Things were going so well for Manchester United. The team had won six straight games in all competitions, was off to the Capital One Cup semifinals, advanced to the knockout phase of the Champions League and was mounting a charge back to the top of the Premier League table.
And then Tottenham came to Old Trafford and sent everything crashing back down to earth, starting the new year by defeating United, 2-1.
Now, United begin their FA Cup with a far-from-easy opponent, Swansea City. Now 11 points behind table-leading Arsenal with 18 games to go, earning a trophy in a competition outside of the Premier League seems to have far more importance for United this year. Don't expect them to take the Swans lightly.
When: Sunday, January 5 at 11:30 a.m. ET (4:30 p.m. GMT)
Where: Old Trafford
Watch: Fox Sports 1; Fox Soccer 2Go; BT Sport 1 (U.K.)
United have quite a few injuries to contest with, as Ashley Young, Robin van Persie, Nani and Phil Jones will all miss this game, according to Richard Jolly of ESPN FC. However, he also notes that Rafael is back in training according to a source—a great sign for United.
United have not won the FA Cup since 2004, a fact that Tom Cleverly said Sir Alex Ferguson often reminded the club of during his tenure, and a message which Cleverly took to heart, via Jolly of ESPN FC:
It's something the old manager really instilled into us: that a lot of players in the squad haven't won the FA Cup. But, myself, I've not won a lot of things so I just want to win as much silverware as I can. That's the aim.
Meanwhile, Swansea hit quite the lull in early December and haven't been able to crawl out, going winless in their last seven matches in all competitions. In fact, Swansea have just two wins in their last 16 matches, a run of form that is beneath the expectations for this team coming into the season.
Perhaps the added Europa League campaign has worn down the Swans a bit. Whatever the case may be, they now have to deal with United twice at Old Trafford in the next week, as the two teams meet again in Premier League action on January 11.
The one bright spot for Swansea of late is the play of Wilfried Bony, who notched a brace in a New Year's Day loss to Manchester City, 3-2. His manager, Michael Laudrup, was certainly impressed with the performance, via Stuart James of The Guardian:
It was by far the best performance from Bony while he was a Swansea player. That's the way we want to see him. If he can do it against [Vincent] Kompany and [Matija] Nastastic, he can do it against anyone.
He'll have to. With Michu out for over a month, Bony will have to provide the goal-scoring intent on this squad. Whether or not he is up to the task will play a major part in the Swans either digging themselves out of this ditch or getting comfortable in it.
Which team wins?
A large part of the outcome will be determined by whether David Moyes decides to go for it or instead rests his key players. One would imagine he'd do the former—the team will have six days off after this game, so there's no reason to rest all of the first-team options.
United need hardware this season, since the Premier League campaign seems destined to end in disappointment. Expect them to go for the jugular early against Swansea.
United win, 2-1.