12:30 KO (BST); Saturday 19th August; Liberty Stadium (Swansea, England), Sky Sports
Under Paul Clement’s leadership, Swansea are looking a much tougher team to break down than they did under many of their previous managers. The other end of the pitch does not look so rosy for the Swans though and now that Gylfi Sigurdsson has finally departed South Wales after a summer of speculation, Swansea are officially missing their main weapon from last season.
Clement can, however, focus on moving his team forward and with a considerably improved bank balance to help nudge them in the right direction. This cash surplus is unlikely to help them in any way this weekend though, as they welcome the Premiership’s wealthiest team to their humble abode.
Despite the plaudits sent their way after they swept aside the Hammers last Sunday, José Mourinho will be well aware that his team still have a long way to go in their own development. The swagger and confidence appeared to be back at Old Trafford last weekend but United will face a more disciplined defensive unit this time around and will potentially need to add patience to their list of attributes in breaking down the Swans.
Having only won two of their last six league meetings, United will need to be wary of their opponents but perhaps it’s Swansea who need to be fearful.
LAST TIME OUT
Southampton 0 – 0 SWANSEA CITY (Premiership)
A hard-earned away point in the opening fixture will provide Paul Clement with as many questions as answers. The positives came in defence as the Swans looked organised and disciplined on the pitch making it hard for Southampton to cut through their ranks. Eleven clearances by Federico Fernández and a further eight from Alfie Mawson saw the Swans central defensive partnership form a solid barrier which soaked up long periods of Southampton pressure.
At the other end of the pitch, Tammy Abraham looked lively and managed three efforts, albeit, none of them were on target, however, Wayne Routledge looked lost in the number 10 role. As much as Swansea were well-drilled, they were also lacking in creativity which only highlighted the absence of Gylfi Sigurdsson.
While Clement is establishing himself as a tactically astute manager, this game showed that Swansea are in dire need of either their Icelandic talisman to return to the team, or new personnel to fill his position.
MANCHESTER UNITED 4 – 0 West Ham United (Premiership)
A spoonful of context should be served as a reminder that the Hammers were resoundingly beaten by Manchester City 3-0 in a friendly during the previous week, however, this shouldn’t detract from a United performance which oozed confidence and controlled aggression.
Romelu Lukaku took many of the headlines following a brace of goals on his Premiership debut for United but there were many star performances scattered throughout their side. Nemanja Matić was ruthlessly efficient and Marcus Rashford produced a scintillating display down the left flank, his pace providing a constant threat against the ageing legs of Zabaleta.
It was Paul Pogba though who gave a masterclass of control and vision. With 6 of his 8 take-ons being successful and an 87% passing accuracy in the centre of the pitch, Pogba controlled the rhythm of the game for United and was deserving of his goal at the end of the match. Anthony Martial also looked impressive during his 10-minute cameo, an assist along with his well-taken goal and strong pre-season performances suggest he may yet play a pivotal role for United this year.
Swansea City Lineup
Fernando Llorente (arm) remains unavailable while Sung-Yeung Ki (knee) and Nathan Dyer (Achilles) also will be missing for the Swans. Paul Clement may decide to swap to a more defensive formation than his preferred use of a midfield diamond, especially with Wayne Routledge still not convincing in the number 10 role behind the striker. This could potentially make way for new signing Roque Mesa to make his Premiership debut.
Manchester United Lineup
Mourinho will again miss the services of Luke Shaw (foot) Marcos Rojo (knee) and Ashley Young (hamstring) but could technically name an unchanged starting line-up from last week.
While it’s hard to imagine what improvements a change in personnel could’ve brought to United’s performance last weekend, Mourinho is likely to tweak a few details for this game with Matteo Darmian, Ander Herrera, Victor Lindelöf, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial all hoping to benefit from any changes. Another possible switch could see a different formation being used with Mourinho experimenting with a back-three during the summer.
Key Battle: Leon Britton vs Henrikh Mkhitaryan
With the majority of the game likely to be played inside the Swansea half and Leon Britton again expected to start for the Swans, the talismanic midfielder will have a large role to play for his team this weekend. Shielding the back four and controlling possession last weekend, Britton was one of the brightest stars for Clement’s side and it was clear to see why he’s a crowd favourite at the Liberty Stadium.
This Saturday he will be tasked with a tougher proposition than Southampton’s toothless attack posed and is likely to directly face an underrated force within United’s attacking line-up.
For all the praise lavished upon United’s destruction of West Ham, Mkhitaryan was one of the few names to avoid the limelight. With two assists and a further four key passes, the Armenian forward enjoyed a fruitful display in the centre of the pitch and is exactly the type of number 10 player which Swansea are in great need of.
His passing accuracy was above 90% against the Hammers which shows the level of precision he brings to United’s attack and it will be a fascinating duel if Britton is employed to pay close attention to United’s playmaker this weekend.
Giving the Swans wings
Paul Clement has shown a clear preference for his team to play a midfield diamond recently, however, as a shrewd technician, he may choose to alter his starting formation in an attempt to stifle United’s attacks.
One option available to him is to add bodies into the centre of the pitch to try to physically block the Red Devils way to the goal but this will undoubtedly invite pressure on his team. While it might work well in search of a draw, it will equally leave them set-up badly to chase the game should they fall behind at any point.
A more courageous option is to revert to the wing-play which has traditionally been a Swansea strength. Routledge looked a more dangerous player last weekend whenever he pulled out wide, while players like Luciano Narsingh are available to exploit the flanks. The biggest problem here will be the lack of aerial threat Swansea have without Llorente in their team which leaves a big dilemma for Clement prior to his first home game of the season.
Parking the bus
Mourinho teams throughout the years have regularly been accused of parking a bus in front of goal, however, this is a quality which he likes to bring to his teams in the more crucial, latter parts of a season when defeat becomes a much more significant result. Mourinho’s last Premiership crown was won at Chelsea in the 2014–15 season and this was a campaign which began with the Blues offensively destroying their opponents during the first half of the season.
Playing with an attacking freedom was what lay the foundations for success that season, something which he could very well be looking to repeat this year with United. Swansea, without their two most offensive players from last season, will head into this match with their strengths clearly at the base of the pitch leaving Clement searching for the keys to park a bus of his own.
Mourinho has built physically strong and commanding teams throughout his managerial career and his most recently assembled team is again fitting the prototype. With the tallest side in this season’s competition, United will have a clear advantage over the Swans who will be battling against the likes of Pogba, Lukaku, Matic and Martial at set-pieces.
United aren’t lacking in height or power at the back either and last season’s tactic of Swansea crossing the ball from the wide-areas will not be as effective here as against some of the other sides they will face this year.
With Llorente again missing in attack, Swansea will need to play a more nuanced game to best use Tammy Abraham’s strengths after the Chelsea loanee appeared to be ineffective last week. Asked to play in a similar style to Llorente, Abraham was unable to make the ball stick in the attack against the Saints and doing so again will play into United’s favour.
PREDICTION: Swansea City 0 – 3 Manchester United
Swansea have the ability to frustrate United as they did in their previous meeting in April when a 1-1 draw was the least that Swansea deserved from the game. Contrasting fortunes during the last few months for these two sides and a renewed sense of determination for United should help them come away from Wales victorious against a team I can’t see scoring this weekend.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?