Paul Scholes and Ashley Young scored as United won comfortably in an open game at a subdued Old Trafford
Preamble I Sir Alex Ferguson loves goading proper journalists about the match report they were preparing to send after 90 minutes of the 1999 Champions League final: tactical balls-up from Alex Ferguson, comfortably beaten by the savvier Germans, a bridge too far, you'll never win the European Cup with kids, Jesper Blomqvist – bloody hell, and so on and so on.
It's not unusual for proper journalists to need a hasty rewrite of the introduction to their post-match report, especially when Ferguson's teams are involved, but it's pretty unusual for improper journalists to need a hasty rewrite of their pre-match introduction. That's the case this afternoon, sort of. The mood at Old Trafford will be determined almost entirely by the match between Newcastle and Manchester City. If City win, United need snookers; if City fail to win, United will be two awkward but pottable balls – Swansea at home today and Sunderland away next week – from winning their 20th title. Misery or delirium, with nothing inbetween and no control over events. 'Squeaky-bum time' doesn't even come close.
So, there's no point doing a proper preamble until we know the City score. I'll be back at around 3.30pm with Preamble II: This Time He Has A Vague Idea What He's Talking About. In the meantime you can follow Newcastle v City with Jacob Steinberg. It's 0-0 at half-time. It's not the despair ...
Team news Antonio Valencia returns for United after his strange omission on Monday. Swansea return to their familiar system after experimenting with a 3-5-2 against Wolves last weekend.
Manchester United (4-4-2) De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Young; Rooney, Hernandez.
Subs: Amos, Berbatov, Giggs, Park, Nani, Rafael Da Silva, Cleverley.
Swansea (4-2-3-1): Vorm; Rangel, Caulker, Williams, Taylor; Allen, Gower; Dyer, Sigurdsson, Sinclair; Graham.
Subs: Tremmel, Tate, Britton, Routledge, Monk, McEachran, Moore.
Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside)
Preamble II It's not official just yet, but Manchester City are champions of England for the first time in 44 years*, and what was scheduled to be a football match at Old Trafford has turned into a wake. The 2011-12 title race also needs a change of description. What should have been one of Sir Alex Ferguson's greatest triumphs has turned into the most embarrassing collapse in Manchester United's history. Devon Loch has come back to haunt Fergie. Seventeen years after Blackburn almost became the first side in English football history to blow an eight-point lead with six games to play, United have actually done so. It's going to be a weird afternoon at Old Trafford.
* Guardian.co.uk reserves the right to amend this preamble after the event if United batter Swansea 11-0 and go top on goal difference.
3.43pm "Gary Neville is very quiet isn't he?" says Joe Deasy. Is he? I just heard him generously praising the influence of Joe Hart. What would you have him do: strip off to reveal a 'Once a blue always a blue' T-shirt? Neville is one of the best things to happen to British football punditry since ever; and, from what I've seen, he's been completely fair this season.
3.47pm Sir Alex Ferguson, asked whether City has one hand on the trophy now, chuckles and says "probably two". He's putting on his best Brave Face, but this will be a sore one, no question about that.
3.53pm "Although I am an ABU of 20 years and counting (guess which rabble I support) I have always marvelled at the sheer number of players that pitch up in the opposition box when United attack," says Niall Mullen. "It's part of the reason that they conjure up goals exactly when they need them the most. Except on Monday night at City. Has Fergie been called out by United fans for the nonsensical 'we never play for a draw' pre-match chatter followed up by a team sheet drawn up by Egil Olsen?"
I'm not really sure, although anyone who watched Barcelona 2008, Liverpool 2009 and others would have known he has had considerable recent form for playing for a draw in a big game. United's display on Monday certainly wasn't football taught by Matt Busby. It must be hard for Ferguson because he had an amazing season – arguably his best ever in terms of the resources/points ratio – yet two shocking displays of tinkering, at home to Blackburn and away to City, cost United six points.
Some pre-match links
1. Who wants to play in the 11th Kick Off 2 Uk Championships?
2. Who wants to sponsor my friend Duncan, who as I type is busting his not inconsiderable swingers in support of the Motor Neurone Disease Association?
1 min Manchester United, in red, kick off from right to left. Swansea are in white.
3 min This should be a pretty game, with Scholes, Carrick, Allen, Gower and Sigurdsson all playing in midfield. It has started nicely – or at least it had, and then Phil Jones shanked a cross out for a goal kick.
4 min "Arguably Ferguson's best season ever?" says Niall Carey. "You'd want to be very good at arguing. He's going to end up potless. Still I suppose he has that fantastic resources/points ratio thing to slap in the cabinet..."
