Swansea could make history repeat against Manchester United
Swansea can make a positive start to 2016 by beating Manchester United this Saturday.
Recent history and United's recent form suggest a Swans win is not unlikely. Louis Van Gaal recently described Swansea as his 'ghost team,' acknowledging the three straight losses the Welsh club have inflicted since he took over in 2014, and United will be going into the match on the back of an eight game winless streak.
Swansea meanwhile are enjoying a resurrection under caretaker Alan Curtis. Having won just once during former manager Garry Monk's final 13 matches, the Swans are now unbeaten in the last three of Curtis's four games in charge. Swansea have kept clean sheets in all three of those games, which is bad news for misfiring United, who have only managed five goals over their eight game slump.
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With United showing vulnerability, this would seem like the perfect time for certain players to step up. Curtis has offered reassurances that the club's planned transfer business will go ahead regardless of when the managerial vacancy is filled, and there are certain individuals whose Swansea futures will be decided this coming month.
Striker Bafetimbi Gomis could become a hero again if he can find a winning goal against United. The Frenchman netted the Swans' late score in the recent 2-1 loss to Manchester City, and the hope was that he would rediscover his early-season form. However he has failed to score in two other games in which he has played a part since. Reports persist linking the striker with a move away, and if he is to stay, he needs to prove he can score consistently.
Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey has been used sparingly by Curtis. Initially, this seemed to be because of a calf injury, but there's little argument that Swansea move the ball better as a team without him. The former Liverpool man's penchant for speculative long passes and long shots is often more of a disruption than a benefit, and his appalling performance last Monday in the 0-0 draw against Crystal Palace hasn't done his standing with the fans any favours.
With a new manager due to take over, this January would be a fine time to iron the kinks out of the squad. A 'project player' like Shelvey might be seen as an unnecessary burden for a team facing a relegation scrap, and the Swans could look to flip the England midfielder for a sharper short-passing specialist who would enhance rather than detract from the Swansea system. If reports that Shelvey wants to stay are true, then he needs to prove he can be a reliable asset to this team, starting Saturday ... if Curtis plays him.
It's nearly impossible to predict which formation and which lineup Curtis will field, given he has tried a different approach in nearly every game so far. Against United, the diamond seems likely to provide a more compact defensive shape, but the caretaker has shown he's not afraid to make changes at half-time, as he did against West Brom, switching from a 4-2-3-1 to the diamond at the interval.
Some of the credit for Swansea's tactical improvement should probably go to unheralded coach Dave Adams, who left-back Neil Taylor credits with the tactical analyses which has allowed Swansea to achieve three consecutive clean sheets.
Adam's job will have no doubt been made easier by Van Gaal, whose slow-motion possession obsession and broadly-similar approach to every game will not present too many surprises. With the right preparation, the right team selection, and a few players playing to prove themselves, Swansea can make history repeat itself with a fourth consecutive victory.
Max is ESPN FC's Swansea blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @maxwellhicks