Manchester United 2 Swansea 0
After a long wait Alexis Sanchez scores his second Manchester United goal following his transfer from Arsenal in the 2-0 defeat of Swansea CREDIT: ANTHONY DEVLIN/PA WIRE
Alexis Sánchez had been honest enough to admit that his struggles at Manchester United had left him “psychologically exhausted” so it was no surprise to see such an outpouring of emotion as he claimed his first goal for almost two months and only his second for the club.
It has been a trying 68 days for the Chile striker since his move from Arsenal but he, like his manager Jose Mourinho, not to mention United supporters, will hope this proves the start of a very belated upward curve. Sánchez also set up Romelu Lukaku for the goal that put United on the way to an ultimately comfortable victory that returned them to second position at Liverpool’s expense and inflicted only a second league defeat on Swansea City since Jan 2.
Swansea have been on a fine run of form since the turn of the year but they were second best for long periods here. Like Sánchez, Paul Pogba, dropped for the FA Cup win over Brighton, was restored to the starting line-up and delivered a couple of flashes of inspiration without ever really imposing himself in the way, say, Lukaku did. The Belgium striker now has 100 Premier League goals to his name and is becoming one big name Mourinho can consistently rely upon.
Too often United have looked like a side trying to force the issue – workmanlike and disjointed – but it all came much more easily in a one-sided first half when two goals inside the first 20 minutes effectively killed Swansea’s aspirations of an upset.
Pogba never really got to the beat of the game, a couple of lovely floated passes for Juan Mata and Lukaku in the second period aside, but Sánchez and Lukaku, Mourinho’s two other most high profile signings, enjoyed themselves and there was more structure and cohesion to United’s football. For Lukaku, it was merely a continuation of his impressive form but, for Sánchez, this felt like a marked step in the right direction after a chastening start to his Old Trafford career. He has given the impression of a man battling a few demons but a cloud was partially lifted here, and while he could and should have scored more than the one, neither his goal nor his assist for Lukaku’s early opener were to be sniffed at given his recent struggles.
Swansea had held firm for 79 minutes with 10 men against Huddersfield to claim a precious point in their battle against relegation but they wilted here, at least until the introduction of Tammy Abraham and Tom Carroll gave them some much needed cut and thrust going forward.
Abraham certainly gave United’s centre-halves something to chew over, the striker forcing two excellent saves in quick succession from David De Gea as the hour mark approached, but Swansea were already facing a huge uphill task by then.
The game was only five minutes old when Jesse Lingard squeezed the ball through to Sánchez who, in turn, fed Lukaku in the penalty area. Lukaku’s shot was on target but fizzed into the top corner courtesy of a sharp deflection off Alfie Mawson’s outstretched boot. It brought up a century of Premier League goals for Lukaku, who dropped to his knees and raised both arms to the sky in celebration.
The Belgium striker was denied a second when he latched on to Lingard’s delicious flick on from Nemanja Matic’s brisk pass, with Lukasz Fabianski down quick to his right to push the shot away, but it wasn’t much longer before United found the net again and there was not a more relieved scorer than Sanchez.
Pogba picked the ball up from defence and found Mata who played a quick pass into the feet of the onrushing Lingard. Lingard’s pass took a slight deflection off the foot of Federico Fernández, which wrong-footed Mike van der Hoorn, the ball sliding through his legs and into the path of Sánchez, who steered a calm finish into the bottom corner. The Chilean seemed to unload weeks of pent up frustration with his celebration, rushing to the corner and sliding to his knees, fists pumping. It was his first United goal since Feb 3.
It was not a flawless performance by any stretch. When Lukaku muscled Fernández off the ball down the right channel he ran so well and swung over a fine cross that Young headed back, the ball set up kindly for Sánchez but, taking his eye off the ball, he swung at thin air and the opportunity went begging. Later he headed over from close range, albeit with the ball just behind, after Lukaku had headed across Mata’s ball but Sanchez was at least in the thick of things and in the right places to effect the game.
Pogba? A wonderful flighted pass for Mata in the 57th minute should have yielded a goal but the Spaniard, swivelling to face the ball, volleyed over from eight yards, and he also picked out Lukaku with a nice pass that the Belgian could not dispatch. Yet while this was better than some of his turgid showings since the turn of the year, the Frenchman still looks like a player going through the motions, short of confidence and not entirely comfortable with his position in the team.
United’s only real fright in the game came after Mata’s missed chance. Carroll rolled the ball into Abraham, who turned Victor Lindelof inside out in the penalty area before rifling in a shot that was heading for the top corner before De Gea’s outstretched hand appeared to tip it aside. Moments later, Martin Olsson zipped in a low cross that Abraham, finding space between United’s two centre-halves, hit first time but De Gea dived low to save. Abraham slammed the ground in frustration. He is not the first striker to feel that way about De Gea and he will not be the last.