Swans Spoiling the Party
It was all about Van Gaal. The build-up, the day, everything was about Louis van Gaal, the saviour who had come to rescue Manchester United from the depths of a season spent flailing under David Moyes. There was only one problem with that; no-one had considered the idea that the wee club from South Wales would throw a considerable spanner in the works.
August 19th, 2014
The summer had not been overly kind to Garry Monk – in the media at least. With a record of just six wins in 18 games after he took over from Michael Laudrup last season, many began to wonder whether the 35-year-old Englishman had it in him to manage at this level so early in his career in the dugout. Would he not have been better off learning his trade lower down the leagues before taking on such a high-profile task?
However, he has quietly gone about reshaping the Swans in his own image, shipping out much of the Spanish contingent, including Chico Flores, Pablo Hernandez and Michu, as well as a number of the underperforming members of last season’s squad. There were inevitably losses of players that they would have liked to keep, but Spurs put good money on the table for both Michel Vorm and Ben Davies, the two deals keeping up the side’s reputation of getting good deals for their best talents when it comes time to sell.
The additions to the squad also looked impressive. Lukasz Fabianski secured from Arsenal on a free transfer, finally given the chance to show his worth as a number one choice, and an able replacement for the gap in the squad left by Vorm’s departure. Gylfi Sigurdsson returning from Spurs on a permanent deal to a hero’s welcome. Ki Sung-yueng returning from a loan spell at Sunderland, Ecuadorian winger Jefferson Montero – who so impressed during the World Cup – brought in for less than £5M to provide quality on the flanks, and Bafetimbi Gomis, a striker who had a 1-in-3 goal record during his five years with Lyon, and who will either be a strong back up or able replacement for Wilfried Bony when the curtain finally comes down on the transfer window and it is decided where the Ivorian will be spending his season.
All that gives Swansea’s squad something of a fresh look and one would have excused their fans for heading into the season with optimism, hoping of another strong mid-table finish, despite the questions over the abilities of their manager.
Those are questions which will not be answered with one performance or victory, though they will certainly be asked a lot less often in the wake of the club’s first ever league win at Old Trafford.
It was all supposed to be about Van Gaal whipping into shape a squad who had dramatically underperformed in the previous campaign, unleashing his ‘tactical genius’ on the Premier League and guiding them easily back into the top four, if not a title challenge. But when the team sheets were released, with Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young at wing back, Tyler Blackett in defence, it can hardly have been a moment to strike fear into Swansea hearts.
Monk’s side played their part perfectly. They sat in, looking to hit United on the counter attack, to hit them in the wide areas and the space left behind the wing backs. Ki Sung-yueng and Gylfi Sigurdsson were outstanding in midfield, and not just for the goals that they scored. Montero made a decisive contribution when brought off the bench in the second half – one would expect to see him in the starting XI sooner rather than later – and when Wayne Rooney grabbed an equaliser early in the second half, they refused to let their heads drop and accept the inevitability of defeat as so many sides would have done against United in years gone by.
If those on the outside didn’t take Swansea seriously before Saturday’s three points – which, for a short spell had the Swans atop the Premier League – then they certainly will now. Monk appears to have won over the players, moulded them into a unit once more who are a hardworking team greater than the sum of its parts, and who can aim their sights on another strong campaign, rather than flirting on the fringes of a relegation battle.