Match report: Swansea City suffer in a champion display
Swansea City 1, Manchester United 4
IT was not the shadow cast by Sir Alex Ferguson which ensured David Moyes woke up feeling tense on Saturday morning.
The new man in charge of Manchester United was facing his first serious day's work having agreed to succeed perhaps the greatest manager British football has ever seen.
Yet it was not the act he was following which worried Moyes, it was the Swansea City side United were up against in his first Premier League game at the helm.
"Strangely enough I wasn't nervous," said the former Everton manager.
"But I was apprehensive because I know that Swansea have got the ability to beat teams and I think they will beat a lot of teams down here.
"Manchester United came here last season and drew, so I felt it could be close. I think Robin (van Persie) getting the first goal when he did really helped us."
Some might argue that Moyes had no grounds for concern.
After all, he had won comfortably on his two visits to the Liberty with Everton — 2-0 and 3-0 — with the consensus being that the Toffees were the most impressive visitors seen in SA1 over the last two seasons.
Now Moyes was returning with a better group of players, yet he insisted he could take nothing for granted against a Swansea side who have earned considerable respect in recent times.
"Mark my words, Swansea will be a real force this season," Moyes added.
Michael Laudrup must hope his opening-day opposite number has called it right.
After all the optimism of pre-season, the Swansea boss was downcast after the kind of defeat few had anticipated.
The 4-1 scoreline was tough on Swansea, who stood toe to toe with United in the opening half hour and had good control of the ball for much of the contest.
But the excellence of van Persie — plus a touch of quality from Danny Welbeck — proved decisive in what was a captivating game.
Laudrup reckoned United's greater finishing power was the difference between the sides, which was understandable given that three of the champions' goals fell into the special category.
Wilfried Bony has been brought in at great expense to give Swansea greater potency in the penalty box, and the £12 million striker made it three goals in as many competitive games after coming off the bench at half-time.
It was a pity that Bony had been unable to start, but Laudrup felt the Ivorian was too weary to last 90 minutes after his midweek trip to America with the national team.
His goal on Premier League debut, a precise first-time strike after fine work from Pablo Hernandez, was perhaps the biggest plus of the day for Swansea.
There were other reasons to be cheerful — though Laudrup was not trotting out positives in the wake of the heaviest home defeat of his reign.
"I was pleased with the first 30 minutes," he said when pressed.
"I felt Bony could not play the whole game, so my idea was to put them under pressure in the first half and then go with more offensive players in the second half. For 30 minutes the plan worked, but then they scored two goals in two minutes and everything changed.
"We had to take some risks, but we knew they could hit us on the counter attack. When it got to 3-0, we knew it was all over."
It was at that point that Bony found the target — hence Laudrup could not get too excited about the goal.
"It's good for him to score, but you won't see too many happy faces in our dressing room," he added.
Moyes was all smiles, the new United chief succeeding where his predecessor failed by winning the first league game of his tenure.
If this was a rousing start to United's title defence, it was a sobering opening for Swansea.
There was disappointment that they were unable to give United a harder time, particularly after last season's two tight contests with Sir Alex Ferguson's team.
And there was frustration that all the momentum built up during pre-season ultimately counted for nothing against opponents with United's class.
But the point Swansea ought to remember is that there are other battles ahead which will be far more important to them this season.
Saturday's setback was evidence to suggest that all those arguing Swansea might compete for a place in the top six this term were getting a little carried away.
But defeat against United — albeit a heavy one — does not mean Swansea will not enjoy another good season.
"We just have to move on from this," Laudrup said. "I told the players that they should not think about this defeat too much, even though we conceded four goals. If we start thinking about this game too much, about why this happened and that happened, then it will affect us in the next game and the next competition, so we just have to move on."
Swansea do not know much about Petrolul Ploiesti, but Laudrup does not need his scouting team to tell him that the Romanians will not have a forward of van Persie's calibre.
Michel Vorm had suggested before the weekend that his fellow Netherlands international was like a ballet dancer on the football field.
As if to prove his colleague right, van Persie opened the scoring with a goal which combined agility, balance and grace. Swansea might have closed van Persie down more quickly after Ryan Giggs's pass had looped up off Leon Britton, but the striker's touch and finish was glorious.
Crucially, United doubled their lead one minute and 59 seconds later and Swansea's race was close to run.
This time Welbeck tapped in after Patrice Evra's cross was smashed across the face by Antonio Valencia.
Swansea had been right in the contest up until this point, Michu and Wayne Routledge both forcing saves from David De Gea.
Now they faced a mighty challenge — and it was one they could not meet.
Michu had De Gea sprawling again, while Bony headed wastefully wide with his first chance just after the hour.
At the other end Jose Canas cleared Evra's header off the line to keep Swansea's slim comeback hopes alive, but van Persie's second fabulous finish of the day ended any lingering concerns for Moyes.
Welbeck's late fourth, a clever chip which landed just inside the far post, rubbed salt in Swansea wounds.
"The next game is even bigger for us now because we have to come back from this," Laudrup declared.
"It's very important that we get back to not conceding goals."