Swansea City are renowned for their fluent passing game; two schemers dictating the tempo in front of their back-four, while laying the foundations for a trio of attackers – including two authentic widemen – who operate behind the lone striker of the day. There was a feeling under Brendan Rodgers, and then Michael Laudrup after him, that the Swans were gradually ‘found-out’. If you could stop the Welsh team at source, the theory went, then they would swiftly run out of ideas. Certainly, as things unravelled somewhat under Laudrup, the Dane’s Swansea side became a one-dimensional unit, seemingly content to drift through games, passing for passing’s sake, with no purpose. The same accusation could never be levelled at Garry Monk’s Swans side. The width that makes the Liberty Stadium outfit so thrilling to watch is still there. Andre Ayew and Wayne Routledge were the men prepared to get chalk on their boots against United. With Gylfi Sigurdsson operating as a ‘number 10’ it would be understandable if Swansea were tempted to channel the majority of their offensive efforts through the sublime Icelander, making capital on the ex-Tottenham man’s ability to feed his fellow attackers at will. Rather than rely on his faultless radar, though, Sigurdsson is just one of many options for this Swans side. Monk’s men are not shy of hitting Bafetimbi Gomis early – and nor should they be. The Frenchman’s exceptional hold up play frees up space for those around him, while dragging opposing defenders away from where they are comfortable. Additionally, the Swans’ boss’s deployment of Shelvey as one of his deeper-lying midfielders is a masterstroke. The 23-year-old, sure to be in Roy Hodgson’s England squad when it is announced later today, can land a ball on a six-pence, picking out his flying wingers, a rampaging Gomis or the men bursting beyond the forward, as is appropriate. Swansea haven’t moved away from their possession based game entirely but, with Monk’s imprint on matters, there is a lot more variety in what they do with it. No team beats Manchester United three times on-the-bounce without being adaptable and posing their esteemed opponents all manner of difficulties.
While Monk generally keeps his counsel regarding his methods, Louis van Gaal is often at pains to make a virtue of his ‘philosophy’. So complex is the manual that that Dutchman coaches from, he would have us believe, that only the most intelligent footballers can grasp what the former Ajax boss wants from them. On the evidence of his time at Old Trafford, however, Van Gaal’s modus operandi is no different to that of any number of other coaches around England and across the continent. There can’t be many managers who don’t want a solid back-four – and it is to the United boss’s credit that after all his initial struggles in the job to settle on an established rearguard, he now has a resilient defensive unit on his hands. Further up the pitch, Van Gaal is simply putting together a very, very good group of players. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin are potentially a formidable engine room duo, and Ander Herrera has all the attributes to play as a ‘number 10’ for one of Europe’s top clubs. What Van Gaal has instilled into all of those players, in common with Mata, who was industrious personified in South Wales, and Memphis, is a remarkable work ethic. There really are signs that the 64-year-old is shaping a Manchester United team that bears his identity. Eight of United’s starters at The Liberty Stadium were brought to the club by Van Gaal. None of them have been let in on some hitherto unseen tactical masterplan, though. Let’s face it, sending on Marouane Fellaini, with the explicit instruction to his side to fire balls up to the giant Belgian was Van Gaal’s now familiar Plan B as he tried to even things up in this encounter. There is no mystery to Van Gaal’s methods; the only uncertainty surrounds whether or not they will bring silverware back to Old Trafford.
It would be outrageously premature to suggest that United’s great rivals, Manchester City, are already romping away with the Premier League title. Nevertheless, Manuel Pellegrini’s side are a glaring exception to what has become the norm in this crazy start to the campaign. City have cantered to four successive victories, thus far, scoring nine goals, without being breached, in the process. Elsewhere, however, the strength in depth of England’s top-flight is manifesting itself in all manner of unforeseen results. West Ham have deservedly won at Arsenal and Liverpool, Chelsea came unstuck yesterday against Crystal Palace and, now, Swansea have sealed a fully merited victory over United. With the money flowing into the Premier League only set to grow and grow, thanks to the staggering sums of cash TV companies the world over are prepared to pay for this compelling product, we could be witnessing a change to what has previously been accepted practice: that of the league’s top-dogs, more often than not, dispatching the lesser lights with some ease. The financial might of England’s clubs is making them a very attractive proposition for players around the globe and, with the wages on offer so vast, footballers coming to this country aren’t as discerning as they once were, when it comes to choosing a new club. Furthermore, not every footballer coming into England from abroad can sign for City, Chelsea and United et al. Consequently, the talent spreads throughout the league. Swansea’s latest toppling of United was merely the latest evidence to indicate that there are a lot of extremely dangerous teams in our top division. All of the supposed ‘big-four’ can expect a real fight for every point they earn this season – even if City are currently doing all they can to dispel that theory.
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