Swansea City – a Tactical Appreciation

Given that we’ve just come off a painful 1-0 reverse to our arch enemies, Cardiff City, in the first ever all-Welsh Premier League derby, this might be a strange time to be considering the highlight question that’s the title of this piece – namely : Swansea City, a Tactical appreciation.

After all, over the past couple of seasons where we’ve finished 11th and 10th in the Premier League and won the Capital One Cup thus qualifying us to play in the Europa League this season, you might be thinking that as a Swans fan this is as good as it gets. Think again, bro.

We have always been good at self-deprecation. It’s something bled/bred into us as youngsters. You grow up knowing this is how it is. For all these good times there will surely be some bad.

So when I traveled, bubbled, to the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday I knew damn well that despite the schadenfreude of US being able to sing to THEM “We’ll always be white” , there might well be something that slapped us back in the chops and said ” Don’t get ahead of yourself, sunshine”.

And so it turned out to be. Despite Steven Caulker’s admirable restraint in refusing to celebrate his winning goal against us (he had a successful loan year with us last season), it still felt like a stab to the heart for me, sitting, as I was, in the front row near the corner flag, and witness to the demented delirium of the CCFC fans nearest us.

Many of these same, at 40 plus years of age, must have been praying their families didn’t see them on MOTD2 later that evening. Ugly. It was ever thus, and I’m suspecting a few of our “fans” might feel the same.

The build up to this game had been fevered – you can’t blame the Broadcasters for that since it’s their job to maximise the audience. No. For me, the fillip to writing this piece came from the fan reaction . I was there, LIVE, as Sky like to say, and to me it seemed the hysteria might have been a bit disproportionate. Bear with me here and I’ll explain what I mean.

We’ve become used, over the last few seasons, to playing what would generally be construed within football as a 4-2-3-1 formation , but, as has been seen in endless comment within the Swansea/Fraternity bubble , the formation is dependent on many other things.

As putative examples, take these. As a Div2/Div1 team under Jackett or Martinez, this wasn’t important – possession was all, and our superior players allowed us to progress.

In the Championship, under Sousa and Rodgers, it reared it’s ugly head on occasion – whilst most fans would give Sousa his due for making us more defensively resilient, we were pleased to see Rodgers loosening of the defensive strings to enable us to get forward faster – still keep-the-ball but with wide, pacy wingers.

Evolution saw Laudrup as next up require his wingers to play “narrower” as previously, but with developed FB’s too.

Simplistic ? Maybe.

Vaguely accurate? Maybe.

So what’s next on the Swansea City tableau ? Read on.

When I read the Swansea City messageboards subsequent to our defeat at the CCFC Stadium it struck me that, as ever, there are 2 generally observable strains of fans.

There are those, like me, who are generally tagged as “glass half full”, “rose tinted specs” types who will still support the club tomorrow. There are a further set who’s principal enthusiasm seems to be “we are doomed, the management and players are crap” and who are happy to criticise but NOT offer any sort of alternative.

And this what gets my goat.

So this piece is an attempt to analyse where we are, and where we go from here. As I said previously, there’s a great fission between players and tactics in many supporters eyes, as the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson elucidates in this perceptive piece.

I’d suggest that Wilson’s argument is persuasive to the Nth degree but as a disciple of “inverting the Triangle” I would be, wouldn’t I?

To that end, I’ve chosen to concentrate my discussion on 4 (to me) pertinent points. And they are………….

1) Formation
2) Tactics
3) Tempo/Pace
4) Originality

1) Formation

Over the last six seasons, we Swans have seen 4-2-3-1 and it’s variations sewn into our DNA. It got us up through the divisions ( where non-converts were swamped of possession, particularly in MF) and then established us into the PL by a freak confluence of a stellar performer (Miguel Michu) with a developing team. Bloody hell, it even enabled us to win the Capital One Cup last year on the back of a series of performances where the perceived input exceeded the sum of it’s parts. We had a lot of excellent players, but the performances were even better.

The bummer, of course, is that THIS IS the PL. Opponents don’t just go away to lick their wounds – they analyse to the infinitessimal degree what went wrong for them and right for us with a view to making it different this year. Oh, and btw, teams who haven’t played us previously do exactly the same, making this most ‘ornery of Divisions a bundle of problems next time around (this year).

I’ve been a fan of the formation, and I can see it’s relevance as a long term staple, but, just recently, I got into a conversation with one who suggested some alternatives, and I put them up here just to stimulate debate.

The first point is this – we, and all other PL teams, now know that ML has our wingers playing narrower, and compensate accordingly. Similarly, Everton under Moyes and Norwich/Villa under Lambert ALWAYS push up to press and thus stop us playing out from the back. Bet on Stoke City to do it this weekend.

Given our sad weekend last against CCFC it may allow us to experiment a little – but the major question is SHOULD WE?

