If you were to ask anybody to predict how Swansea City would fare in their opening three fixtures this season, maintaining two clean sheets, scoring six times and obtaining a historic win away at Old Trafford against titans Manchester United wouldn’t exactly be the first thoughts that come to mind. Perhaps yesteryear it would be a common consensus, with the enigma that is David Moyes sinking the Red Devils under an ocean of embarrassing new records. Yet in typical Barclays Premier League fashion, the premiership’s only Welsh outfit has, at the expense of a renewed United side, left a nest of average expectance and taken full fledged flight under the stewardship of former long serving player and captain Garry Monk to do exactly that.
Having been given the rather unwanted task of welcoming the much-expected-of Louis Van Gaal to the premiership, Monk and his men had a tough challenge to say the least. All eyes were on the men in red, with the Swans largely viewed as just secondary actors in a play that sure would end in a happy ending at the theatre of dreams. And yet Monk and his men arrived with a very different script; armed with the knowledge that Van Gaal in all likelihood would bring the 3-5-2 formation he popularised with the Dutch at the world cup, a defensive formation that focused on the centre of the pitch was to be played to counteract their opponent’s clear intention to bully the game from the middle of the park.
And so it was: alongside a traditional back four, Monk utilised clinical new boy Gylfi Sigurdsson alongside Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-Yueng to make up a tightly knit triangle behind lone striker Wilfried Bony. Throughout the opening third of the match, this formation increasingly found itself taking advantage by numbers of United’s three man defense, a spell of play which eventually led to Ki securing the lead in the 28th minute with a low driven shot on the edge of the box into the bottom corner and out of the reach of De Gea.
With United’s combination of Fletcher, Mata and Herrera being ghosted by Swansea’s possession play and the space cut into behind United’s wingbacks by Dyer and Routledge, Van Gaal switched to a 4-4-2 for the second half, bringing in Nani to be Januzaj’s opposite wing counterpart. Ander Herrera and Darren Fletcher remained in their central midfield roles, whilst Mata played behind Rooney in the hole. Almost immediately the swans found themselves flummoxed, as United pressed hard and within the first five minutes of the restart equalised through a superb acrobatic volley by captain Wayne Rooney to pile on the misery.
Yet despite United’s pushing, Swansea showed a level of persistence that fans have begun to grow accustomed to attributing to the side, absorbing the pressure from a booming Old Trafford and grabbing yet another goal in a surprising showing of tactical astuteness. Montero came on for Dyer and the two wingers subsequently switched flanks, providing crosses for Sigurdsson and Bony to attack. This level of pressing eventually led to a goal, with Sigurdsson tucking in a mistimed shot by Routledge who had received a long ball from Montero to seal a truly memorable night.
Although the side went on to lose away to Chelsea at the hands of a rampant hat trick by Diego Costa, no real blame can be attributed there. They welcome a renovated Southampton side next, who themselves have dismissed West Ham and Newcastle United collectively by a +6 goal difference, followed by a trip to the North to face Sunderland and then back to Wales to entertain the other Northern outfit, Newcastle United, both of whom have struggled to put points on the table as of late.
If the loss against Chelsea can be pinned as a small stumble in an otherwise strong run of results, then the Swans have a sure fire chance of continuing to soar past their competition with a newfound sense of mettle.