Film Focus: Tactical Preview of Manchester United vs. Swansea City

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterAugust 14, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12: Ander Herrera of Manchester United in action during the Pre Season Friendly match between Manchester United and Valencia at Old Trafford on August 12, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Premier League resumes for another exciting season on Saturday, with Manchester United kicking off proceedings at home to Swansea City.

It's Louis van Gaal's first competitive match in charge of the Red Devils after excelling at the FIFA World Cup 2014 with the Netherlands, and it'll be up to Garry Monk's Swans to stifle what many believe to be an inevitable return to prominence for the home side.

Let's take a tactical look at how this match could play out.


Manchester United Setup

United will unveil the 3-4-1-2 formation to anyone who hasn't caught them in pre-season so far, and for those who saw the Dutch play in Brazil, it's very similar off the ball.

Without further additions, the three centre-backs will be Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans, although the latter is an injury doubt ahead of the game. Tyler Blackett could start in his place, and with ailments dogging Rafael, Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw, we could see a reserve string of wing-backs too.

Man Utd's probable 3-4-1-2.
Man Utd's probable 3-4-1-2.@stighefootball

Ander Herrera will provide guile and bite in midfield while Darren Fletcher steadies the ship. And with Juan Mata pulling the strings to the No. 10 role, it doesn't matter who plays up front: they'll always bed fed with chances.

Expect a deep defensive set off the ball with five back on the line, then fluidity on the ball and quick passing out.


Swansea City Setup

Swansea are undergoing a minor identity crisis, with Garry Monk continuing to move the side away from its passing roots and toward a more direct style.

Possible 4-4-2-esque look from Swansea.
Possible 4-4-2-esque look from Swansea.@stighefootball

The acquisitions of Bafetimbi Gomis and Jefferson Montero, in addition to the all-action signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson, suggest Monk is happy to do away with possession for possession's sake if it leads to greater efficiency.

The Swans have used all sorts of formations in pre-season, but in their final match against Villarreal—the one seen as the dress rehearsal—it was a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape.

Possible 4-2-3-1 look from Swansea.
Possible 4-2-3-1 look from Swansea.@stighefootball

Expect to see Gomis up front with Wilfried Bony, Ki Sung-yueng back in the midfield and Kyle Bartley holding the central-defensive fort until Federico Fernandez secures a work permit.

If not, Nathan Dyer could return in a 4-2-3-1, with Gomis on the bench and Sigurdsson as a No. 10.


Key Area No. 1: Matching Up Aerially

If Swansea go for two up top or play Bony just off Gomis, they'll still be outnumbered in the box due to Van Gaal's three-man central-defensive system.

That gives United the edge numerically, but in reality you're pitching two monstrous strikers against the inexperienced Blackett (should Evans not recover) and Smalling, who's not as confident in the air as Jones.

Monk has suggested Sigurdsson will play in a variety of positions this season, including out wide to utilise his strong crossing. We could see the Iceland international there from day one to try and provide ammo for his target men.


Key Area No. 2: Switching to Space

While Swansea's focus may be in the air, United's will be firmly fixed on the ground.

The 3-4-1-2 places real pressure on the wing-backs to gain territory by surging forward. With Shaw out and both Valencia and Rafael questionable, we could see a Reece James-Ashley Young duo rolled out for the opener at Old Trafford.

Swansea will target James on the ball, no question, and as outlined in the video above, United need to ensure they're moving the ball quickly and switching it to avoid pressing.

James and Young will both need help, which starts with Ander Herrera finding space in order to free up Mata further up.

The Swans would be well advised to field a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 so they can press the centre-backs with three. It could force mistakes and uneasiness from the off.