Premier League | Old Trafford | Sat 11 Jan | 5:30pm
Plucky David Moyes seeks win to help push his underdogs closer to the top six. Hmm, where have we heard that before…?
It was all going swimmingly for Manchester United. Six straight wins had lifted them back to within an official club sponsored potato chip's breadth of breaking back into a top four spot they have taken as almost a birthright over the last 20 years, until three straight defeats in 2014 sent the Red Devils' season plunging back into crisis territory again.
MAN UNITED FORM
- S'land 2-1 Man Utd (LC)
- Man Utd 1-2 Swansea (FAC)
- Man Utd 1-2 Spurs (Prem)
- Norwich 0-1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Hull 2-3 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-2 Swansea (FAC)
- Swansea 2-3 Man City (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-1 Swansea (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Swansea 1-2 Everton (Prem)
In truth, those six wins may have shown encouraging consistency but they also papered over several cracks in Moyes' team - cracks which have since widened to become fairly conspicuous potholes.
And with AVB no longer around to divvy up the negative headlines, media spotlight is now firmly on The Chosen One at Old Trafford.
Swansea, winners at Old Trafford in the FA Cup not one week ago, return to the scene of the crime looking to see what else they can grab.
Wilfried Bony's late strike handed Michael Laudrup's possession kings a 2-1 win that sent United out in the third round for the first time since 2010 - the only time the Red Devils failed to make the fourth round under Sir Alex Ferguson in 26 years.
The twin perils of a busy Europa League schedule and a squad not quite brawny enough to battle on four fronts has hindered Swansea, but victory at Old Trafford last weekend should give Laudrup's side renewed swagger heading into the second half of the season.
Bony is starting to look the part, and though a difficult December yielded only six points from seven games, the Swans have enough quality to be looking higher than their current position of 13th.
A busy festive period has taken its toll on both teams and there will therefore be several absentees here.
Michel Vorm, Garry Monk, Nathan Dyer, Michu, Pablo Hernandez and Roland Lamah miss out for Swansea, while Fabio (suspended), Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini, Nani and Robin van Persie are set to play no part.
Rio Ferdinand (knee), Wayne Rooney (groin) and Phil Jones will be assessed in the coming days and have a slight chance of returning, even if not fully fit.
Player to watch: Antonio Valencia (Man United)
Unfortunately for the new gaffer, United have become almost entirely predictable of late - particularly at home. Emphasis on functional wing-play and crossing isn't so much a tactic at Old Trafford as a raison d'être.
In attack the same laboured approach seems to be used time after time, repeated like some strange Moysey mantra: "Get the ball, give it to Valencia. Get the ball, give it to Valencia." And no matter how ineffective the Ecuadorian is (as against Sunderland in midweek) his place in the starting XI seems almost guaranteed, while wingers like Wilfried Zaha remain overlooked.
In the 2-1 defeat at home to Spurs on New Year's Day it was like Groundhog Day for Moyes' team. The focus on crossing continued despite Tim Sherwood's 4-4-2 leaving the visitors outnumbered in central midfield areas, something the United boss seemingly failed to pick up on. A remarkable 50 crosses were caned into the box with practically no success, while Valencia completed only 1 of his 13 crosses.
Despite this sheer and utter predictability, it seems Moyes will persist with the tactic as he did in United's following two games (both defeats). As such a fundamental component of United's home game, their wing wizard must therefore improve significantly if the champions are to get back to winning ways.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 1-2 Swans (Prem, Jan 14)
- Swans 1-4 United (Prem, Aug 13)
- United 2-1 Swans (Prem, May 13)
- Swans 1-1 United (Prem, Dec 12)
- United 2-0 Swans (Prem, May 12)
Swansea's win at Old Trafford last weekend was their first ever, but given some of Laudrup's post-match comments you sense he can envisage history repeating itself this weekend.
"I don't think we needed that much luck because I don't think Manchester United created as many chances as I expected them to," he said post-match. “[You need to] forget that they are wearing Manchester United shirts and just say 'we can do it', not because four other teams won here."
His comments suggest the Dane has every confidence in pulling a number on his opposite man once again on Saturday. That said, Moyes has the upper hand on Laudrup in head-to-head league meetings and remains unbeaten in three games, with two wins and a draw.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Man United have struggled massively at home this season with a record of W4 D2 L4.
- United have won 15 of their last 20 home matches against middle-third opposition, recording W/W double results in 6 of their previous 10 against such opposition.
- Despite Swansea’s victory at Old Trafford last weekend, they have not won in the league in their last 6 with only the Hammers picking up fewer points in that period (3).
- Swansea have had L/L results in 6 of their last 8 against top-half sides.
Best bet: Man United HT/FT @ 2.05
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United's struggles at home continue as the pressure ramps up on Moyes. Swansea win 2-1.