Martial is Van Gaal's most dangerous weapon: Five things we learned from Manchester United 2 Swansea 1
Anthony Martial is developing into an all-round centre-forward, Louis van Gaal is rewarded for reverting to three at the back and other things we learned from Manchester United 2 Swansea 1
By North-west correspondent Alex Stevens
Martial scares defences
Even during the tedium of United’s wretched recent run, Anthony Martial has continued to scare opposition defences with his pace and ability at one-on-ones. But the summer signing is more than a speed machine. He is also developing into an all-round front man and the win over Swansea showcased his all-round ability. Martial opened the scoring with an emphatic header after 47 minutes and then turned provider for Wayne Rooney, cutting inside to square the ball to the skipper, who produced a fine flicked finish.
Van Gaal rewarded for change of system
Having ditched playing with three at the back at the start of his United tenure, Van Gaal returned to that system here, albeit one with a slight twist. The home side lined up in a 3-4-2-1 formation, which brought the best out of Young and Martial, operating higher up the pitch. United reverted to a flat back-four after the break, but Young continued to push higher up the pitch on the right, providing the delivery for the all-important breakthrough goal.
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Young is a key player for United
The former England international slipped down the pecking order before Christmas as he struggled with his dual role as a full-back and a winger. Restored to the role of orthodox wideman, Ashley Young was United’s outstanding player against Swansea. His crossing was consistently dangerous and was from one of the 30-year-old’s crosses that the home side broke the deadlock, when a perfect delivery was headed in superbly by Martial.
Rooney can still be a matchwinner
For the second consecutive game, the United talisman showed that he can still be a decisive player at this level. Rooney followed up his man-of-the-match display against Chelsea with another vigorous performance. He led from the front after United conceded an equaliser with just 20 minutes to go and scored the winning goal with a nifty finish.
United are trying to be more expansive
Van Gaal admitted afterwards that he had taken a risk by playing with only three defenders, but the move paid off as United carried genuine threat on the flanks, where Young and Martial had a lot of joy. The Dutchman’s team have tried to be more expansive in their last two matches and, although they are a million miles away from the United side who habitually steamrollered opponents at Old Trafford, these are crumbs of comfort for supporters who have watched too much dull football for too long.