Losing run ends but Man United are unconvincing

Posted by Richard Jolly

MANCHESTER -- This was a triumph for perspiration, not inspiration. It was a victory for penetration, not possession. The 2-0 win felt like the sort that David Moyes’ Everton used to grind out when they were in troubled times, the product of heart and desire rather than ability.

To some the Manchester United manager’s Friday analysis of his squad was a controversial denigration of men who have won more than him. To others, it was simply an accurate assessment to suggest they lack nothing in effort but require more quality.

The latter theory was rather borne out as a three-match losing streak was ended. If United defeats linger long in the memory, some of their wins are eminently forgettable and this was one such.

The significance lay in what didn’t happen. United didn’t lose three successive home games for the first time since 1962, or four consecutive matches, which hadn’t happened since 1961.

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They didn’t have the ball either. Their final possession figure of 38.6 percent was their lowest in a league game since the statistic began to be measured. Swansea had the ball but United got the points. Never one of the football’s passing philosophers, Moyes can settle for that.

It was a pragmatic way of prospering for a team shorn of two of its star men -- Robin van Persie watched from an executive box and Wayne Rooney is on a warm-weather break in Egypt -- and, for various reasons, seven other members of the squad.

If a tactical tweak helped bring the breakthrough after half-time, with Moyes moving Shinji Kagawa into the No. 10 role and sending Adnan Januzaj out to the left flank, the second-half improvement owed as much to an increase in urgency.

The home side operated higher up the field, putting Swansea under more pressure and winning the ball back quicker.

“I thought from the start of the second half we played very well, deservedly scored two goals and could have had more,” Moyes said afterwards.

Yet it was a sweat-soaked victory, not a stylish cruise. The opening goal came through Antonio Valencia, who had strayed offside in the build-up before drilling in from close range after Gerhard Tremmel blocked Kagawa’s header.

Meanwhile, the second was the sort to support Andre Villas-Boas’ rather illogical theory that pressing automatically produces chances. First Januzaj dispossessed Wayne Routledge and then, after his cross was headed out, Patrice Evra burst in ahead of Alejandro Pozuelo. His scuffed shot was diverted in by Danny Welbeck.

It completed a scruffy double. Perhaps luck has not deserted Moyed and United after all.

Fortune famously favours the brave and Moyes’ boldest call has been promoting Januzaj. The teenager now looks a talisman, which is an indication of his excellence as well as an illustration of others’ failings, and he again excelled.

“His natural talent and ability is up there with the best and I think in time he will prove to be that,” said Moyes. Given his penchant for cautious rhetoric, such words carry some weight.

There was significance to the hosts’ selection, too. In times of strife, managers tend to revert to the men they trust the most. Injuries limited Moyes’ options but the recall of Darren Fletcher -- a byword for character -- at the expense of the flakier Tom Cleverley, spoke volumes.

It put an emphasis on experience in midfield. Lacking dynamism, United at least had composure and commitment, if not the mobility that Swansea possessed.

A laboured first-half display hinted at the underlying problems; United relied on Januzaj for creativity and Rafael Da Silva to inject pace. It was a tight, tense affair, with the nervousness at Old Trafford tangible every time Swansea counter-attacked and threatened to find space behind Evra.

The pivotal moment, as Michael Laudrup identified, came right after the interval with Valencia’s opener.

“The first goal really hurt us,” the Swansea manager said. “They had to win the game in the second half and scoring a goal after just two minutes gave them so much confidence.”

Briefly, they resembled the United of old but more often, they looked like Moyes’ Everton, resilient and resolute, rather than fluent or flowing. The Scot has been strangely upbeat in his evaluation of mediocre displays of late and, while this was better, he accepted the task remains sizeable. “I’d like to think it is going to improve an awful lot,” he added.

It needs to. At least Swansea, who had waited since 1931 to win at Old Trafford, did not record two victories in successive weeks. “I liked it better last Sunday,” said a wistful Laudrup.


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