United had embarrassed themselves away at Huddersfield but quickly had a chance to go some way to repairing their reputation away at Swansea. United ran out comfortable winners, never looking under any threat from a poor Swansea side. Several academy graduates shone, but none brighter than Jesse Lingard, who grabbed a brace in an impressive individual display.
Mourinho made seven changes to the starting eleven, as was expected. What wasn’t expected, was the change in formation. Romero played in goal, the back line was Darmian, Lindelof, Smalling, Tuanzebe and Blind. Herrera played in the middle with McTominay, while Lingard was in the hole behind a front two of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. Swansea also rotated, lining up in a 4-3-3 and fielding McBurnie up front and Roque Mesa in the middle of midfield.
United’s first attempt arrived inside the first minute, Smalling getting a piggyback off his marker and heading down and wide from a corner. Soon after, Martial ran at the Swansea defence, committing multiple defenders before laying it off to Jesse Lingard. He carried it forward and fired off a shot at goal, but it was saved by the keeper. It was an indication of what was to come.
Swansea then had two moments that could have caused United trouble. A dangerous corner was swung in at the near post that Smalling threw his body at, clearing it away. Lindelof, with his growing penchant for making errors, decided that waving a foot at the ball, rather than putting his foot through it was a good decision, allowing Ayew a run at goal. Again, Smalling did well to shut him down and get the ball away.
United’s goal arrived on 20 minutes. Herrera looked up from the centre circle and drilled a pass into the feet of Rashford who was about 25 yards out. Without looking, he flicked it behind him and to his right, where Lingard had peeled away from the defence and found himself alone and through on goal. He coolly slipped it into the bottom right-hand corner and the Reds deservedly led.
The switch to the 3-4-1-2 shape seemed to have really freed United up. They were regularly getting men forward, pressing in a swarm from the front and able to keep the ball for long periods. Herrera and McTominay dominated the middle of the field, while the front three were constantly moving and finding space. It was a far cry from the stuttering, unimaginative and static Devils of Saturday.
Ten minutes after the United goal, Blind almost gave Swansea an equaliser. Ki managed to gain a yard out on the left, crossing to the edge of the six-yard box where Blind met the ball with his head. Bizarrely, he headed it down and back across goal, the ball striking McBurnie’s thigh and just missing United’s right-hand post.
Late into the second half, Swansea were starting to get more joy in wide areas, discovering that there were pockets of space either side of the back three. Before they could have a meaningful chance, McTominay ran onto a ball to the edge of the box from Martial, smashing it into the stands. At the other end, Clucas and McBurnie both had chances, Clucas hitting a bobbling shot wide and McBurnie skying it after being marshalled by Tuanzebe.
Swansea started the second half on the front foot, but it very quickly the game slowed down and lost all the fluidity the start had promised. There were lots of niggly fouls from the Welsh side that ground the whole affair to a halt. United seemed unsure whether to attack or simply sit back.
Just before the hour, the second goal arrived. Tuanzebe carried the ball from United’s left back position and into the centre circle before spraying it wide to Darmian. The Italian took a touch and then dropped the ball onto Lingard’s head on the edge of the area. The youngster was travelling at such a speed he could divert it past the keeper from 18 yards out. It was a really impressive finish, much more impressive than his ‘jig with a pipe’ celebration.
Lingard went close to grabbing his hat trick less than five minutes later. Blind had worked his way to the edge of the area after exchanging passes with Martial. Timing his pass to perfection, he slipped Lingard into the box on the left-hand side. Unfortunately, instead of it nestling in the corner of the net, the ball flashed across the six-yard box and away from danger.
Lukaku and Matic replaced Rashford and Herrera soon after. This ultimately slowed United down. When Rashford, Martial and Lingard were playing together, the three of them were able to exchange positions at will. Once Lukaku replaced Rashford, that extra level of fluidity was lost, Lukaku happy to remain right up front on Swansea’s back line. The Swans found this much earlier to contain that the starting three attackers.
United were stringing pass after pass after pass together. Swansea didn’t touch the ball for minutes on end. They then had two chances in quick succession. The first came from a Darmian pass into Lukaku that the Belgian left for McTominay. The youngster rode the challenge from the defender and got to the byline, unfortunately, unable to get a shot off. The Lancastrian had a great game. He never gave the ball away, he was athletic and regularly managed to get forward. Picture Fellaini without the fouls. He could have a bright future.
From the resultant corner, Smalling climbed above everyone and headed an attempt down at goal. The Swansea keeper and his defender stopped each other clearing it and Tuanzebe rushed in attempting to score. The youngster got too much on it, chipping the ball over the goal, where it probably landed back in Manchester. Tuanzebe had started shakily but grew into the game as it went on. He was strong, intelligent and rarely failed to win a tackle. If you didn’t know it, you’d think Lindelof was the academy graduate and Tuanzebe was the £30m defender.
United then marshalled the game well, keeping Swansea at arm’s length until they ran down the clock. The Swans did manage to force Romero into making a save very late on, after the substitute Abraham was given too much space on the edge of the box by Lindelof. The youngster curled a shot around the defender, but it was too central, Romero easily slapped it over the bar.
Swansea had their best chance of the game in the 92nd minute. Another corner was smashed in at the near post, Van der Hoorn climbing above everyone and glancing a header across the box. From inside the six-yard box, Fer met the ball, but Romero threw his hands up and kept his clean sheet. Yet again he shows that he is the best second choice keeper in the league.
This was a professional performance from United. They looked very comfortable in this new shape and it seemed to get the best out of the attackers who began the game. Other than on a few occasions, they were never under any real threat and all the youngsters performed well. Ultimately though, this was a poor opponent, unlike the team the Reds face on Saturday. But still, United are into the last eight of the Carabao Cup, they won comfortably and no one got injured. All good news!