In a game where Manchester United took the lead and looked in control early in the second half, Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew reminded United what it’s like to see a bit of match-winning chutzpah.
United spent £25 million on Memphis Depay, but in this game it was Swansea’s free Ghanaian winger who looked easily the more valuable player. Depay has looked predictable to say the least so far this season, and here he was no different, looking almost embarrassed to try a final through ball or get a cross in. The best to be said about his performance against Swansea is that he was a conduit for another excellent Luke Shaw performance. Shaw picked up an assist and continued to look the part as United’s first choice left back, marauding along the flank, boots pregnant with opportunity, with zeal and aggressive bluster that turns every 50/50 ball into a 60/40. Memphis, take notes.
Compared with the brilliantly quick footed Andre Ayew, Depay looked like he was playing with a thick sludge of unshakable porridge at his feet. Ayew’s outside of the boot through ball for Gomis’ goal was beautiful, the pass of a man who is free to enjoy the lack of any price-tag pressure. Perhaps Depay’s inhibitive boots are understandable – £25 million and the lineage of the United number 7 shirt can weigh heavy.
Another advantage Ayew has over Depay is having Bafetimbi Gomis in front of him. While Wayne Rooney was back to his dismal Premier League form after his midweek hatrick against Brugge – like a ghost trying to resuscitate the glories of a life once lived, but only able to heavy-handedly make the occasional photo frame fall off the wall – Gomis was fantastic. Being a modern striker is tremendously difficult: you are expected not only to be a clinical finisher, but someone who can seamlessly switch from lone ranger to team player. Gomis gave Rooney a lesson here.
On 27 minutes he received the ball to feet and, like an enlarged Brazilian Ronaldo, turned, slid past Chris Smalling, and hit the post with a shot from the outside of his boot; a brilliant solo effort. His second-half goal should’ve been saved by Romero, but he showed the hunger that has been absent from Rooney’s game this season to receive the ball near the 6 yard box and get a shot away.
His teamwork was exceptional too. On multiple occasions he afforded his teammates a valuable few extra seconds to get up the pitch, receiving the ball to feet and easily holding off Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger and Smalling like they were kids down the park and he a huge, affable passerby playing keep-ball, offering £5 to any young boy who can tackle him knowing full well he’s left his wallet at home.
So far this season United have been playing like a team who don’t want to lose but don’t care too much about winning either. Now they’ve lost, and that keep-the-ball pragmatism deserves all the criticism that’s coming. United may have had 64% posession and 11 shots to Swansea’s 9, but they didn’t have a Bafetimbi Gomis or an Andre Ayew to slice through the stats. Recently, van Gaal said that “what enriches you is the game, not the result. The result is a piece of data…Fulfilment comes from the process.”
Well Louis, do you feel enriched?