Imagine these – a 4-1-3-1-1 that goes, Tremmel, Rangel, Williams,Chico, Taylor/Ben, Canas, Dyer, de G, Pablo/Lamah, Pozuelo, Bony

That’s just the first, and I’m aware that injuries screw, but I’d ask you to slot somebody in if a player is obviously inconvenienced. C’mon, GET WITH THE FLOW.

I’ve seen this offered as an alternative and forgive me, but it seems to make a bit of sense too.

Even more radical would be to pick a team with one change from that line up – ie, play only Canas as the holding MF’er with a 3 in front of him of JDG, Pozuelo and Pablo (if fit, Lamah otherwise) and have both Vasquez and Bony ahead (the youngster as support STR). Radical I know, but since both Nathan and WR have stunk the house out lately, and we are stuttering, “radical” might work.

Then again, since we’re talking radical, a 3-5-2 (a la Brendan at the ‘Pool) might read ………………..Tremmel, Chico, Ash, Amat, Rangel, Dyer, Canas/Leon, Pablo/Lamah, Ben, Vasquez, Bony

I haven’t considered Michu since he’s injured.

What about this – and screw you Sam Allardyce – it’s effectively a 3-6-1 that reads………..

Tremmel, Chico, Ash, Amat, Rangel, Dyer/JdG, Canas/Leon,Pozuelo, Pablo/Lamah, Ben, Bony

It may be the case that I, and my correspondent are being a tad fanciful but if we played with either of these formations I’d suggest we could get the attacking 4 players, 6 when Rangel and Ben push on, playing a lot closer together with quite a sold unit behind.

Whether ML is sufficiently brave/foolish to adopt such a break I doubt, unfortunately, but it’s surely a very valid point that we MIGHT use these upcoming Europa Cup games to at the very least try some things we’d be loth to adopt in the PL.

2) Tactics

To approach a PL (or any) game without a tactical analysis of how we, and hopefully, they, intend to play would be foolish in the extreme, and we’re not the sort of side that does that. Unfortunately, we seem to have fallen into a routine where our tactics don’t surprise, thus allowing teams of all levels to set up to counter us.

The most generally noticed difference from the Laudrup team to the previous regime under BR seems to be the wingers playing “narrower” and a general direct thrust and more incisive final third passing. I confess I see the former, and whilst it’s had it’s good days ( West Brom last year 3-0 at HT and we tore them apart) I’ve also seen it stagnate and stink the house out . Tottenham away and Cardiff last Sunday spring to mind.

So, the question I’m asking is this – is it possible with our current playing squad to vary the ante as we’ve done previously under Martinez (although he too could be a stubborn bastard) or does it depend on our being able to augment the squad come January to allow us a little more flexibility.

If I had a choice and free reign to sign players in January I’d target these 3 (all creators and scorers) a) Matt Jarvis at WHU, b) David Hoilett at QPR, c)Emanuel Adeybayor at Tottenham. I know, I know, we can’t afford the wages let alone any bloody fee, but if we can negotiate something of that ilk (would Spurs pay a chunk of his wages to get him off the books on a loan?) then we might be tactically a little more flexible.

3)Tempo/Pace

You know as well as I do that when we play “quickly” we play well. That doesn’t mean that all of our players have to outsprint theirs ( it helps) but that we pass and move with a degree of tempo that makes the opponent uncomfortable.

The ball is ALWAYS faster than a player, so moving it at pace makes sense for all teams, and the best do it without thinking.

Think Barcelona, Dortmund, Bayern Munchen, Citeh even, we’ve all seen the high tempo press allied with rapid pass and move bring success. At the moment, the team doing it best in the PL is Southampton, and having bested them in our recent 2-0 defeat at St Mary’s we ought to have learned a valuable lesson. We didn’t then, but we’re certainly capable of doing it ongoing. Let’s start against Stoke.

4) Originality

We Swans have been lucky these past 10yrs to see our Club progress as it has. Very recently, our estimable Chairman Huw Jenkins did an interview with the Guardian (get it here) that makes for more than interesting reading.

Allow me to paraphrase just a short piece, where he suggested that to concede defeat to the so-called Super Clubs meant that we were effectively conceding defeat in almost a third of the PL Program. Bloody hell Huw, spot on.

It’s my belief (and I suspect HJ’s too), that part of the reason we’ve been so successful over that period has been precisely because we’re original. We’re the only PL Club with a model of fan ownership, we’re one of the few that lives within it’s means. And, let it not be forgot, we’re one of the few who’s played consistently innovative football over that period.

We should never forget this – what got us here was daring to be different – on and off the field.

Over the next six months we must dare to be different again.

If that means we go at teams at Home via the throat from the off I’d love that.

If it means performing as we did against Fulham 3-0 and West Brom 2-0 too I can live with that, because this is a Club that gives me more than I possibly dreamed about.

We are really fortunate in the PL to see Sergio Aguerro, David Silva, Mesut Ozil and players of that ilk. Just give me Ferrie Bodde (who helped get us here), Leon Britton, Miguel Perez Cuesta and I am a happy pixie.

STID.

Onwards and upwards,
SWANSEA CITY