x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Manchester United are ‘smashed down’ by Gylfi Sigurdsson goal

Louis van Gaal concedes it will take plenty of improvement for the Premier League team to feel better again, writes Andy Mitten.

Gylfi Sigurdsson cerebrates scoring the winner for Swansea City against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday. Peter Powell / EPA
Gylfi Sigurdsson cerebrates scoring the winner for Swansea City against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday. Peter Powell / EPA

Dutch orange T-shirts on the souvenir stalls near Old Trafford before the opening Premier League game of the season on Saturday carried the slogan: “Keep Calm, we’ve got Van Gaal”.

They reflected the mood created by the arrival of the new man and a positive pre-season, yet attitudes were far less upbeat by the end of Saturday as Louis van Gaal’s first game as Manchester United coach did not go according to plan.

United were defeated for the first time at home on the opening day since the best forgotten 1972/73 season, when they finished 18th.

Victors Swansea City could celebrate a second Old Trafford victory in 2014 after eliminating United from last season’s FA Cup in January. They even repeated the 2-1 scoreline, the kind of shock United fans hoped they had seen the last of when David Moyes was removed from the manager’s role in April.

Van Gaal awarded three players their Premier League debuts; summer signing Ander Herrera and local youth team products Tyler Blackett, 20 and Jesse Lingard, 21.

United started with wing-backs, the first occasion they had used such players in a league game since the opening day of the 1995/96 season, a move that had led to a defeat at Aston Villa.

Still, a home victory was envisaged and Swansea boss Garry Monk opined post-match: “I’m pretty sure people in this room didn’t give us a hope in hell before the game.”

Perhaps Monk expected United to be a new force, but his opponents were poor.

“The question is if we can play as a team and reach the level,” offered Van Gaal of his losing start to life at Old Trafford.

“Today, we didn’t reach a level. In spite of that, we could have won. It’s very disappointing. For the players, the fans, me and staff. We have built up a lot of confidence and it shall be smashed down because of this result.”

United had started with attacking intent but were limited as a threat, with the Welsh side robust in their challenges. Nathan Dyer was booked for a 25th minute challenge on Herrera.

Swansea went ahead two minutes later, Ki Sung Yeung having time and space to side foot a shot past De Gea from the edge of the area. The visiting fans clearly relished the unexpected scoreline as they sang “sacked in the morning” in the direction of Van Gaal.

The ineffective Javier Hernandez was replaced by Nani at half-time as Van Gaal also switched tactics to use four defenders. His side drew level seven minutes after the restart as Phil Jones flicked on a Juan Mata corner towards Wayne Rooney, who did a bicycle kick to fire past Lucasz Fabianski from close range.

Van Gaal stayed on the home bench as his assistant Ryan Giggs occasionally strayed to the sideline to pass instructions to players still adjusting to a system.

Herrera was replaced by Marouane Fellaini, whose first interception was greeted by genuine rather than ironic cheers by the home support, a legacy of his link with the Moyes era.

As the clock ticked to 17 minutes from time the cheers came from the travelling fans as poor United defending saw them fall behind again.

Wayne Routledge stood unmarked by Young near the back post and skewed a Jefferson Montero cross towards Gylvi Sigurdsson, who swept the ball in from close range.

United grew as frustrated as the fans, who left in droves well before the end and Blackett and Ashley Young both picked up yellow cards to mirror the mood on the pitch.

United finished the match looking what they were: a side that lost a chunk of experience in the close season trying an unfamiliar system with inexperienced players.

“We were right in many aspects and we got the right result,” said Monk, who praised his side’s defence and the work they had put in pre-season. “We were fully focused. The only time we didn’t focus we conceded a goal.”

United’s season started well with an emphatic 4-1 victory against Swansea on the opening day a year ago, before descending into mediocrity.

Following United’s first home league defeat to the Swans, they will need a speedy return to some sort of form, starting at Sunderland next weekend.


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