In a long, fluid game, a whole performance is evaluated on a few goal-scoring opportunities. It’s easier that way, especially for fans, even if it’s lazy. Sometimes we look at one defensive lapse as a microcosm of a team’s shortcomings. That sort of judgment happens only negatively, which is unfair. Moments of team brilliance are hardly ever referenced to prove the strength of a side, unless Barcelona are playing keep-away.
The zany Premier League got quite a start Saturday, as Gylfi Sigurdsson scored the winner for Swansea City at Old Trafford against an underwhelming Manchester United.
United’s expectations of a title, mistakenly revived after an impressive preseason that was, well, definitely preseason, were dampened by their first season-opening home loss since 1972. Sigurdsson’s winner came from chaos in the box, but the red fans in Manchester will probably feel the most worry over Ki Sung-Yueng‘s first-half goal.
NBC’s terrific halftime show rightly pointed out that midfielder Juan Mata wandered away from the South Korean and eventually gave him a massive amount of space to slot one in. But you know … it really doesn’t matter. Swansea is a mid-table team, and ninth-place teams take points from the big boys almost every week. But Mata’s miscue was the type of play that mired the once-powerful United to their worst Premier League finish ever in 2013-14. It was a flashback, oh-no-not-again moment for those who support the richest club in the world.
Yes, it was a mental mistake from Mata to frolic away from his assignment, but that’s a small example of who United were last year, not who they’ll be in 10 weeks or more. Louis Van Gaal used the word “disappointing” a bunch in post-match interviews, but there was a contentedness in his voice that telegraphed an understanding that he doesn’t yet have the squad he wants. That much was even obvious when United were rolling through tame, big-name clubs in the ICC. This is a new-look United without the fresh look. This is still a seventh-place team, one that didn’t have much roster turnover in the offseason.
Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera are on board, but Van Gaal might need to make one or two more moves before the window slides shut. The club is rumored to have more than £100 million to spend.
The positives for United are important ones: Wayne Rooney was solid and scored in the loss, Robin Van Persie will return soon from injury and, again, that £100 million.
The victorious Welsh side, minus the magical Michu, on happy loan at Napoli, stuck United where they were last season — Old Trafford isn’t the fortress it once was. Mike Dean, the head official Saturday, even gave the home team an extra 90 seconds to find an equalizer, in a moving tribute to the retired Howard Webb. The Swans were the better team in all but the first 15 minutes of the second half and deserved the three points. For Liverpool, Anfield returned to its prior glory last year and Brendan Rodgers‘ crew almost won the whole thing. This United team will need to do the same — find confidence in front of a demanding home crowd — if it wants to live up to its aspirations.
But the United team that finds its pride at home won’t be the same one that took the field against Swansea. More moves are coming. This year’s Red Devils aren’t yet this year’s Red Devils.
Grant Burkhardt is a regional Emmy-award winning television producer and barely college graduate who’s fallen head over boots for world football. You can chat soccer with him on social media, because he loves it, on Twitter and Google+.