Liverpool have a pot, so does that mean Dalglish has performed better this season than Ferguson? Of course not. Ferguson has been working with his weakest squad for 20 years, against a palpably superior side, and has had to contend with United's worst run of injuries since 1998. In that context, to get so close to winning the league is an extraordinary achievement – even if it will now be overshadowed by an even more extraordinary collapse.
7 min This game comes to you in association with Tiki and Taka. It's all very retina-friendly, from both United and Swansea, but there have been no chances or half-chances or quarter-chances yet.
9 min Rooney's first-time snapshot from the edge of the area hits Williams.
10 min A good attack from Swansea. Sinclair plays a crisp pass to Sigurdsson, in space just outside the D. His first touch is unusually loose, which means the shot isn't on, so instead he plays it wide to Dyer. He comes back infield onto his left foot and curls over the bar from 18 yards.
12 min "However unfortunate Fergie's Monday team selection was, can you really say it cost United the title when City are clearly a far better side?" says Phil Podolsky. "Also, and this is not entirely related, did you know that Yaya's favourite musicians are Whitney Houston and Celine Dion?"
Is that true? He's gone down in my estimation after that. Very few footballers have good taste in music, do they. Brian McClair. And of course Pat Nevin.
13 min A heavy touch from Hernandez allows Williams to boot the ball behind for a corner. It comes to nothing.
15 min On the touchline, Brendan Rodgers is furiously scribbling notes. Or he's making notes like Jackie Treehorn.
18 min It's probably not something you should admit in polite society, but
Special Brew actually has a delicious follow through tiki-taka can be pretty boring sometimes. This is one of those times.
21 min A corner is half cleared to Evra, 20 yards from goal, and his fizzing shot is repelled by the unsighted Vorm. The rebound comes to Rooney on the left of the six-yard box; he contorts his body to smack the bouncing ball back whence it came, and Vorm bundles it round the post for a corner.
24 min A cute straight pass from the impressive Sigurdsson finds Graham, running away from Ferdinand 20 yards from goal, but he doesn't catch his first-time shot properly and De Gea makes a comfortable save.
25 min "Few footballers are as passionate about their musical preferences as Steven Gerrard," says Nonni Gunnarsson. "As a Liverpool fan, I would have liked to have seen the same amount of passion in the first hour yesterday. Perhaps King Kenny can take note and utilise Phil Collins in the next season."
I'd love to know what Andy Carroll was listening to on his iPod before his monstrous performance yesterday. It must have been Rage Against The Machine, surely. He was magnificent, a carpe diem mentality with a ponytail.
27 min Ashley Young is challenged in the area and stays on his feet. This shouldn't be noteworthy, but you know. Moments later, Rooney's crisp sidefoot from 25 yards hits Caulker.
GOAL! Manchester United 1-0 Swansea (Scholes 28) United take the lead through Paul Scholes. Valencia roasted Taylor with contemptuous ease down the right, got to the byline and picked out a good cutback for Carrick, in space 16 yards from goal. He sidefooted it first time towards goal with his left foot, and Scholes flicked it behind his standing leg and into the net from a few yards. That was not unlike the goal he scored against West Ham in the 7-1 win back in 1999-2000. He didn't celebrate at all, instead running straight back to the centre circle. Not everyone connected with the club knows what a black day this is for Manchester United. Scholes does.
29 min Almost two in a minute for United. Carrick bursts down the right and curls in a fast, low cross towards Hernandez, who flicks it wide from eight yards. It was a sharp chance, because he had to take it first time and he was under pressure, but you suspect he might have scored last season.
30 min "As a Liverpool fan (yeah I said it) I agree pots do not a season make," says Niall Mullen. "Our best season of recent times was finishing second under Rafa in 2008-09. Potless, heartbreaking and brilliant. This season we have a pot but also a bulging warehouse filled with depression and ignominy."
32 min Ashley Young falls over spectacularly in the box after a challenge from Angel Rangel by the touchline. Chris Foy, hearing the cry of wolf once again, hedges his bets and gives a corner. When that's half cleared, Young's fast cross from the left is flicked on by Scholes and headed over from three yards from Hernandez. Actually it came off his shoulder. It doesn't really count as a miss because he had scarcely any reaction time.
As for Young, it definitely wasn't a corner. There was contact from Rangel on Young, which prompted another miserable and extravagant dive. In those situations referees should be able to give a penalty (which I suspect it was) and book the player for simulation (which it definitely was).
34 min Rooney, using Hernandez by not using him, shapes a curler over the bar from 25 yards.
