Maximus Tacticus – Swansea City
In this feature, Debojyoti Chakraborty tries to analyze the strategies of top EPL sides
Swansea City is the first side from Wales to play in English football’s top-flight since the inception of the English Premier League. Ranked 15th following the first half of the season, they look to be good value for money to remain in the top-drawer in their inaugural season. They have had a remarkable progress – notching up two promotions in the last four years, and do not look remotely out of place against the big boys of English football.
Swansea City’s strength lies in their defence. They have made the Liberty Stadium their fortress, conceding only four goals in the first half of home matches. Star shot stopper Dorus de Vries left the club last summer; however, Michel Vorm has been a more than able replacement. We have read”Attack Wins Games, Defence Wins Titles” in the inaugural edition of Goalden Times, in August 2011. Swansea had a solid defence last season in the Championship and they have just taken that form into the Premier League. The Swansea centre back pairing of Garry Monk and Ashley Williams complement each other well. While Williams is a good reader of the game and often comes up with crucial interceptions, Monk, on the other hand, is a very good passer and has completed 92% of his passes – which is quite impressive considering he has been in and out of the team. Angel Rangel, the right back has formed a good partnership with Vorm – more often than not, the Swans start their attack after Vorm releases the ball wide to an overlapping Rangel. The full back converted more passes this season than some of his more glamorous contemporaries, like Ashley Cole and Luis Enrique. Besides, with eight telling crosses into the attacking area, he is a definite threat when he is going forward – an embodiment of a modern day full back. He has a good grasp of the tactics and very alert on the field, often cutting inside skilfully to create space for other wide players to run through the flank.
No matter what their style of play is, it would be inappropriate to mark Swans as a conservative team. What sets them apart from other recently promoted teams is their approach towards the game. Their manager, Brendan Rodgers for instance, has not changed his swashbuckling style and sets out his team to win, regardless of the opposition or the venue. Swansea City does not usually crowd its own penalty box and look to play on the counter. The Swans earned a well deserved draw against Tottenham Hotspurs and Harry Redknapp was not frustrated with the result. Respect, if anything, was his immediate sentiment: “They are a good team, you have to accept that”. No small compliment from a team with a realistic chance of challenging the Manchester clubs for the coveted title.
Swansea’s playing style revolves around keeping the ball. Leon Britton works as the engine of the team by sitting in front of the back four. The other two central midfielders, Mark Gower and Wayne Routledge (or, Joe Allen) enjoy more freedom. Their close passing dictates the pace of the game. When not in position, they drop deep and wide to cover for the opponent full backs. Rodgers keeps it simple and epitomizes the philosophy: “If they do not have the ball, they are not going to score”. Unlike most of the English teams who indulge in long balls, Swans have adopted a refreshing passing style – keep the ball, move it around with excellent third man runs and off-the-ball movements, culminating in a through pass to unlock the opposition defence. This passing game has caught most of the clubs unawares as they are used to more cagey strategies by newly promoted sides.
Their 86% pass completion rate makes Swansea one of the most attractive teams in the league. But they lack a focal point of attack up front. Danny Graham is their top scorer with only six goals to his credit, so far. Not only have they scored very few goals in the league – 18 in 19 matches, averaging less than one goal per match – they have only managed three shots on target, per game. Unfortunately, most of Swansea’s goals have resulted from an opponent’s mistake rather than a neat finish off a well-structured move. No wonder Swansea failed to beat teams despite having one of the best defensive records at home. And that’s quite a disappointment for a team that cherishes a free flowing game of football.
Compact Midfield of Swansea
Man to Watch (1) – Michel Vorm
Michel Vorm has been by some distance regarded by the EPL pundits as the best goalkeeper of the season. Some achievement indeed, playing for a team which has conceded more than one goal on an average in the first half of the league campaign. 9 clean sheets along with 65 saves have made him one of the top shot stoppers in the game. As he is pretty comfortable with the ball at his feet, Vorm fits into the club hand in glove. Swansea likes to build the game from behind, so it is imperative that the goalkeeper is comfortable with his feet. As shown in the illustration, Vorm can use more short passes to initiate an attack for Swansea City. Not sure if he had the same distribution playing for Stoke City, especially with a certain Peter Crouch up front. Vorm is also equipped to marshal the game well from behind and help in setting up the game from the back. Nicknamed ‘The Penalty Killer’, this super athlete is gifted with exceptional penalty saving abilities. Add to that his agile moves and we can see glimpses of his fellow countryman, Edwin van der Sar.
Building from the Back
Man to Watch (2) – Scott Sinclair
Ex-Chelsea player Scott Sinclair took a big gamble when he decided to play for a Championship club in the quest for regular first team football. He was pivotal in the Welsh club earning them a promotion to top flight English football last year. He has been instrumental this year too, contributing the most number of assists for Swansea City. Things have changed for the better after Rodgers changed Sinclair from an out-and-out forward to a wing wizard. With his blistering pace down the left flank, Sinclair has shone in a wide forward role. As is evident below, his passing has been superb in this position. But due to lack of depth in the squad, sometimes Sinclair has been deployed in a more central position where he has failed to dictate the game so much. Another criticism for Sinclair has been that he often switches off from the game. Nevertheless, he was in his true colours against Tottenham Hotspur lately. If he can continue his showing as the most creative player for the Swans, no doubt they will hold their heads high by the end of the season.
Shining in a wide role Not so effective centrally
Blue Line – Successful Pass
Red Line – Unsuccessful Pass