What is Steve Cooper's philosophy?

edited February 22 in Swansea City

I‘m not sure of the answer to this question, but I am clear on what his philosophy is not.

One thing we are definitely not is a build patiently through the thirds, possession-oriented team. The stats are unambiguous on this. Quite apart from the fact that we’re mid-table on the main metrics for a possession-oriented team, 12th in the Championship on possession (49.3%), and 11th on pass completion (73.4%), we’re only 18th in the table on play in the defensive third (27%). Although this isn’t necessarily at odds with having a possession-based philosophy, the teams that have the highest own third percentages include Brentford, Bournemouth, Huddersfield, Watford, and Norwich, who are all in the top 6 on overall possession, reflecting a more patient approach to build-up play adopted by these teams.

One other thing that we’re not, is a team that builds through the middle. What’s very obvious watching the Swans is backed up by the stats. We are last in the league when it comes to how much we play in the middle column of the pitch (20%) (Brentford, Norwich and Bournemouth in contrast have 27-30% play in the centre), but lead the way on play on the right side (43%). On the left side we are 10th (37%). Unsurprising, given Bidwell’s inferior ability to retain possession compared to Roberts’.

The one other thing that we’re not is a long ball team. We’re 21st on long balls (averaging 65 per game), with expected clubs topping that table (Preston, Wycombe, Barnsley, Cardiff, Birmingham, and Wednesday). This isn’t surprising, given the lack of a number 9 in the side. I wonder whether things would be different if we’d recruited Kieffer Moore. McCarthy has adopted the same 3-4-1-2 formation as us, but they are going direct up to Moore, with Murphy and Wilson available to play off the knock downs. It’s an approach that’s working well for them, but I doubt whether Cooper will be tempted to follow their example, given our squad composition.

What the stats point to is a Steve Cooper philosophy of getting the ball forward quickly, down the flanks, especially the right one. Any patient possession football we play occurs in the opposition third of the pitch. It’s obviously worked well, but what is the underlying thought process for being so reliant on building through the flanks? The adoption of a wing back system provides an obvious partial explanation, but I wonder if part of Cooper’s thinking is that losing possession out wide is far less risky than losing it in central areas? He often talks of showing the opposition into areas of the pitch where we want them to be, and I’m guessing by that he means out wide. The latest such comment came after the match at the weekend, where the crucial second Huddersfield goal came from a surging run from O’Brien through the middle. It’s very much unlike us to concede in that manner. So, it could be that part of the reason he doesn’t want us to build through the middle is because he’s afraid of what may happen when we lose possession in central areas. This would make sense given the complete absence of pace in the middle of the park in our squad (except Manning perhaps?), so that we're susceptible to counters through the middle, exposing our lack of recovery pace. This might also explain why Cooper hasn’t been tempted into tweaking our 3-4-1-2 into a 3-4-2-1, which should make it easier for us to build through the middle. I’d be interested to hear what others think is the reason why we build so little through the middle.

Going forwards I can’t see any evidence to suggest Cooper is going to change things fundamentally. If Cooper is going to tweak things it may be to involve Manning more, so that we can develop a more balanced approach to attacking down the flanks. If he doesn't then the opposition are going to target Roberts, as happened against Derby.



  • I honestly don't think his philosophy amounts to much more than:

    - Don't commit too many players forward at any one time

    - Don't worry too much about having the ball; worry more about getting numbers back behind the ball when you lose it

    - Hit the channels for Ayew and Lowe to chase and try and get in behind teams

    - Hope one of those two produces a moment of individual brilliance/skill

    - Try and work opportunities to get direct free kicks near the opposition goal or force corners, so we can maximise Hourihane's ability at set pieces.

    Not much more to it than that really.

  • For me is philosophy is to win football matches

    To start with a solid defence , set piece defence is important , make the team hard to beat

    Wants to work with young players and give them the opportunity to play and improve

    Wants players to have a good work ethic and team work is very important ,

  • Whilst I agree with not worring too much about having the ball and work ethic bits, I don't agree that he's unwilling to get men forwards, or that hitting the channels is more than an incidental tactic.