37 min United are in control of the game, with only the odd Gylfi moment to worry them. It's been a proud performance so far, because many teams would have gone into a big sulk after the City result.
38 min Sinclair releases the overlapping Taylor on the left of the box, but his first touch is poor and United clear.
40 min A well struck left-footer from Phil Jones, on the edge of the area, is comfortably saved by the tumbling Vorm.
GOAL! Manchester United 2-0 Swansea (Young 41) Ashley Young scores a good goal, and then runs to collect the ball from the net to show HE STILL BELIEVES, MAN. Swansea gave the ball away 25 yards from their own goal to launch a United attack. Eventually Rooney's shot was blocked and came to Young, to the left of centre 12 yards out, and he curved a precise low shot between two defenders, around the keeper Vorm and into the far corner. That was a very classy finish.
42 min "The strangest thing Ferguson did on Monday (and really all season) was to have Berbatov on the bench and not bring him into the game," says Hubert O'Hearn. "He can create a goal out of more or less nothing. Someone will pick up a 20 goal scorer on the relative cheap this summer."
If his spirit hasn't been crushed by the last 13 months, he should be a fantastic signing for someone – and especially for their fans, who will be guaranteed at least 17 moments of mind-altering Berbarotica in the 2012-13 season alone.
43 min For those who believe in miracles and snookers, United need another nine goals to go top of the league today.
44 min United will regret City and Everton and Wigan, of course, but their failure to take more candy from the ten men of Wolves and QPR also looks extremely costly now.
45+1 min Chris Smalling misses a chance to make it 3-0. A flat corner from the right is flicked on by Carrick at the near post, and Smalling heads it wide of the far post from eight yards. Again there wasn't that much reaction time, but he might have done better.
Half time: Manchester United 2-0 Swansea Two down, nine to go.
"Rob, Man U have scored nine against Ipswich in 1995," says Damian Durrant. "Spurs also have done 9:1 over Wigan. But no one has done 10, is today the day?"
No. Hope this helps.
4.59pm Shane Moynihan (and no other pedants) points out that, yep, a 10-0 win would indeed put United top on goals scored. Just eight to go, then.
46 min Swansea make a half-time substitution, bringing on the Wandsworth Xavi, Leon Britton, for Mark Gower.
47 min "I believe Graham Poll has said in the past that it's within the laws of the game to give simultaneous yellow cards for both a foul on the perpetrator and simulation for the victim," says Mark Coale. "I guess it's just the perception is strange in that scenario." Yep, very true. But it happens tens of times every season in the Premier League, probably more.
49 min A promising attack ends with another awful cross from poor old Phil Jones, who started the season as the new Duncan Edwards and is ending it as the new William Prunier.
52 min An awkward, bobbling shot from Sigurdsson, 25 yards from goal, is smuggled behind for a corner by De Gea. He almost dived too far at first and had move his arms back a touch before bundling it behind.
53 min A wonderful piece of defending from Nathan Dyer saves a goal. United broke thrillingly from the Swansea corner, with Valencia putting Rooney clear on the right of the box. He eschewed the shot in favour of a pass towards Young, who had an open goal at the far post – or would have done, had Dyer not charged back 80 yards to get a slight touch on the ball and divert it away from Young for a corner.
54 min "If Andy Carroll came off the bench blasting Rage Against the Machine, Liverpool had been listening to Enya before kick-off," says Nonni Gunnarsson. "And by the look of Paul Scholes' face, Jeff Buckley is constantly ringing in his head."
Po-faced celebrations are underrated, no? Ole Solskjaer did it a lot; just walked away casually after roofing one from 25 yards with a look that said, "This is my job. What's the rumpus?"
55 min Thanks to my colleague James Dart for this. Oh, Venky's.
57 min "Goal differences of nine aside, doesn't embittered former City manager and Manchester United legend Mark Hughes still have a say in all this?" says Jon Millard. "As long as the current QPR squad aren't a complete and utter shower plus Joey Barton or something, of course."
58 min Swansea have been much better since half time, with an even share of possession. The introduction of Leon Britton is probably not coincidental to this.
59 min Valencia's curling cross from the right is headed over by Hernandez at the near post. It was a half chance, maybe more. Some people on Twitter are even calling it a twenty-six-fiftieths chance.
60 min David De Gea makes a good save with his feet. Joe Allen's mishit shot was redirected by Graham, but De Gea – like all modern Spanish keepers – has excellent feet and adjusted them quickly to save. The ball slithered between his legs nonetheless, but he recovered to clasp it just before Sinclair poked it into the net.
