What a start to the season!
In a single game, Swansea bettered the past season's points total against the big six sides, won at Old Trafford in a league game for the first time ever and spoiled Louis Van Gaal's coronation.
Garry Monk couldn't have dreamt of a better start, and while the postmatch analysis centered on Manchester United -- just like the prematch analysis -- Monk and his impressive new Swans side slipped back to South Wales feeling justifiably smug.
The Swansea manager had done well to resist starting all his new signings, instead showing faith in a side largely composed of the past season's players and only introducing Jefferson Montero and Bafe Gomis from the bench. This was a welcome relief to anyone who might have feared a repeat of the failed Villarreal gambit to crowbar strikers Wilfried Bony and Gomis into the same starting XI.
With Monk sticking to his 4-2-3-1 system, it seemed Van Gaal's United would dominate the centre of the field by playing a 3-5-2. However, rather than playing to his side's strengths, the Dutchman seemed intent on focussing United's play through nominal wing backs Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard -- only neither Young nor Lindgaard are actually wing backs.
The 3-5-2 system demands world class players in its two defining positions to function properly, and with Swansea sporting double the manpower on the flanks, whatever advantage United might have held through the middle was left unexploited. It was ironic that cultured European Van Gaal's second-half shift to 4-4-2 and revised gameplan to throw long balls toward a big man up front (Marouane Fellaini) couldn't have been more old-school English. Perhaps Van Gaal was trying to pay tribute during his Premier League inauguration? At any rate, it didn't work.
Beyond the LVG spotlight and what little overspill was afforded Garry Monk, the real star of the show was Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelandic international appeared to pick up where he left off after returning to Swansea following a very successful six month loan two seasons ago.
Sigurdsson, who set up the Swans first and scored the second, has been brought back to fill the position vacated by Michu, the man who himself was brought in to replace Sigurdsson the first time around. It's funny how things go.
The contrast between the players is pronounced, and though it pains me to cast Michu in any kind of negative light, it could be Siggy is a far better fit in Swansea. Michu had an aura of self-consuming singularity about him. When he was on form, he would become the epicentre of a goal scoring storm. When he was out of sorts, he became a black hole in the attacking third.
Sigurdsson is quite the opposite. A force for harmony and balance, he seems the kind of character who meshes well with other people, the sort of person about whom nobody would have a bad story to tell and who would probably help you move house. Sigurdsson is a social footballer, a string-puller who can knit together the potentially disparate elements of a team: wingers, strikers, midfield.
It is bewildering to think he could ever have been surplus to requirements even at Tottenham, but Spurs loss is Swansea's gain, even it it did cost Ben Davies and Michel Vorm. Perhaps calm, understated Sigurdsson was easy to overlook following the mass influx of not-quite-elite-level-talent the Gareth Bale money brought to Tottenham. Maybe too many Spurs managers in too short a period of time saw Sigurdsson undervalued as an inherited rather than desired asset, and one which didn't seem to fit.
He fits in Swansea. In one match, Sigurdsson became the glue stringing the Swans attacking unit together. His intelligence provided a rare goal for Ki Sung-Yeung, and he added an attacking presence in the penalty box without impeding Bony, who even provided a legal block for Siggy's goal. When Gomis replaced the Ivorian, it was more of the same -- Sigurdsson's easy chemistry ensuring the Swans substitute didn't stutter.
It might be early days, but then again, not. Sigurdsson was excellent two years ago. Thankfully, nothing's changed.