Louis van Gaal must be sick of the sight of Swansea City. The Dutchman has been managing in the Premier League for little more than a year but he has now suffered three straight defeats at the hands of the Welsh club, with the latest chastening experience bringing home what a terrible mess Manchester United have got into with their goalkeeping situation.
It was not much of a way for Van Gaal to celebrate his 50th game in charge of United as Sergio Romero, who was an accident waiting to happen whenever he had the ball at his feet, allowed Bafétimbi Gomis’s low shot to slip past him at the near post. Romero could arguably have done better with Swansea’s equaliser five minutes earlier, when the irrepressible André Ayew – who already looks like one of the signings of the summer – beat him with a downward header. A penny for David de Gea’s thoughts.
United's problems, however, do not start and end with their goalkeeper, no matter how badly the whole episode has been handled. After his midweek hat-trick against Club Brugge, Wayne Rooney took two steps back here.
The United striker gave away possession in the lead up to Swansea’s equaliser and, running as if he had lead in his boots, then squandered the sort of opportunities that the Rooney of old would have buried.
The chance he failed to take in the 88th minute was a case in point. Everyone in the stadium was waiting for Rooney to pull the trigger but it was almost as if he lacked the conviction to shoot. He waited too long and, not for the first time, Ashley Williams recovered and nicked the ball of his toe.
Rooney has now gone 10 Premier League games without scoring – the last time he went through such a barren run was at Everton in 2003 – and there must come a point when Van Gaal needs to rethink the attacking strategy of his team and consider if someone else should be given the task of leading the line. The big problem for Van Gaal is who that could be.
So much about Van Gaal's United team feels disjointed at the moment, whether it is the sight of Daley Blind playing at centre-back – Gomis turned him far too easily before hitting the upright in the first half – or Juan Mata being deployed wide on the right.
Van Gaal continues to bang the drum about possession – he claimed United controlled 95 per cent here – but for a team with so much of the ball there is precious little attacking threat. The sobering truth for United is that they have scored only three times in four league games and one of those was an own goal.
But enough of United's woes. Credit Swansea and in particular Garry Monk for making the tactical change just before the hour mark that turned the game on its head and prompted Van Gaal to admit his players "could not cope". Wayne Routledge made way and Ki Sung-yueng came on as Monk reconfigured his 4-2-3-1 system into a midfield diamond, enabling Ayew to play further forward.
Three minutes later the Swansea manager had his reward. Williams carried the ball forward from deep inside his own half and picked out Gylfi Sigurdsson wide on the right. The Icelander – who should have put Swansea ahead in the first half when he dragged wide from eight years – delivered an inviting cross that Ayew, unmarked after running off the back of Morgan Schneiderlin, headed into the ground and past Romero for his third goal in four games.
It was a swift response to Mata's goal at the start of the second half, when Luke Shaw capitalised on some poor Swansea defending.
Shaw rode Kyle Naughton’s weak challenge, accepted the invitation to eat up ground on the flank and delivered a floating cross that appeared to carry little threat until it eluded everyone, including Rooney, and found its way to Mata at the far post. With Williams caught sleeping, Mata ghosted in to sweep United ahead.
Ayew’s equaliser, however, shifted the momentum of the game. Swansea, who had spent much of the opening 25 minutes chasing the ball (albeit without being opened up by United on many occasions), were now playing with renewed confidence and the visitors looked vulnerable.
A neat build-up involving Jonjo Shelvey and Sigurdsson culminated in Ayew picking up possession in the inside left channel, where the Ghanaian curled a gorgeous pass with the outside of his left boot behind Chris Smalling and into the path of Gomis. The angle was against the Frenchman but he took the shot early and Romero was too slow to get down to prevent the ball from squeezing inside his near upright. Gomis has now scored in all four of Swansea’s league matches this season and has nine in his last 10 appearances.
On came the United cavalry as Van Gaal introduced Michael Carrick and Ashley Young and, in one final act of desperation, Marouane Fellaini. The damage, however, was done and United's manager was left nursing a depressing sense of déjà vu. Guardian Service