Manchester United began 2016 with their first win in nine games, as goals from Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney helped Louis van Gaal’s side to a 2-1 win over Swansea City on Saturday.
After yet another goalless first half at Old Trafford, Martial put United ahead early in the second period. Gylfi Sigurdsson got the visitors back on level terms with 20 minutes remaining, but skipper Rooney was on hand to salvage the points for his team with a clever late winner.
As shared by Bleacher Report UK, Martial was the driving force behind the win:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
Anthony Martial had himself a match for #mufc against #swans. https://t.co/VGqhZJzwiW2016-1-2 17:50:17
Since Louis van Gaal took on the job at Old Trafford, Swansea have been difficult opposition, having won all three of their games against United during the Dutchman’s tenure. In the first half, the visitors were stubborn again, frustrating a Red Devils side that is clearly lacking in confidence.
For United, the first 45 minutes were an all too familiar story. Aside from a couple of snapshots from Rooney and a saved effort from Juan Mata, chances were at a premium in this one, with angst growing among the supporters throughout the first period.
As noted by Jamie Jackson of the Guardian, once again Van Gaal’s side were playing a stagnant style of football:
jamie jackson @JamieJackson___
Backwards has become new sideways here at OT for #mufc ...2016-1-2 15:25:32
Swansea rarely threatened in their attacking forays, with David De Gea called into action on just one occasion, routinely stopping Wayne Routledge’s volley. But as the match official called time on a disappointing opening 45 minutes, the natives were getting restless.
It’s easy to see why. As noted here by BBC 5 Live Sport, United have been remarkably poor starting games at home as of late:
BBC 5 live Sport @5liveSport
The half-time scores in #MUFC's last 9 home games 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-1 0-0 0-0 https://t.co/A0XjupTvGa2016-1-2 15:47:36
A reaction was needed, and thankfully for the majority of those inside Old Trafford, it came less than two minutes after the restart and via one of their few bright sparks in a moribund term: Martial.
The young Frenchman was on hand to nod past Lukasz Fabianski after some neat play and a fine cross from Ashley Young. The relief was obvious, not only among the fans and the players, but as Ian Herbert of the Independent noted, the manager too:
ian herbert @ianherbs
Some emotion from LVG, on his feet, as Martial puts #mufc ahead from Young cross. 1-0 #swans2016-1-2 16:06:15
This was the first time Swansea had conceded a goal in four matches, and stand-in manager Alan Curtis will have been disappointed to see his team so slow out of the blocks after a solid first half.
United were happy to revert to their longstanding type, though, moving the ball slowly and allowing their opponents to establish a foothold.
It very nearly cost them in the 64th minute, as Andre Ayew thudded a header against the post. And it was a warning they didn’t heed as Sigurdsson got the visitors back on level terms with 20 minutes left.
Again, United failed to deal with a ball into the box and the Iceland international was on hand to head past De Gea. Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News lamented a tactical tweak from Van Gaal—moving Young to right full-back—which allowed Swansea back into the game:
Samuel Luckhurst @samuelluckhurst
No coincidence #mufc defence has looked disorientated under attack only since the needless tactical tweak.2016-1-2 16:29:10
The Old Trafford crowd looked stunned, and given Swansea have won 2-1 at Old Trafford on their last three visits, some nervousness started to tumble down from the stands. But Van Gaal’s blushes were saved thanks to an overdue bit of brilliance from the under-fire Rooney.
Martial was involved again as he brilliantly surged into the box and played a neat ball back. The skipper, who hasn’t been in these kinds of positions too often this term, steered the ball home instinctively to spark scenes of joy among the United fans.
As noted here by OptaJoe, it was a landmark goal for Rooney on more than one count:
188 - Wayne Rooney is now the outright second top goalscorer in Premier League history (188 goals), behind Alan Shearer (260). Wait.2016-1-2 16:36:42
238 - Wayne Rooney is also now the outright second top goalscorer in Manchester United history (238 goals). Devil.2016-1-2 16:37:46
This time, United were able to see the contest out despite a flurry of late pressure from the visitors.
For United, this was a vital win and, crucially, relieves some of the heavy pressure on their manager. It was imperative they ended the winless run that was built up towards the back end of 2015, and although there is much work to be done, Van Gaal will be hoping these three points can be a springboard towards a better calendar year.
Swansea still find themselves in a testing position and will not want their search for a new manager to go on for much longer. The Welsh side have a squad that is bristling with a lot of talent, and although they’ll be looking over their shoulder in the wake of this result, a competent boss will surely steer this group of players away from any threat of relegation.
As shared by United's official Twitter account, defender Chris Smalling showered Martial with praise following the youngster's virtuoso display:
Manchester United @ManUtd
.@ChrisSmalling on @AnthonyMartial: "He's so direct. He's a terrific player and I'm glad we've got him." https://t.co/PumEOB3Ikz2016-1-2 17:16:54
Meanwhile, Van Gaal didn't seem happy with Swansea at all and accused them of time wasting, something he gladly did to the Welsh side as well, per Daniel Taylor of the Guardian:
Daniel Taylor @DTguardian
Van Gaal explained Phil Jones substitution on an old injury flaring up. And Herrera? "I wanted to waste time - like Swansea did all match."2016-1-2 17:45:17
He added that he believed the Red Devils actually played better in the first half than in the second, despite scoring both their goals after the break.