United had blown away a poor West Ham in their opening fixture at Old Trafford, sending out a strong message to the other top six competitors. An away game at Swansea seemed like a soft opening to United’s away games this season. However, the game proved tougher than it first seemed on paper, with Swansea putting up a strong resistance to a mechanical Manchester United performance before United turned on the flair and tore through the Swans late in the second half.
United started with the same eleven and system as in the victory against West Ham. Jose Mourinho clearly felt there was no need to alter a winning formula, especially as United were playing another possible relegation candidate. Swansea lined up in a 3-5-2, with Roque Mesa making his debut in midfield. Without Sigurdsson and Llorente, the Swans looked a fairly toothless outfit up front, and so it proved during this fixture.
Within three minutes, Swansea had already scared United by hitting their bar. Ayew managed to break down the left wing after Bailly cleared the ball against him. From close to the United byline, Ayew attempted a cross to the back post with the outside of his boot which De Gea allowed to pass over his head. The ball skimmed off the bar and past another onrushing Swansea forward. It would be the closest to scoring Swansea got all game.
United’s first chance came when Jones managed a free header from a free kick after 8 minutes, although the ball meekly hit the bar. Then after 26 minutes, Pogba fouled Tom Carroll with a rather rash swing of his right leg. He was rightly booked, but soon after went in late on Martin Olsson on the edge of the Swans’ box. John Moss, a man who revels in his authority as a referee, decided not to give Pogba a second booking. Pogba really should have been sent off, one foul was very heavy, the other very late.
The rest of the first half was largely uneventful. The game fell into a familiar pattern, with United keeping the ball for long periods without creating any real chances. Swansea were perfectly happy to sit with five defenders on the edge of their penalty area, soaking up crosses from deep.
On the eve of half time, United finally broke the deadlock. A corner whipped in from United’s left was met by the head of Pogba, only for Fabianski to save the attempt onto the bar. The ball bounced up off the line; time seemed to freeze until the unlikely goalscorer Eric Bailly, sprang into action, tapping in with an outstretched limb. This was Bailly’s first goal for United and it would cap off another decent performance from the centre back.
The second half began much the same as the first half had gone, a lot of non-threatening possession from United, with Swansea happy to allow them to keep the ball deep and away from their defensive line. Generally, the game felt very similar to the many matches against weaker opponents from last season. United had got their goal, but they weren’t creating the myriad of chances they failed to convert last season; rather, they were struggling to create at all.
Just after the hour, Paul Clement decided to twist rather than stick. He brought off Mesa and Bartley for Narsingh and Routledge, switching from a back three to a back four and attempting to push more men forward. Again, in a similar move to last week, Mourinho decided to counter by taking off Mata and replacing him with Fellaini. After these changes, Swansea had a flurry of half chances as United dropped slightly deeper, without truly threatening; a more impressive attacking outfit may have been able to put United under more pressure. Mourinho will always decide to bring down the shutters rather than go for the kill in a tight situation, but time will tell if ultimately this is the correct strategy for this United side in the bigger games.
At the same time, Mourinho made that change, he swapped Rashford for Martial. Rashford had again been bright but his end product had been lacking, something that might concern Mourinho going forward. Martial did as much as he could to usurp Marcus in this brief cameo, his arrival and ability to combine with Pogba were the catalyst for Swansea’s breakdown on the 79th minute.
A long ball forward was chested down by Lukaku to the onrushing Mkhitaryan, who poked it forward to Martial. Martial kept his head down and powered through to the edge of the penalty area. The Frenchman actually lost the ball, only for it fall to the feet of Mkhitaryan, who slipped it through first time to Lukaku, now completely free in the box. The Belgian doesn’t miss chances like that and easily buried it, killing the game dead.
However, United weren’t yet done. Immediately from kick off, Swansea gave the ball away to Pogba, who released Mkhitaryan down the right-hand side. The Armenian committed the Swansea defender, holding the ball until the time was right to slip United’s record signing through into the box. Pogba had countless choices on how to finish the chance and as he often does, decided to pick the most aesthetically pleasing option, hooking it over the prone Fabianski just inside the near post.
The final goal was another counter attack that’s slowly becoming a hallmark of this new look United team. Yet again, Lukaku chested the ball down from a clearance, laying it off to Martial just inside their own half. Martial carried the ball forward, before laying it off to Pogba, who strode into Swansea’s half before knocking it wide back to Martial who had continued his run. Martial carried it unopposed to the edge of the opposition box, slotting it into the bottom corner past a desperate Fabianski.
United had looked a class above Swansea all game. Pogba yet again dominated, stroking the ball around the field and beating people for fun. Swansea should rightly be upset that he was on the field at all, but completely failed to contain him once he remained on it. Mkhitaryan looks much more comfortable centrally with a license to pull wide and if Martial can be this effective every time he comes off the bench, United will be a very dangerous opponent for any side.
This was another easy victory against another weak opponent for United, albeit a team that took a while to truly break down. There were signs around the hour mark that United will need to improve in Europe and against tougher opponents. However, no fan will argue with another 4-0 win, especially one with three beautiful goals. United are almost back to their best. They’ll truly be back when they can do this to another big team. Until then, fans will have to settle for 4-0 wins against minnows. It could be worse.