Manchester United put in a commanding performance against Swansea City on Saturday afternoon at Old Trafford, with two first-half strikes from Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez handing the hosts a comfortable 2-0 win.
Despite sealing their passage to the FA Cup semi-finals victory over Brighton and Hove Albion prior to the international break, there was much dissatisfaction with the performance put in and the onus was on the Reds to turn on the style against the Swans. It took United just four minutes to break the deadlock, as Lukaku fired home his 26th goal of the campaign before Sanchez confidently slotted the ball past goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to seal all three points.
Jose Mourinho’s men started the match on the front foot, determined to stamp their authority on proceedings and a flowing piece of attacking play soon brought about the game’s first goal. Receiving the ball from Nemanja Matic on the edge of the Swansea area, the impressive Jesse Lingard picked out Sanchez who had made a run between two Swans defenders. Taking one touch to shift the ball onto his favoured right foot, the Chile international squared it to Lukaku, who quickly sorted his feet out before firing past Fabianski and into the top corner, despite the close attention of centre-back Alfie Mawson.
Lingard, undoubtedly buoyed by his first goal for the England national team last week, was at the centre of all of United’s positive attacking moves and his clever through ball just a few minutes later brought the Belgian forward one on one with the Swansea custodian, but saw his powerful right-footed effort was palmed away by the Poland international shot-stopper. The 25-year-old academy graduate has come on in leaps and bounds this season and had two half-chances of his own early on in proceedings.
First, he saw his right-footed effort roll into Fabianski’s palms before his miscued shot from a promising position dragged wide of the post. He would turn provider moments later, however. Running at a panicking Swansea backline, Lingard played the ball behind the opposition defence and into the path of a grateful Sanchez, who kept his cool and fired a low effort past Fabianski and into the net for his second goal since moving to Old Trafford back in January.
The Chilean has come in for some stinging criticism in recent weeks following a string of underwhelming performances but put in a much more positive showing this time around. Besides his goal, Sanchez worked tirelessly to regain possession and support left-back Ashley Young, whilst also proving to be a constant menace down that flank.
Full of confidence, United were turning on the style and a smart Lukaku backheel played Lingard into a promising position but the England international couldn’t make the most of the bright interplay and sliced his effort wide.
The second 45 minutes were played in a similar vein, with the hosts dictating play and dominating possession, whilst the Swans fought hard to keep the scoreline down. United ought to have found the net for a third time and put the game beyond doubt but Juan Mata was unable to keep his shot down and blasted over the bar. Paul Pogba, back in the starting XI and playing with more confidence and assurance, picked out the Spaniard with a delightful left-footed lofted pass and despite carefully watching the flight of the ball, Mata fluffed his lines and volleyed over.
Complacency seemed to be creeping into United’s game and were it not for the brilliance of goalkeeper David de Gea, Swansea would have halved the deficit just before the hour mark. The Spain international has had yet another stunning season in between the sticks at Old Trafford and his double-save from Swans forward Tammy Abraham was further evidence of his status as the world’s best shot-stopper.
After managing to get the ball out of his feet, the young forward unleashed a powerful left-footed strike from inside the United box that seemed to be heading for the back of the net, only for de Gea’s cat-like reflexes to come to the fore, allowing him to punch the ball away. Unable to clear the danger, the Reds were under pressure for the first time in the match and a few seconds later, were once again congratulating their number one for keeping their two-goal lead intact. This time, de Gea got down smartly with a strong wrist to turn away Abraham’s powerful, low shot.
That double-save seemed to demoralise the Swans, who failed to create any more clear-cut chances. As for United, it was simply a matter of seeing the rest of the game out and whilst they could have done with some more ruthlessness in the final third, it was enough to see them return to second place in the Premier League table, ahead of arch-rivals Liverpool.
Next up for Mourinho’s men is the small matter of Saturday’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford.