Anthony Martial and Ashley Young inspire Man United's much-needed win
Swansea had beaten Louis van Gaal's Man United three straight times but the embattled manager finally oversaw a win, thanks to a sublime winning goal from Wayne Rooney and very fine performances from Anthony Martial (yet again) and Ashley Young.
Swansea could have equalised very late on, but were denied by an excellent save from David De Gea (yet again) and then saw a late effort from their goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski go just wide.
After the goalless draw against Chelsea on Dec. 28, Van Gaal may see this result as something of a resurgence. Cautious critics might disagree but it should be enough to buy the manager some more time.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK David De Gea, 7 -- Did not make his first save until the 29th minute, a comfortable catch from a Wayne Routledge effort, but had to be at his agile best to repel a late effort from Ashley Williams. Again, he showed why he is invaluable to this team.
DF Ashley Young, 8 -- Started ahead of Matteo Darmian, a selection which raised some eyebrows, but responded with arguably his best performance of the season as an attacking right-back so advanced and so positive on the ball that he looked almost as carefree as he did in his Aston Villa days. Sent in several dangerous crosses and helped United to maintain the momentum of their attacks throughout.
DF Phil Jones, 6 -- A quiet performance, mostly because Swansea's forwards did not produce much to trouble him. Substituted at half-time.
DF Chris Smalling, 7 -- Played the ball out well from the back and made good interceptions, particularly a fine diving header to cut out a Swansea attack in the first half.
DF Daley Blind, 6 -- A mixed bag. Covered very well on occasion, sometimes stepping all the way across from the right flank to cover for the marauding Young, but was troubled a little by Swansea's attackers. Picked up a yellow card but just about did enough in the end.
MF Morgan Schneiderlin, 7 -- A peformance to suggest that, when fit, his name should always be on the team sheet. No other midfielder at the club offers his blend of strength, mobility and passing tempo. Complemented Ander Herrera well and it was good to see him getting forward so early.
MF Bastian Schweinsteiger, 6 -- A slightly disappointing outing from the Germany midfielder, who helped his team take up promising positions but did not move the ball on the counter-attack as swiftly as one would expect. A fine competitor as ever, but a fraction slow in his execution.
MF Juan Mata, 6 -- Some very good early touches and link-up play in the final third, but he faded somewhat and failed to get the power on shots that he had fashioned himself. Like Schweinsteiger, just a little too slow to see the play unfold.
MF Ander Herrera, 7 -- Started the game impressively, surging forward onto a very early chance, and also tracked back so effectively that, at one point, he was almost the last man. A terrific asset when fully fit, he showed that he can be a consistent creator of chances.
MF Anthony Martial, 8 -- With a beautifully-conjured goal and assist, as well as endlessly inventive and tireless running, the France international rivalled Young for man of the match. He is already as vital to United's attack as Smalling is to the defence. His blend of speed, skill and strength made him a constant danger from the left flank.
MF Wayne Rooney, 7 -- Capped a performance of high industry with a brilliant backheeled winner, a moment which recalled the best of his play in seasons past and which made him the second-highest goalscorer in Premier League history. Rooney spread the play well and though not everything he attempted came off, he kept working and received his due reward.
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DF Matteo Darmian, 7 -- Covered at centre-back for Jones and went across to right-back when Young got forward, he looked for the most part -- besides one or two dodgy moments on the left against Mo Barrow -- like the dependable players of the season's early months.
DF Paddy McNair, NR -- Came on in the 79th minute to close the game out and had a quiet outing after Young was withdrawn with what appeared to be an injury.
MF Michael Carrick, NR -- Came on in stoppage time for his 400th United appearance. Few English footballers of the modern era can match the contents of his trophy cabinet.
Musa Okwonga is a football author, poet, musician, broadcaster and social commentator. He is on Twitter @Okwonga.