    I also don't think that Cooper is against playing possession football, it's just that he believes in playing patient probing stuff once we're in the opposition third, but not before.

    One thing I hadn't appreciated about the Huddersfield match when I watched the game is that Fulton was playing further forwards from Grimes. This played a part in the game-decisive second and third Huddersfield goals. O'Brien breezed past an advanced Fulton for the second, with Grimes failing to track him when he received the one-touch lay-off from Campbell. Fulton was also a spectator for the third goal. A failed experiment from Cooper.

    I'm scratching my head over why he doesn't play with a 3-4-2-1, because it should allow us to retain, or even enhance, defensive solidity in front of the back three, whilst simultaneously allowing us to adopt a more balanced approach to building attacks, so we're not so over-reliant on attacking down the wings.

    I can't see what playing with two strikers gives us. We don't press teams high up the pitch, nor do we rely much on combination play between Lowe and Ayew. So what's the thinking here? I just don't get it.

    If we went to a 3-4-2-1 we'd have a number of options to field alongside Hourihane on the left. We could drop Ayew back, with Lowe as the lone striker, of we could bring in Dhanda, Arriola or perhaps even Manning, with Lowe and Ayew rotating as the lone striker. It would, at the very least, ease the burden on these two, who have played a hell of a lot of football, with both looking jaded. With Morris' season at an end there aren't good alternatives going forwards, other than a change of shape, for managing the game time of these two.

  • More than anything tactical, what Cooper brings to the table is a stubborn streak that lies with a starting formation and decision on players that takes a long time for him to change, as was shown with a back four that only changed after the restart last season to three at the back with the only slight change being either a back four in front of the three or on occasion a holding midfielder between the three and four in front.

    The three becomes a five when defending and such is the lack of real pace out wide on the left it primarily restricts counter attacking to our right side. Bidwell on the left attacks from inside the opposing half to their by-line and can cross effectively but just imagine what Declan John could have done with his pace and sweet left foot. He wasn't given an opportunity as he was a poor defender. That tells a tale why Bidwell is number one selection for the left side position and Manning, a player that hasn't been given many opportunities resigned to a bench position. Yet, when Bidwell retreats to his own half his lack of ability in playing one twos, as Connor does, leaves him the out ball down the touchline, a pass inside, or back. What the three centre backs should give you is the extra man, it does when moves are worked down the right side but the lack of a player similar to Connor out on the left makes no impact on the opposition.

    Ayew has missed two league games this season yet in 27 league games has only been taken off once, in the 89th minute. A statistic that defies fitness fatigue when so many months will see teams playing 3 games over 7/8 days yet makes a mockery of spending sizeable loan transfer fees that resulted in Gyokeres starting just two matches before going back to Brighton.

    The same philosophy was seen in another loan player Kasey Palmer who also started 2 league matches in midfield where he was clearly not given the opportunity to break up the combination of Grimes, Smith, Fulton or Dhanda.

    We don't possess pace in midfield to support our strikers let alone to get to the breakdown and second balls and while Gibbs-White was seen prior to his injury as the player to up the stats in that role, the signing of Palmer was not given that opportunity.

    One aspect I have noticed on the transition is Guehi's willingness to drive into midfield and open up the opposition, and while no goals have resulted it has proved to be a useful ploy.

    I don't feel there is a significant style of play other than ensure we are well organised and compact in defending our penalty area while our preponderance in midfield to move the ball into the last third is so slow it inevitably allows our opponents plenty of time to get players behind the ball, while the sight of Ayew moving from wide right into the centre of the pitch and tacking across the line of the penalty area while ignoring the overlap of the unmarked Roberts breaking to the by-line absolutely unmarked leaves me shaking my head in frustration.

  • interesting analysis, Wyn.

    and I agree with your response to GTC too.

