The game demonstrated the weaknesses of both Manchester United and Swansea City. Even though the visitors were superior in possession in the first half, they could not turn their dominance into goals. Their dominance was not a surprise as Manchester United's forward and midfielders lacked defensive organisation. Manchester United won the game in the second half thanks to the tactical changes made by David Moyes.

The formations

football formations
 Manchester United started in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Nemanja Vidić in central defence with Chris Smalling. Rafael was finally back from his injury. Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick started in central midfield in the league for the first time this season.
 The biggest miss was arguably the duo of Rooney and Robin van Persie. Danny Welbeck started as the lone striker, with Adnan Januzaj behind him. It is fair to say that David Moyes fielded a team we have not seen before.

 Swansea City started in a 4-2-3-1 as well. They missed several key players, but their most notable absentee was of course Michu. Leon Britton started as the holding pair of José Cañas. Unfortunately Cañas got injured early on, so Jordi Amat moved up to the midfield. Chico took his place in central defence. (The formations on the left reflect this state.) 

Swansea dominate

 Swansea City had 60% possession in the first half. The holding pair of Britton and Cañas had an important part to play in this, but they had help from the attacking midfielders. If the ball was in a central position, Shelvey dropped deep, between the two United holders to become the third man in a triangle. If the ball was on either side, Pozuelo or Routledge joined the triangle.

 The wingers – Pozuelo and Routledge – played as inside forwards if the ball was in United's half. They both came into the middle in the hole between the defence and the midfield of United. United’s back four became narrow as Rafael and Evra had to come inside. Ángel Rangel and Ben Davies provided width. Shelvey often played diagonals to the full-backs from the hole.

Davies provides width, while Routledge and Pozuelo both play in the middle.

 Welbeck and the midfielders tried to put pressure on the Swansea backline. This required them to push up. Manchester United's defence didn't push up with them. This created space for Bony, and allowed Swansea to play long balls to him. 

Long balls played by Swansea: Diagonals to the full-backs and vertical passes to Bony. 
(Image taken from Squawka.com)

 Swansea’s other move was to play short passes in front of the United defence. These moves involved using Bony as a wall passing option. Either Shelvey or Pozuelo or Routledge played a short pass to Bony, who played it back with his back to goal, while the initial passer made a run into the box. If a Swansea player made a pass forward from the hole, he made the supporting run. This kind of movement is very similar to the ones used by Tottenham Hotspur under Tim Sherwood.

Swansea's build-up

 Swansea City incorporated the wingers into the build-up. One of the holding midfielders drifted towards the wing to form a triangle with the winger and the full-back. The two triangles were Britton-Routledge-Davies and jordi Amat-Pozuelo-Ángel Rángel. Manchester United didn’t do a good job of preventing these triangles in the first half. Welbeck and Januzaj would have needed to step between the holding midfielder and the wing players, which would have forced Swansea to abandon playing through the middle. Manchester United did a lot better job at this in the second half, when Kagawa and Januzaj switched positions. Welbeck took a bigger part in defending. 

Swansea involved the wide players in the build-up by forming triangles with the holding midfielders.

 Fletcher and Carrick were outnumbered in midfield. Bony often dropped into the hole, while nobody followed him. The Pozuelo came to the middle, which pulled Evra to the middle as well, but the full-back didn’t pressure Pozuelo when the ball was played to him. As a result Swansea could bring the ball out with relative ease, overwhelming Carrick and Fletcher.

 Although the horizontal movement of the holding midfielders allowed Swansea to have a trouble-free build-up phase, they were exposed if the ball was lost. If one holder drifted to the sides, the other had to cover the middle of the pitch. Sometimes this was ignored, which allowed United to break quickly.

United's quick transitions 

 Manchester United had the best chances when they won the ball in midfield, and played it forward to Januzaj or Welbeck without hesitation. The sideways movement of Britton and Cañas resulted in a large gap in central areas in front of the Swansea defence. United had a good chance of exploiting this if they played a pass without hesitation when they won the ball while Welbeck or Januzaj stepped towards the midfield to receive.  

 United had a few chances exploiting the lack of defensive commitment shown by Routledge. When Rafael overlapped Valencia, Routledge didn’t follow the full-back all the way, but attempted to dispossess Valencia, allowing him to play the ball to the unmarked Rafael.

Changes in the second half

 David Moyes instructed Januzaj and Kagawa to switch positions at half-time. This brought both offensive and defensive results. Januzaj blocked the passes from the full-back to the holding midfielder more than Kagawa did. Welbeck put more emphasis on his defensive duties. Kagawa pressured the Swansea player in possession in central midfield from behind. Swansea’s build-up was more troubled.

 Evra and Rafael became more aggressive. The full-backs anticipated passes to their men into the hole, and put pressure on them the second they received the ball. They didn’t let them turn with the ball. Swansea enjoyed less success int he hole between United’s defence and midfield.  

Rafael steps up to disspossess Routledge, while Kagawa applies pressure in midfield from behind.

United attack on the left

  Januzaj pinged back Ángel Rangel. Evra pushed up when United were in possession. Carrick played diagonal passes to him when it became too congested in the middle. At the same time Fletcher covered behind Evra on the left when the full-back decided to push up.

 Evra and Januzaj had an important part to play in United’s goals. Januzaj put in the cross that led to Valencia’s opener, while Evra provided the assist for Welbeck’s goal.

 Swansea tried getting back into the game by bringing in Álvaro Vázquez for Shelvey. Vázquez moved to the right while Pozuelo came to the centre. Vázquez tracked back with Evra. Swansea tried to put crosses in from the wings, but they were poor, and rarely reached Bony. Swansea attempted five crosses during the game, but none of them were successful.


 Swansea were clearly the better team in the first half, but they could not capitalise on their dominance. David Moyes made multiple tactical changes for the second half. Putting the emphasis on the left wing, while asking the attackers to contribute more defensively had the desired effect. United were largely untroubled in the second half, and got their first win in 2014.

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