The Louis van Gaal era, promising much for Manchester United, begins with a damp squib rather than a bang. A home match against Swansea City is a fairly gentle way to start the season, but an injury-plagued United squad made an extraordinary meal of the contest, conceding in both halves and eventually going down to a 2-1 defeat.
The opening 20 minutes of the Premier League season was appropriately frenetic. Both sides were open in midfield -- Manchester United by design and Swansea through the skill of Juan Mata and Ander Herrera -- but clear-cut chances were hard to come by. There was a pre-season look to the final ball from both sides, however, and what might have been incisive passes ended up running through to the goalkeepers or being cut out by the defence.
Unfortunately for United, the first key moment of the match was an injury. Jesse Lingard went in for a 50-50 ball with Ashley Williams and came off by far the worst, requiring lengthy treatment for an ankle injury as a result. The 21-year-old struggled on for a few minutes more before being replaced by Adnan Januzaj, who slotted in not-entirely-successfully at right wingback.
Insult was added to injury shortly thereafter. The other side of the hosts' defence constituted Ashley Young, normally an attacking player, and Tyler Blackett, making his first senior start for the club. And naturally Swansea looked to exploit that weakness at every opportunity, finally making it count just before the hour mark. A Nathan Dyer knockdown took both Young and Blackett out of the equation, leaving Gylfi Sigurdsson free to pick out Ki Sung-Yeung at the top of the box. The Korean made no mistake, planting an expert finish just inside David de Gea's right-hand post.
Van Gaal's response was to throw Nani on at halftime, changing from the ineffective back three to a more standard but still deeply odd 4-2-3-1. The switch -- which mostly served to free up Januzaj to join the attack -- paid dividends in short order. Januzaj shredded the unfortunate Neil Taylor to win the 52nd-minute corner from which the equaliser arrived. Mata's delivery bounced off Bony's back, and Wayne Rooney was fastest to react, acrobatically hammering past Lukasz Fabianski from close range to restore parity.
Rooney came within inches of a brace ten minutes later with a well-taken free kick that struck the angle of post and bar, but if the pressure was on the visitors they didn't show it, taking back their lead with 20 minutes to go. Bony's quick free kick led to substitute Jefferson Montero breaking down the left flank, Young got sucked under the cross, and as the ball pinballed around the box Sigurdsson managed to send a shot squirming under de Gea to make it 2-1.
United were desperate for a second, but a slew of set pieces came to nothing and the better chances in the closing stages actually fell to the visitors, who would have scored their third through Bafetimbi Gomis if not for an extraordinary intervention from Phil Jones coming across from right back. The hosts were by now reduced to floating long passes in the vague direction of Marouane Fellaini, which was surprisingly ineffective against a robust Swansea defence.
And so it ended 2-1. For Garry Monk and a rebuilding Swansea City, this is a huge (and deserved) win. For United, however, it's clear that the problems from last year ran deeper than David Moyes.
Manchester United starting lineup (3-4-1-2): David de Gea; Tyler Blackett, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones; Ashley Young, Darren Fletcher, Ander Herrera (Marouane Fellaini 67'), Jesse Lingard (Adnan Januzaj 24'); Juan Mata; Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez (Nani 45').
Goals: Rooney 53'.
Swansea City starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Lukasz Fabianski; Neil Taylor (Dwight Tiendali 53'), Ashley Williams, Jordi Amat, Angel Rangel; Jonjo Shelvey, Ki Sung-Yeung; Wayne Routledge, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Nathan Dyer (Jefferson Montero 67'); Wilfried Bony (Bafetimbi Gomis 77').
Goals: Ki 28', Sigurdsson 72'.