There was a depressing sense of deja vu for United at the Liberty Stadium as, like last year, the Reds took the lead only for Swansea to come from behind to win. Even worse, the game raised further questions ahead of Tuesday’s transfer deadline about Van Gaal’s options up front and the goalkeeping situation in what looks set to be the post-De Gea era.
It had all begun quite promisingly. United took the game to Swansea from the first whistle and enjoyed the bulk of the early possession. Although few chances were created, Rooney got behind the defence only for a challenge from Williams to dispossess him before he could make the most of the opportunity and, soon after, a slick passing move resulted in Mata’s shot finishing the wrong side of the near post.
At the other end, Sigurdsson failed to capitalise on Swansea’s first chance when he steered a loose ball just wide of Romero’s goal. Before that, the Reds’ policy of bringing in Herrera as a deeper-lying number 10 had done the job of stifling Swansea’s midfield but they quickly began to find their feet and Gomis burst dangerously into the area only to see his shot glance off the outside of the post.
It was the best chance of a first half in which United’s early promise faded and, although they kept their shape well, they struggled to create against an equally well-organised home side and a state of stalemate persisted until half-time. It was the Reds who broke it: Luke Shaw got free on the left and put in a cross towards Rooney. All his captain could do was distract his marker as the ball drifted away from both but fell to Mata who tucked it away at the far post.
It was almost two when Ashley Williams’ attempt to cut out a Depay cross almost looped over Fabianski, but a combination of keeper and crossbar prevented it from crossing the line. Mata might have had a second when he was put through in the area by Herrera but Fabianski smothered and, with the game increasingly opening up, it was Swansea who grabbed a crucial lifeline and a platform from which to win the game. A quick break led to Sigurdsson floating a delightful ball into the box that found Ayew at the far post and his header gave Romero no chance.
Memories of last season then became all too vivid when Gomis seized on a ball from Shelvey to drill the ball home under Romero’s body. There was no question the Argentine keeper ought to have done better and the goal will raise concerns again about the goalkeeping situation at United.
Van Gaal’s response was to bring on Carrick, Young and Fellaini, the latter inevitably entering the fray to provide height in the area. Sadly, what ensued was an erratic passing display from the Reds, with crosses and long balls frequently over-hit. When a chance did come, it fell to Rooney, who looked certain to score but dwelt too long on the ball and allowed Williams to track back and dispossess him as he shaped to shoot. Pleas for a penalty went unheeded.
United had lost their shape after going behind and, apart from that chance, always looked unlikely to find a way back into the game. The result leaves the Reds already five points adrift of leaders city and the performance was once that suggests there remain many question marks in key positions that need answering if United are to challenge for anything this season.