    I think if he had a central striker worthy of the name, then he might play that way. But as he admitted in his press conference today, they werent able to secure that player.

    So he sets the team up to get the best of the sum of its parts.

    I also agree with Colin's comments on Ayew. Cooper cant keep ignoring the fact that key players cannot continue to play 3 games in a week, and he will have to shuffle the pack more than he has. Especially with the likes of Ayew, Bennett and Naughton, who are all the wrong side of 30.

    I think he really rues not being able to get Brewster back. I wouldnt be surprised if we get promoted and the Blades go down, he'd make a cheeky bid for him - it wont be anywhere near £20m though.

  • WynWyn
    edited February 22

    This tweet by @SwansAnalytics illustrates how Fulton was playing further forwards against Huddersfield (even in advance of Hourihane which is surprising):

    Talk of an unbalanced shape! What on earth was Naughton doing playing so far forwards? We were clearly trying to overload on the right - but it backfired big time with the space it afforded to the likes of O'Brien to bomb forwards.

  • Fulton has for some time been instrumental in 2nd phase possession higher up the pitch. One of his strengths is his ability to link with deeper lying frontmen. Most of last term, our go-forward was either through Grimes orchestrating a penetrative move from deep or a longer ball to Ayew who would lay it off to Fulton higher up the pitch and push on.

    Despite Fulton's ability to play that role, our biggest weakness (and opportunity) right now is zip and tempo in the AM space. MGW was the solution. CH ain't. Norwich does this with aplomb with Cantwell running teams ragged, driving momentum deep into the heart of the opposition.

    Cooper's philosophy of highly organised defence, driving WBs, clever interplay across the middle and frontlines (despite an out and out striker), and superior non-negotiables, desperately needs an injection of zip, high tempo, high energy MGW to drive us over the line.

    Our 3-1-4-1-1 has served us with distinction so far. One crucial tweak is all we need.

  • That's really interesting, and I entirely agree about our lack of zip. The question is, who can provide this in the absence of MGW? Dhanda is the closest we've got, but I'm not convinced he's got the physicality required. Perhaps Arriola, who looked lively when he came on against Huddersfield. Or Manning?

  • edited February 24

    Totally agree about Cantwell and the role he played against us.For me he was a real handful,hopefully YD will develop as he has done.

  • edited February 24

    SC's style is to defend well and in depth to keep a clean sheet, build out down the wings primarily the right, and put crosses into the box. The building is patient and disciplined and often lacks pace. There are exceptions but that seems to be the primary approach.

    One difficulty is at this stage of the season teams have seen us play this way for some time. Lately teams are countering by pressing well and with a high line, overloading the wings especially the right and countering with quick attacks through the middle, and sad to say its working.

    If there was a time for a change in formation and approach, at least in some matches, now may be the time. We need a plan B to play in the match without having to change the team that starts on the pitch. otherwise more and more teams will set up similarly certain in the style we will play.

    I could see a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1 working against this approach from the opposition with Manning (or Jamal) and Arriola on either side of the midfield 4 and Jamal (or Manning) and Arriola on either side of the three as inverted wingers

  • This is is our $64m puzzle right now. Our defensive set-ups are solid, focus needs to be on the AM space in our quest for promo.

    Our closest fit to a Cantwell is probably Grimes. High energy, clever interplay, deft left peg (and seemingly a wicked shot, and would drive our high press.

    May even consider a 4-2-3-1, with Grimes in the 3. Smith alongside CH in the 2. CH as our quarterback orchestrating, protected behind by Guehi (a budding CDM) and Bennett's positional prowess., and protected alongside with Smith (and of course Grimes who will always provide deep box-box cover).

    Agree re Dhanda, lacks impact and physicality, too often ragdolled by the bigger teams.

  • Don’t know why but this stream keeps putting me to 😴

  • @Gingergit

    Its either age or too much sugar!


  • @Gingergit

    I know how you feel.


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