20 games into the Premier League season and Swansea find themselves in 12th place, 7 points clear of the relegation zone having lost only one of their last five matches. This may surprise some as traditionally sides who are promoted via the play-offs tend to struggle, most notably Derby County in 07/08 season and Watford in the 06/07 season.
As well as this without signing anyone of any real note the bookies predicted Swansea to drop straight back down to the Championship. However thus far the Swans as stated have impressed many observers. In particular praise has been dished out to Swansea’s goalkeeper Michel Vorm who has been a revelation since his move to the club as Swansea have conceded the 6th least goals in the league this season including 9 clean sheets.
An impressive defensive record has of course helped the side maintain good form however the real basis for their mid-table position is through ball retention as well as their defensive capabilities.
It is surprising to note that Swansea have the fourth highest possession in the Premier League with 55.8%, more than Manchester United, Spurs and Liverpool. Only Chelsea and Manchester City can boast a higher pass completion rate than the Swans. At home where the club have recorded 4/5 victories so far this season they have an even more impressive 59% average possession.
Usually when one thinks of relegation threatened teams they think of solid defensive tactics such as those unsuccessfully employed by Birmingham City last season. But Swansea have not allowed being promoted to influence their style of play having played the 3rd most short passes a game, 478, with only Arsenal and City playing more. All of this implies that Swansea are attempting to assert themselves on matches and on the Premier League as they look to dictate the tempo rather than playing games on the back foot.
The reason for the high levels of possession attained by Swansea has much to do with the way in which Brendan Rogers sets his side out. Swansea opt to play two defensive minded midfielders, usually, Leon Britton and Mark Gower who have a pass completion rate of 94% and 85% respectively. Both Britton and Gower look to control the game with the slightly more attack minded Joe Allen, who again has a pass completion of over 90%, sitting in front of them. The dominance of the three centre midfielders is apparent when one notes that wingers Dyer and Sinclair each attempt roughly 25 passes per game, compared to the 55 passes per game for any one of Swansea’s centre midfielders. The three centre midfielders contribute 165.3 of Swansea’s 478 passes per game. All 3 of these midfield players look to dominate possession in the centre of the pitch with Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair using their pace and skill on the wings to instigate the attacks.
The Swansea defenders also experience a lot of the ball as the majority of Swansea’s possession is focused in and around the middle of the park, rather than in the attacking third. In essence the keep ball strategy employed by Swansea is an effective defensive mechanism as without the ball it is of course naturally much more difficult for the opposition to score against Swansea. Which as well as Vorm’s fine form has contributed to Swansea’s solid defensive record.
Lack of penetration
One criticism or point of note that may perhaps need to be addressed for Swansea is their lack of penetration in the final third. The majority of their possession comes in the middle of the park, 47% of it, with them receiving very little of the ball in the opposition’s final third, only 18% the lowest level out of any EPL side. As stated before the Swansea defenders also enjoy a lot of the ball with the side experiencing 37% of the ball in their own half.
Swansea as stated look to control the ball in the middle but lack penetration to really make it count. Arguably this is expecting a lot from a newly promoted side, especially one performing so well at the moment. The reason for this fact is that as stated the side control the game through the defence and their midfield three. Allen arguably plays closer to Gower and Britton than he does to Graham who is often left isolated up field, leading the line on his own.
The Swansea centre forwards receive much less of the ball than their midfielders as a result of this. Only 16.4 passes per game for Graham and only 7 per game for Lita when he is chosen. For the forward to experience more of the ball and thus Swansea to be more of a potent attacking threat Rodgers would have to push one of his midfielders forward, which with the use of Dyer and Sinclair on the wings would sacrifice possession as well as leaving his side more vulnerable to opposition attacks.
Prospects for the season
As stated Swansea sit seven points above the relegation zone which with the form of the teams in the relegation scrap is a massive gap, for now. The only danger for Swansea is if their form tails off which it has done in the past for previous play-off winners such as Hull City as well as Blackpool last season. A reason for this is that traditionally play-off winners have a much smaller pre-season to prepare due to the dates of the play-off final. Swansea for example only had three pre-season friendly’s compared to Chelsea who played seven.
The imminent signing of Josh McLachran on loan as well as the signing of Sigurosson from Hoffenheim could be aimed at preventing a tailing off in form.
With regards to the clubs ambitions as a whole this season safety would of course please any Swansea fan despite their relative position of comfort right now, anything above that would undoubtedly be seen as a much welcome bonus in what has been a very impressive first 20 games in the Premier League for Swansea.
All stats taken from http://www.whoscored.com