Manchester United thumped West Ham United 4-0 last Sunday to spark wild celebrations amongst their supporters this week.
The Red Devils are ‘back’ it seems and they should now be the favourites to win the Premier League title for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
It isn’t like United haven’t started the season well before. They started the last campaign by winning the Community Shield and then beating Bournemouth 3-1. They were back then. They started the season before by beating Tottenham Hotspur 1-0. They were back then. Even the infamous ‘David Moyes Disaster’ began with a 4-1 win over Swansea City so United fans would perhaps be better to avoid getting too carried away after what was one win against an awful West Ham side which had given up by the end of the 90-minutes at Old Trafford.
That’s not to say that Red Devils shouldn’t be optimistic, it’s impossible not to be when your manager is Jose Mourinho and you’ve spent around £150 million on new transfers during the summer window for the second successive season. However, there will be far bigger, and more important, tests to come which will help to judge exactly where United are in relation to their title rivals and it only after they pass them that Mourinho’s men should be lauded.
Swansea away is one such tests as this a team against whom the Red Devils have struggled in recent seasons. Since that glorious 4-1 victory under David Moyes, the Swans have beaten Manchester United in two of their last three meetings at the Liberty Stadium with last season’s 3-1 win for the visitors the exception rather than the rule in Wales. It may be a confident United support that travels south on Saturday but there are plenty of reasons to suggest that the side could struggle.
Mourinho will most likely name an unchanged side for the lunchtime kick-off and but there is no way that Nemanja Matic will be given anything like the time and space that he was afforded at Old Trafford and, subsequently, Paul Pogba will have less freedom as an attacking outlet. Matic allowed Pogba to push forward and support Juan Mata, Henrik Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku last weekend, which was too much for West Ham’s shaky defence, but Swansea will close down much quicker and much higher up the pitch than the Hammers did, which means there will be a very different dynamic at the Liberty.
Swansea did this successfully against Southampton last weekend and, by all accounts, were deserving of their 0-0 draw at St. Mary’s. The absence of Gylfi Sigurdsson, who has now joined Everton in a £45 million transfer, and Fernando Llorente, who has an arm injury, meant that they couldn’t offer much in the way of attack and thus they were unable to affect the scoreline in a positive manner.
That may well be the case again today although the mercurial Jordan Ayew is likely to have more confidence playing in front of a partisan support and Tammy Abraham will only improve with more game time both for the Swans and in the Premier League.
It may be a match of limited chances though and goals could be at a premium in Wales. Swansea’s Paul Clement has clearly decided that making his side harder to beat is a priority this season and he will look to contain United at the Liberty. Clement, who worked under Mourinho at Chelsea, will be aware of the threat posed by the visitors and will no doubt adopt tactics that look to stifle the supply to the pacy frontmen. If he can do this then United will once again be relying on some magic from Mata, Mkhitaryan or Pogba and, as we seen regularly last season, that is not necessarily a given.