as pivotal in his own way, is Phil Jones. It is no coincidence that Manchester United's most resilient form this season has been when he has started, either in midfield or at centre-back. Without him in the team, there is notably less leadership in the team's ranks. To look at their midfield now is to see Tom Cleverley, a player whose confidence appears uniquely ravaged -- and that is saying something. It is also to see a gap where Yohan Cabaye could have been. The France international was available in the summer, but deemed by many supporters to be beneath the standards required by the club. How they could have used his patient and precise orchestration now.

It might be most sensible to start Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher in midfield. What they may lack in energy, they will make up for in possession and distribution, with Fletcher's passing through the lines, particularly against Swansea's Jonathan de Guzman, being a key feature of his team's better play in the recent losses. Ahead of them, the best available partnership is probably Danny Welbeck supported by Shinji Kagawa, despite the poor form of the Japan international. Kagawa, for all his struggles this season, allows a far better link between midfield and attack than either Welbeck -- who should, in any case, be given a sustained run of games at his best position, that of out-and-out striker -- and Chicharito Hernandez, whose touch in build-up play has looked increasingly and alarmingly ponderous in the last few weeks.

The most unfortunate absentee of all is Ashley Young, who was producing his best form in two years before a blow to his shoulder saw him off to the treatment table. That leaves the burden of creativity with Adnan Januzaj, the over-reliance on whom is striking and problematic, and Antonio Valencia. Valencia, in particular, needs to make the swiftest possible adjustment to his playing style. Put simply, and brutally, his crossing has been consistently ineffectual this year.

Very often, he will find himself in excellent positions, before cannoning the ball against the legs of his opposite man. The best crosser on that flank, in fact, has been the overlapping Rafael. What Valencia has done best this year -- for example, in the victories over West Ham United and Aston Villa -- is cut to the byline inside the eighteen-yard box, cut the ball back to the top of the area. It may seem a simple change, but it renders him far more effective, helping his team to keep possession and allowing him to make best use of what is currently by far his best asset: acceleration. How far he has fallen from the 2009-10 season, when his outstanding form was a key factor in Rooney's tally of 34 goals.

On the pitch, the options available look worryingly thin. Away from the pitch, Moyes has attracted one of his most significant doubters yet: the former coach of the club's youth team, Eric Harrison. Harrison, who brought through the famous Class of '92 team, commented in an interview for Sky Sports that Moyes' decision to replace the club's coaching staff: "does look like a mistake, I don't want to criticise anyone but I've got to be honest because if I'm thinking that why shouldn't I say it, like most of the Man United supporters." When asked if he saw Moyes becoming a success at Old Trafford, his response, uttered in the softest and most concerned of tones, was "at this moment in time, no."

Moyes, as ever, has it all to do. He wishes to avoid the team's fourth successive defeat and five in the last seven at Old Trafford -- a statistic that would have been unthinkable for most of the previous thirty years. Swansea, with the wiles of Wilfried Bony and Pablo Hernandez going forward, will not be timid visitors. It's difficult, given the home team's recent travails, to see anything more than a relieved single-goal victory here.


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