On Sunday, Manchester United slumped to their first draw of the 2012-13 Premier League season as they failed to crack the stubborn defensive wall of Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City.
With archrivals Manchester City grinding out a dramatic stoppage time victory against Reading on Saturday afternoon, the stalemate at the Liberty Stadium means that United’s lead at the top of the domestic table has now been reduced to four points.
On the other hand, the draw helped the Swans leapfrog over West Ham United into the 11th place in the league and will renew the club’s belief of securing a top-half finish this term.
Goal.com presents you with five things that we learned from the 1-1 result between Manchester United and Swansea City.
Vidic looked shaky on return but will improve
The tie against Swansea saw Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic make his first Premier League start since September.
Although the Serbian looked a bit shaky at times, particularly when United were playing with a high defensive line early on in the first-half, his commanding presence on the pitch made the Red Devils’ backline relatively much more organized and structured.
Furthermore, with the 31-year-old still finding his feet after facing an extended stint on the sidelines with a niggling knee injury, Vidic’s defensive contributions are bound to exhibit substantial improvements as the season pans out.
This will surely come as a welcome relief for Sir Alex Ferguson and his back-room staff as the team has been plagued with defensive issues this term and dearly missed their inspirational leader.
On Sunday, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia produced shockingly dismal performances from the wings for United.
The two were unable to put a single cross at the right place as none of their nine high balls in the oppositions’ penalty area made it to the attackers.
Young was often found guilty of giving away the ball far too easily and the England international also failed to provide adequate defensive cover to Patrice Evra, who was consequently slaughtered by the likes of Nathan Dyer and Dwight Tiendalli.
Valencia, on the other hand, set forth one of his worst displays in the United shirt. The Ecuador international was largely ineffective during his hour-long spell, failing to muster his trademark pint-point crosses and never looking capable enough to beat the young Ben Davies in one-on-one situations.
With Nani currently out with a hamstring injury and reports suggesting that the Portuguese wizard could be sold in the January transfer window, United are currently short on options on the flanks.
Although Swansea City literally gifted United a host of goalscoring opportunities throughout the game, the Red Devils’ attackers failed to capitalize on their oppositions’ mistakes and lapses of concentration.
Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young, all, missed some glorious chances to put the ball into the back of the net, which eventually cost United two valuable points.
The Red Devils just couldn’t seem to find the crucial end product to their attacks and score the goals that their second-half domination truly deserved.
Most of the players looked off their usual pace and energy and just like the match against Sunderland in the previous matchday, failed to showcase their beastly attacking instincts and potency in the six-yard-box.
Amongst all the criticism of United’s attackers and the furore created by Ashley Williams’ baffling hit on Robin van Persie, one should not overlook the outstanding display of Michael Carrick.
The former Spurs man was almost flawless throughout the ninety minutes against the Jacks.
The Englishman functioned as the nexus of the United team, orchestrating the club’s play from the deep, picking out teammates with his intricate yet simple passing skills and venturing upfront during set-pieces to provide aerial threat in the Swansea penalty area.
Added to that, Carrick also did well to keep things tidy in the centre of the park by making valuable interceptions and closing down the spaces for Swansea’s midfielders to execute their own game.
Last week, Swansea went down fighting against a resilient Tottenham Hotspurs side at White Hart Lane, conceding a sole goal via a set-piece delivery.
A week before that, the Swans conceded two strikes from free-kicks and corners against Norwich, whereas, Laudrup’s men also dropped points against the likes of Everton and Sunderland after shipping in goals from dead-ball situations.
Despite hanging on to an impressive draw against United this weekend, the home-side continued their poor defensive showings against set-pieces as Frenchman Patrice Evra was given optimum freedom and space to easily head home a Robin van Persie corner and open the scoring for the visitors.
Laudrup’s philosophy of zonal-marking during set-plays has clearly backfired on the Danish legend so far and it is due to his side’s inability to defend against this particular mode of attack, they are not in a strong reckoning for a European spot.
Moreover, Swansea are equally crippled when it comes to scoring from set-pieces as 26 of the 27 goals that the Wales side have scored this season have come from open play.
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