61 min Evra's cross is flicked on at the near post by Hernandez, and Valencia's close-range shot is blocked desperately by Taylor. United have had enough chances to be five or six ahead.
63 min Nathan Dyer misses a great chance. He made a superb angled run, left to right as all the players went the other way, and was found beautifully by Sigurdsson – who waited and waited until the right pass was on like somebody in one of those old Grolsch adverts. Dyer received the ball 12 yards from goal, came back inside a defender onto his right foot – and then thrashed the ball high and wide.
65 min "Ashley Young's urgency," says Mike Gibbons. "Am I the only one thinking that it's just a touch ostentatious given that the horse has pretty much bolted?"
No, no you're not. And even if scientific prodding with scented needles showed his urgency to be 100.00 per cent sincere, his dive in the first half showed he doesn't really have a clue, and probably never will.
67 min I think the Old Trafford crowd are singing "Ashley Young, he dives when he wants". Did that really just happen? It was probably the Swansea fans, but it seemed too loud to be just the away support.
68 min We may have seen Paul Scholes for the last time at Old Trafford – he has been replaced by Tom Cleverley.
69 min "I reckon Carroll was listening to Walk Like A Champion by Buju Banton yesterday," says long-lost MBMette Emma Caddy. "Never has a song psyched me up more." What, not even this?
70 min I don't have a possession flunky by my feet, but to the naked eye it seems Swansea have had a touch more of the ball in the second half. It's been a proud performance from them since the break – and a fine one from Sigurdsson, whose curling, dipping free-kick from 20 yards has just forced an excellent low save from De Gea.
71 min Rooney gets his first Premier League yellow card of the season for a late tackle on Britton. Remember when everyone used to say that if you took the fire out of Rooney he wouldn't be the same player? They were right, whatever his goals tally for the season tells you.
72 min Statement of the obvious department: Gylfi Sigurdsson is class.
73 min It's been a bad day for United fans,
and here's Mac Millings to drain the last droplet of willtolive from your body but here's Mac Millings to cheer you up.
"In honour of Manchester United's brave tilt at the title, here, for your reading pleasure, is an all-time Manchester United Futility XI:
Paul McGrasping at Straws
George Second Best
Ole Runner-up Solskjær
74 min Wayne Rooney misses a sitter. He was found by a delectable first-time through pass from Carrick, 10 yards from goal, but after taking a touch he clipped it across Vorm and just wide of the far post.
77 min Dimitar Berbatov – who last played in the first team in May 2009 – is given a 13-minute farewell at Old Trafford. One last moment of Berbarotica would be nice for a man who has handled a brutal ostracism with exceptional dignity.
79 min On reflection, it must have been the Swansea fans who were chanting "Ashley Young, he dives when he wants." Either that or the United fans are currently chanting "You're getting sacked in the morning" at Sir Alex Ferguson.
81 min Ashley Young is still running round like a madman. Let it go, it's over, and you're not convincing anybody anyway. His corner is headed down by Berbatov to Hernandez, whose smart shot on the turn is deflected over.
82 min "Dimitar Berbatov last played in the first team in May 2009?" says Christian Cole. "Then who scored that hattrick against Wigan on Boxing Day?"
85 min Graham stabs a shot straight at De Gea from the right of the box. Swansea have played well in the second half.
86 min Rio Ferdinand is down on all fours in the Swansea half, and Smalling is struggling as well. Ferdinand is wincing back to his post now, and Rafael is going to go him for either Ferdinand or Smalling. Mike Phelan, as decisive as ever, stands on the touchline, leering at the field of play with his hands outstretched and a 'what's going on'/'what day is this?' expression on his phizog.
88 min Rafael comes on for Rio Ferdinand, who jogs off wincing a little. Will this be the last time we see him at Old Trafford?
89 min Cleverley gives the ball to Berbatov and keeps running. Berbatov pauses time, lights 14 anorexic cigarettes and smokes them simultaneously while playing a sublime return pass, clipped 20 yards over the head of a posse of defenders, and the stretching Cleverley's shot is saved by Vorm.
90 min A nice touch from Brendan Rodgers. He has brought on Alan Tate – who was at United as a youth player at the turn of the century – for Steven Caulker. That'll be in the Joy of Six: sentimental substitutions, along with Allan Simonsen against West Germany in 1986.
Full time: Manchester United 2-0 Swansea That was a better game than it might have been in the circumstances, but this is still a Very Bad Day for Manchester United. Next Sunday will be even worse. They are probably going to finish second with 89 points; that points total reflects a complex and almost inscrutable season at Old Trafford. Thanks for your emails, night.