Swansea held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw away in Wales in a hard-fought contest in which several of United’s biggest stars failed to perform to their potential.
Sir Alex stuck with David De Gea once again, perhaps beginning to appreciate the importance of a steady settled keeper over the christmas break. Vidic made his first start since his comeback from injury with Evans alongside him as well as Jones and Evra wide. The front 6 picked themselves, with Young, Carrick, Cleverley and Valencia behind Rooney and van Persie.
United started brightly, dominating midfield for the first 10 minutes, with Michael Carrick particularly impressive, setting up Ashley Young for what should have been a goal with an inch-perfect through ball that dissected 6 Swansea players. United opened the scoring from the resulting corner though, van Persie finding the jump of Patrice Evra who headed in off Vorm’s far post. For those of you keeping score, that’s now Patrice Evra 3 – 1 Ballotelli in this years Premier League.
Swansea, to their credit, seemed unaffected by the deficit and began to push forward themselves. They equalised after 29 minutes as a quite frankly inexcusable piece of defending from Patrice Evra, who had completely switched off, allowed Jonathan De Guzman a shot on goal which De Gea could only parry into the path of the on-rushing Michu. Whilst Evra takes the lions share of the blame, Jonny Evans was also lax in tracking the run of Michu and could have easily been in position to stop any danger after the save if he had anticipated better.
United struggled to create chances for the rest of the first half, not helped by Valencia’s apparent unwillingness to run down the wing, or anticipate van Persie’s thoughts the way he usually does. Rooney too was careless in possession and looked as though his touch has completely deserted him – the result of a week with no curfew whilst Sir Alex was in America and at least three late nights out, perhaps?
United were gifted a good chance to re-take the lead just after half time as van Persie intercepted a lax pass in Swansea’s final third and drove forward only for all the momentum to leak out of the attack as Rooney passed wide to Young who hesitated and then had his shot blocked. It was to be symptomatic of the rest of United’s day as they built up to attacks well, but couldn’t find the killer ball to create solid opportunities.
Sir Alex brought Hernandez on for Valencia after 61 minutes, further marginalising the impact of Rooney by sending him out wide, before replacing him with Giggs after 78 minutes, just after the most contentious moment of the game. Having been fouled, and lying on the floor, van Persie had the ball smacked off the back of his head by Ashley Williams, leading to an on-field brawl.
Williams has claimed he was trying to clear the ball, but the whistle had been blown at least a second beforehand, which may not seem like much, but is definitely enough time for a professional footballer to decide not to kick the ball. Sir Alex dramatised the incident after the game stating “Robin van Persie is lucky to be alive. It was a disgraceful act from their player, he should be banned by the FA. Robin could have had a broken neck.” which is a frankly ridiculous summation of events and, in true Sir Alex style, is clearly designed to detract attention away from the final score.
Carrick, the clear man of the match for United, had a header from a corner saved late on, and Ashely Young had an effort ‘saved’ by defender Ben Davies on the line which should have resulted in a red card and a penalty, but it wasn’t to be.
There’s no doubt United were the better side for the second 45, but some abject performances from some top names, saw Swansea grab a point. The Reds are, however, still 4 points clear at Christmas, a situation that every fan would surely have bitten their hand off for if asked at the start of the season.