With no disrespect to our previous guests at the Liberty this season, but the first of the “big” teams arrive in South Wales and they don’t come much bigger than 19 times English Champions Manchester United. Come 5.35 on Saturday afternoon, the White and red shirts will be lining up against one another, not in a one off cup tie, but as equals in a league game. Would I have believed this ten years ago? Doubt it
Despite missing Wales’ 4-1 victory against Norway last weekend, Neil Taylor looks to have shaken off the ankle injury that kept him out of that game and should resume his position at left back. Steve Caulker is unlikely to make the squad as his knee injury continues to keep him out of the. Stephen Dobbie played and scored for the reserves in their defeat against Wolves this week and will be hopeful of a position on the bench. Wayne Routledge and Scott Sinclair are battling it out for the left wing position after the former’s great performance against Liverpool. Europe’s most creative player Mark Gower will be hoping to keep his place in spite of Kemy Agustien coming back from injury against Liverpool. Alan Tate and Ferrie Bodde remain long term injuries although the news from the club is that their progress is good at the moment.
Manchester United are possibly one of the world’s biggest and most popular sides in the world. Their resources and fan base are legendary. They also boast of one of the most talented playing squads in the world and are managed by arguably the greatest manager who’s ever lived. Sir Alex Ferguson recently celebrated his 25th anniversary in charge of United and in the quarter of a century, his honours are both extensive and impressive. A total of 12 Premier League trophies, 5 FA cups, 4 League Cups, 2 Champions League titles as well as appearing in a further 2 Champions League finals.
The Red Devils come to the Liberty with 26 points on the board and sitting in second place in the table. They have had an eventful season to date, beating Chelsea 3-1, hammering Arsenal 8-2 before losing to neighbours Manchester City 6-1. What’s more remarkable is all these games came at home. Much has been made in the press of Sir Alex Fergurson playing Wayne Rooney in midfield and the use of Phil Jones as a utility man. Much like Swansea, United like to get the ball out to their quick wingers Nani and Young with Rooney supporting Hernandez from midfield. It has the makings of a classic on Saturday.
Last Time out (1-0 vs. Sunderland)
Lindegaard; Evra, Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic; Park, Fletcher, Rooney; Nani, Hernandez; Wellbeck
At the Back
The press have been quick to jump on the back of United stopper David de Gea after a couple of high profile errors following his summer move from Athletico Madrid. Anders Lindergaard is waiting in the wings and recently spoke that he wasn’t at United merely to pick his nose. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanjia Vidic provide both experience and strength at centre back and over recent years have gained a miserly and fearsome reputation. Patrice Evra has established himself as one of the world’s best left backs since arriving in Manchester in 2006. Over recent years, Fergurson has invested in youthful defensive options. Brazilian Twins Rafael and Fabio are able to play full back on either side, Jonny Evans is a product of the Youth academy who is looking to establish himself as a regular as Rio Ferdinand enters the later years of his career. Phil Jones, a summer signing from Blackburn can be used across the defence and in midfield and is rated as one of England’s brightest young talents. Signing Chris Smalling was a gamble for Fergurson but it appears to have paid off. The youngster who was playing non-league football 4 years ago can play either centre back or right back.
In the Middle
United’s midfield is full of talent, experience and international players. A familiar name to football fans around the world and in particular to Welsh fans is Ryan Giggs who is still playing at the top of the game despite celebrating his 38th birthday next week. Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverly make up a talented trio of British central midfielders although the latter has been ruled out until Christmas. Anderson, Park Ji-Sung and Darron Gibson are all internationals and are able to play in the centre of the park. Out wide, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani are all tricky customers blessed with skill, flair and pace.
The name that stands out for all football fans is Wayne Rooney. The England star has found himself playing in midfield on occasions this year but has an eye for goal and possesses the ability to change a game in a heartbeat. Javier Hernandez looks to be another gem unearthed by Ferguson’s scouting network as the Mexican is deadly in front of goal. Emerging England talent Danny Welbeck looks to have recovered from a muscle strain that kept him out of England’s game against Sweden on Tuesday and will be hoping for a better time at the Liberty than his fairly anonymous game he had at the Liberty when playing for Preston two seasons ago. Dimitar Berbatov is on the fringes of the first team at Old Trafford but despite his apparent lazy work rate, the Bulgarian is an exemplary finisher and shouldn’t be forgotten. Michael Owen is out until at least Christmas with an injury.
Key Match Ups
1.Danny Graham vs. Rio Ferdinand
Many people have unfairly stated that Rio’s best days are behind him particularly after the City defeat and these critics will have a good opportunity to test this theory again against a lively Danny Graham who is full of confidence. Ferdinand will have to call upon all his experience if he hopes it will be a fruitless afternoon for the ex-Watford striker.
2.Scott Sinclair vs. Chris Smalling
With Smalling being a natural Centre back, this game will be a huge test of his credentials as a right back at the top level. He comes up against Scott Sinclair, a winger whose speed and trickery can cause any defence problems.
3.Mark Gower vs. Wayne Rooney
Going on the assumption that Rooney will play just behind the strikers in midfield, then Gower is in for a busy and crucial evenings work. Rooney is truly a world class talent and if the Swans want to get anything from this game, then a key part of that success will be keeping Rooney quiet.
4.Ashley Williams vs. Danny Welbeck
Again, going on the assumption that Welbeck leads the line on Saturday, Williams will be left in charge of ensuring his man is not given any freedom in the box. He has talent in abundance and any slack marking or lapses in concentration will be punished. However, should Williams be successful, the midfield will have to start flooding into the box creating more space for a counter attack.
Head to Head
Swansea are unbeaten against the Champions at home having played each other six times. Likewise for United, the Swans have never returned from Greater Manchester with all three points. The last time we played each other was back in 1983.
7/5/1983 – Manchester United 2-0 Swansea City
18/12/1982 – Swansea City 0-0 Manchester United
30/1/1982 – Swansea City 2-0 Manchester United
19/9/1981 – Manchester United 1-0 Swansea City
16/4/1938 – Swansea Town 2-2 Manchester United
4/12/1937 – Manchester United 5-1 Swansea Town
Conclusions and Predictions
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my little team would be playing Manchester United as equals in the league in my early twenties, but that’s the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. Sure, they may have countless millions more in the bank and higher supporter figures, shirt sales and global appeal than us, but I wouldn’t change any of that for the world. The amount of ex-professionals that have come out in admiration of the Swans this season is testimony to the work Brendan Rodgers and the squad are achieving this year.
Can we win it? I believe so. United’s form has not been glittering of late and with the Swans unbeaten at home on a Saturday since December 2009, I see no reason why all three points can stay in Wales. United will feel confident having seen Swansea’s form off the back of the international breaks this season, but for me I think it will be 1-0 Swansea in a tight, evenly contested game with Danny Graham getting the goal.
Get behind the lads! Let’s make it a night to remember! C’mon u Swans!!
This article was written by Matt Wallace