Goals from Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck handed David Moyes some most welcome respite as Manchester United ended a run of three-straight defeats with a 2-0 victory over Swansea City at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Swansea had beaten United at an ever-more welcoming Old Trafford just a week ago and at half-time they would have had plenty of hope of doing so again. The much-discussed “reaction” from the players that would have been automatic under Sir Alex Ferguson was instead delayed until the second half on this occasion.
The home side got the best possible start to the period when Valencia finished from close range after Gerhard Tremmel saved from Shinji Kagawa, although the Ecuador winger was fortunate to avoid being flagged for offside in the buildup. United only got better after going in front and scored a second through Welbeck just before the hour mark and could easily have had a couple more after Swansea’s spirit had been broken.
It would be foolhardy in the extreme to begin talking about a turning point, with United having produced promising performances before this season and not built on them. However, there were undoubtedly positive signs in the second half that should provide a blueprint for Moyes going forward. The team played with much greater determination, but it was the again superb Adnan Januzaj along with Kagawa who added the invention to the team that has so often been lacking. It was no coincidence that, as has been the case with Manchester United’s best performances this season, this one came with Kagawa playing in his favored No. 10 role.
It had not been the most promising of starts for the home side. While showing little forward ambition, Swansea were being allowed to control the play with their short-passing game as United lacked the intensity to engage the opposition. That continued even when Swansea’s dire injury problems continued with Jose Canas going off after just 17 minutes to be replaced by Chico Flores and fellow center-back Jordi Amat was forced into midfield.
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Still, United had chances to have been in front at the break. Nemanja Vidic shot over after a Januzaj free-kick fell into his path, but it was Welbeck who had by far the half’s clearest opportunity. Valencia and Rafael combined well down the right and the Brazilian’s pass inside the box for Welbeck should have led to the net rippling, but instead his shot was swept wide of the post.
Swansea would certainly have been the happier side at the interval, but their solid first-half work was wiped out after little more than 60 seconds of the second half. Ashley Williams could only head on a Januzaj cross at the near post, allowing Kagawa to head at goal and, although Tremmel palmed it away, Valencia was on the spot to tuck home the rebound. But, while Moyes had complained in the week about his side being on the wrong side of referees' decisions, his side caught a break for the goal, with Valencia offside from the initial cross and having challenged for the ball with Williams to make his interference clear.
Perhaps inspired by some stern words at half-time or perhaps the confidence boost of the goal, or likely a little of both, Manchester United suddenly played with far more energy and enterprise. The switching of Januzaj to the left and Kagawa through the middle also helped, as the Japanese playmaker became a much greater influence on proceedings.
Kagawa soon shot just over the bar after a good counter, but it wasn’t long before United’s lead was doubled. The greater intensity was at the heart of it as first Januzaj intercepted a throw out from Tremmel and then when his cross came out to the edge of the box and Evra surged in to meet it first. The full-back’s shot would have posed little threat, but Welbeck met it with a clever and decisive flick to take it into the corner of the net.
Swansea, missing the likes of Michu, Nathan Dyer, Pablo Hernandez, Jonathan de Guzman and Roland Lamah, lacked the quality in the final third to get back into the game once the onus was on them to attack. And United’s victory could and should have been far more resounding.
Kagawa’s glorious left-footed cross set up Chris Smalling for a simple finish at the back post that he somehow put wide. And then it was the turn of Kagawa as, after being found by Rafael on a lighting break, he feinted well past the last defender but then lacked decisiveness when faced with Tremmel and scuffed a shot against the Swansea keeper.
Moyes will have few concerns about that profligacy tonight, though, as he can breathe a heavy sigh of relief ahead of a much tougher test at Chelsea next Sunday.