Three Points: Man United vs. Swansea
MANCHESTER, England -- Three observations from Swansea's 2-1 Premier League win vs. Manchester United.
1. Van Gaal's revival act flops
Different formation, same old problems. This was as harrowing a defeat for Louis van Gaal as any that David Moyes suffered. A year ago on opening day, Moyes' United crushed Swansea 4-1 away but on Saturday, at Old Trafford, they they were rattled by an opponent of far greater coherence and, when it mattered, quality.
Injuries and a lack of recruitment may have sapped Van Gaal's ability to hit the ground running, but his team played in a state of confusion. Whether they had three at the back, four or even five, they were always vulnerable. Both Swansea goals came from the visitors' ability to play the ball back across goal to be struck past David de Gea, who was especially unconvincing for Gylfi Sigurdsson's strike for the Swans' second. Ki Sung-Yeung's earlier goal had given the Spaniard little chance.
Even after Wayne Rooney scored an equaliser with a close-range overhead kick, United never got into the ascendancy. As well as clear defensive problems, they severely lacked creativity; Rooney's goal came via a set piece.
The new captain ploughed a singular furrow after Javier Hernandez was removed at half-time. The Mexican's aimless performance had been so poor as to endanger his price tag for those Spanish clubs said to be interested in his signature. Nani's introduction was a surprise, since the Portuguese is also believed to be up for sale to any takers.
Something had to change. United had played as if the summer had never happened and their first-half performance had been so poor that even Moyes might have struggled to seek positives. Here was proof that friendly games played at half pace are no replacement for the harsh reality of the Premier League. In their increasing desperation for an equaliser, United were just as ponderous as they had been under the previous regime's rigid 4-4-2.
Whichever formation is chosen, there is no hiding that United now severely lack pace. Rooney certainly does not provide it, nor can Juan Mata. It is no wonder that Van Gaal wants a player like Angel di Maria; his squad lacks a player whose running can take opponents out of the game.
Too often when United broke were Swansea able to reset themselves into formation. Eventually, the Swans were able to retake the lead. Van Gaal, resorting to Marouane Fellaini as a target man, could not find an answer.
2. Swans can fly again
A glance at Swansea's squad list suggests that the constant evolution that has sustained the club's establishment as a Premier League power continues apace. This is not a club that stands still. Even if Lukasz Fabianski was the only true debutant, with Sigurdsson making a return to the club, there was a freshness about the Welsh raiders.
Michu, once valued at 20 million pounds, is loaned to Napoli, while Pablo Hernandez has sought his fortune in Qatari football. The formerly Spanish core brought to the club by Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup is gone, but the style of play remains much the same under Garry Monk as it was under his predecessors, though this version would seem to press the ball harder and higher. United's Ander Herrera came in for particularly rough treatment.
Goal scorer Ki spent last season on loan at Sunderland, who refused to pay the fee Swansea wanted. The South Korean played as if he had never been away in the engine room, sitting deep while Jonjo Shelvey made his habitual charges forward. Ki has always been a fine striker of the ball and gave De Gea little chance when opportunity came his way.
In turning to Monk after Laudrup's reign stalled, the hope was that the former captain could reassert the club's values. Many had suggested them as relegation candidates this season, but this was a sparky and intelligent showing.
3. The kids are alright
In the absence of new signings, Van Gaal had turned to local talent. Jesse Lingard, whose name might suggest a Scandinavian import when he hails from nearby Warrington, played at right wing-back. Mancunian Tyler Blackett was on the left of a three-man defence.
Lingard's debut on loan for Birmingham City last season saw him grab four goals against Sheffield Wednesday. His brief here, as a part-time defender, did not allow him the freedom to get in many scoring areas. Instead, his energy was to be employed in running the length of the flank.
Man United suffer opening-day defeat
- Brewin: United issues laid bare by defeat
- Brewin: Three Things -- Man United vs. Swansea
- Van Gaal rues losing start
- Rooney accepts blame for loss
- Fletcher eager to prove critics wrong
- Macintosh: Premier League heroes and villains
- Payne: Flaws wreck van Gaal's debut
- Moyes calls for van Gaal patience
Sadly, though, a block tackle on Ashley Williams jarred his knee, and there would be no repeat of his Blues heroics. Adnan Januzaj came on as a most ersatz wing-back after just 25 minutes. Needs must. Up in the stands sat absentees Antonio Valencia and Rafael; Van Gaal was missing nine injured players. Januzaj, inside his own penalty area, was an onlooker when Ki scored.
Ashley Young, seven years senior to Lingard at 29, continued his reinvention in a similar role and it was his intervention in the 13th minute that prevented Wilfried Bony meeting a Wayne Routledge cross. It still looks odd to see Young in such positions, though he might prove more use to his club than he has in recent years as an inconsistent winger. He ended his afternoon as a left-back.
Here were contrasts to Moyes, a name that went without much mention in the matchday programme. Aside from Januzaj, he did not give a single debut to a youth product (it was temporary manager Ryan Giggs who gave James Wilson his goal-scoring bow against Hull in May).
Blackett, at 20, is a considerable physical specimen who at times showed a notable coolness in possession. Though it was from his side that Sigurdsson found the space to set up Ki's goal, Phil Jones' flail to prevent the ball finding the Swansea man was far more crucial. Blackett's watching brief in Swansea's second had Rooney raging. He has promise, but United currently need far more than that.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.