Garry Monk's change in formation from 4-2-3-1 to a diamond 4-4-2 following Manchester United's opening goal today inspired a brilliant comeback from Swansea. The wins means Monk is the first manager in Premier League history to lead his side to three successive wins over Manchester United. The 36 year old Swans manager has proved during his year and a half at the Welsh club to be an intelligent tactician, evidenced by the fact they did the double over Manchester United and Arsenal last season.
This was a victory of stability, long term planning and a coherent tactical approach over big money spending and continued tactical tinkering by Van Gaal during his time at Manchester United.
After being appointed player-manager following the sacking of Michael Laudrup in February 2014, Monk helped the Swans avoid relegation. Last season, Monk's first full season as a professional manager, a number of pundits questioned whether he was too inexperienced to lead a top flight side. He went on to lead the club to a record top flight points total despite losing star striker Wilfried Bony to Manchester City in the January transfer window.
Swansea currently sit 4th in the table, level on points and goal difference with third place Leicester, and have gotten a draw away to Chelsea and a win over Manchester United while playing some magnificent, free flowing football.
Monk is known for his tireless work rate and extreme attention to detail. In a Guardian piece this summer on Swansea's preseason training regimen it was revealed he wears a microphone to training sessions so he can listen back to himself and make sure he's making his points clearly enough.
That commitment to improvement he demands of everyone at the club combined with the club's outstanding business organization and community-focused outlook have created one of the Premier League's more objectively likable sides.
Monk proved his managerial proficiency today, outfoxing one of the game's most celebrated managers.
Manchester United opened the scoring three minutes into the second half through Juan Mata. Swansea had been the more dangerous side in the first half- Gylfi Sigurdsson put a shot just wide of Sergio Romero's right post before Bafetimbi Gomis struck that same post in the opening half.
United's goal came when left back Luke Shaw collected possession on the left channel, got the better of Kyle Naughton's weak attempted 50/50 challenge and provided a chip across the face of goal for Mata to smash home.
Ten minutes after that opener Monk made a substitution and tactical change that would ultimately turn the game on its head. He brought on Ki Sung-Yueng for Wayne Routledge and changed shape froma 4-2-3-1 to more of a diamond 4-4-2. Jack Cork played at the base of midfield with Jonjo Shelvey to his right and Ki to his left. Sigurdsson played higher up the pitch in the tip of the diamond, Jordan Ayew joined Gomis up front.
In the 4-2-3-1 Swansea had started the game with they defended with a midfield bank of four, leaving the striker Gomis and Sigurdsson higher up the pitch. After the change to diamond 4-4-2 they defended with only a narrow midfield three of Ki, Cork and Shelvey, leaving Sigurdsson, Gomis and Ayew in attacking areas.
That narrow midfield three meant United's fullbacks no longer had a direct opponent marking them and were therefore given space in the channels. It was a risky move from Monk- it meant giving Shaw, the provider of United's goal, free reign on United's left channel and forced Ki, Shelvey and Cork to do an immense amount of defensive work in midfield. Almost immediately after making the change, Mata nearly doubled United's lead.
However the change in shape would prove to be a touch of brilliant tactical understanding from Monk. By encouraging Shaw to take the space he was being afforded on the left channel, Swansea's shape opened up space down that sideline to counter into in the area vacated by Shaw's forays forward. With Sigurdsson, Gomis and Ayew all high up the pitch they had the numbers to exploit the space. One player could float into the channels behind United's advanced fullbacks, collect an outlet pass and have two attacking players to aim crosses at into the box.
For Ayew's equalizer, Shaw was high up the pitch down United's left channel when they conceded possession. Sigurdsson floated into the free space behind Shaw and provided the well weighted cross for Ayew to finish. The second goal was similar. Shelvey provided a brilliant outlet pass to Sigurdsson after Swansea won the ball back in midfield. Sigurdsson touched it to the right channel for Ayew who provided a curling outside of the foot ball in behind the United defense for Gomis to run onto and slip in.
The goals were a result of Monk's calculated gamble. He risked sacrificing one midfielder in defense so that his side would have an extra attacker up the pitch when they countered. The diamond shape invited United's fullbacks to take the space they were given, but in doing so left the visitors shorthanded at the back when possession was turned over.
It was the move of a clever manager with real tactical nous. Van Gaal rarely misses a chance to pat himself on the back when he makes a formation change that impacts a match. Today he should tip his hat to his opposite number. Monk was the better manager, his side more prepared and more determined. Swansea are in good hands with him at the helm.