- Last Active
In the early stages of the game yesterday we just about shaded possession, which was commented on at the time. There wasn't much to distinguish between the teams at that stage. But as soon as they scored their rather lucky goal it wasn't surprising that Boro dropped deeper and were happy to cede territory and possession. Although we got better with the introduction of Dhanda (Routledge and Gyokeras were disappointing in comparison) there was a tendency throughout the game to attempt to force our way up the pitch through over-long passes, which is very reminiscent of how we played under Monk. Not hoofball as such, more 30-40 yards into the feet of Ayew, who annoyingly tries to dribble from all over the pitch rather than laying the ball off.
As a result of this impatient play we fail to build any sort of control in the middle third and use that dominance as the base for attacking the final third. On the rare occasion when we're more patient, we look a team, and a lot of our goals stem from the sporadic phases of patient play. Even though Ayew's equaliser against Wednesday was a bit of superb individual skill, the build-up leading to the goal was a patient probing one.
Another illustration of how we've evolved (or rather de-evolved) under Cooper is our approach to throw-ins. Last night Roberts - one of our better footballers - was launching long throw after long throw down the line. Great to get play away from the danger area, poor at retaining possession. If we were brave with the ball under Rodgers or Potter, we're cowards under Cooper.
Well though we played, something that hasn't been acknowledged is Millwall's failure to press us high up the pitch, apart perhaps for the opening 10 minutes or so. It follows a consistent theme, when we're given the room to play we look a decent side, but when we're pressed hard our game disintegrates. It will be interesting to see what approach Wednesday adopt, and how we respond. Has Cooper learned from our previous struggles? Only time will tell.
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 think the comparison with Laudrup is wide of the mark (no pun intended). Context is key here. Laudrup made those comments about possession after taking over from Rodgers' Swanselona side, that averaged 526 passes per match in winning promotion from the Championship, nearly 100 more average passes than Arsenal - the leading passers in the Premier League at that time. We also averaged 61% possession, the same as Arsenal. So, Laudrup's comments came after we'd been practicing a fairly extreme version of the passing game. However, Laudrup was still very much a possession-oriented manager, albeit but one who looked to get the ball forwards more quickly than Rodgers did. In that respect he probably has more in common with Bielsa, or a latter day Guardiola or Klopp - all of whose teams still very much dominate possession as well as breaking swiftly on the opposition. You can tell what Laudrup's core principles were in the latter days of his tenure, when we degenerated into the very thing he was alluding to in those comments - a team that maintained possession but had very little go forwards. In stark contrast, under Cooper at our worst we still play generally well defensively - it's the possession that goes out of the window.
This doesn't mean that possession, or playing a progressive brand of football is completely irrelevant to Cooper's philosophy, it's just that it's secondary to the primary objective - of maintaining defensive shape and discipline. It's an add-on rather than a core principle of how we go about things. One week we play some lovely stuff - such as against Cardiff, Watford, and Forest in the cup recently, and to an extent in both matches against Norwich - I nearly fell off my chair when Ayew and Roberts exchanged passes 4 or 5 times in the build-up to a good opportunity second half that the otherwise excellent Fulton spurned with a misplaced cut-back. But then we can be completely outfootballed by the likes of Brentford, or harried into a degenerate hoofball game by lesser opponents (Derby, Barnsley, Luton).
Although it's tempting at times to compare Cooper's approach to that of a Warnock or a Pulis, that isn't fair either, as we do play football a fair bit, when it's expedient to do so. A fairer comparison might be a manager like Roy Hodgson. A very well respected and capable manager, with a great pedigree, but who places great store, like Cooper, on defensive organisation and shape first and foremost, and looks to play mainly on the counter-attack. He may have failed at Liverpool and England, but to have been even given the opportunity says a lot about his strengths. If Cooper goes on to have the managerial career that Hodgson has had then he will have done very well. But I don't see anything to suggest that he's going to evolve into anything resembling a Guardiola, Klopp or even a Rodgers for that matter.
Well that was extremely predictable. No doubt many will have Cooper down as some sort of managerial genius. The team preparation must have taken all of a minute - if that. Defend your box, and any possession - just hoof it down field to anyone or no one. When you have players of Guehi, Roberts and Naughton's ability hoofing every single ball then you know that the tactics must have been pretty primitive. No doubt Cooper will feel totally vindicated by the goal, but the first 45 minutes were bad, very bad.
I wonder what his missus will make of her position in this pecking order:
"I play football for Swansea and sometimes for Wales. I am not in the house all the time and I can't always be in the garage. I have to cook, clean and spend some time with my missus."
I love the picture of his celebration from the Wales Hungary match. You could have a "spot the Connor" competition and no one would correctly guess where he appears in that picture.
Barnsley will be tough opponents tomorrow. Since Valeriean Ishmael took charge of his first match on October 27th they've been one of the form teams in the league with a record of 8 wins and only 4 defeats, a better points return of 24 than our own 21 in the same period.
If you look at the team statistics on whoscored.com Barnsley have a number of stand-out stats. Most surprisingly, they lead the way on shots faced per game, with their 8.9 shots per game comparing to our 9.8 (5th place). They also lead the way on tackles per game (17.5), which compares to our 14.4 (9th place). Remarkably, they also top the interceptions tables, with 14.5 interceptions per game, whilst we are a poor 19th with only 10.3.
This statistical profile points to an aggressive, tough tackling side that prevents team getting near their box, but when they fail to prevent teams getting in and around their box they are vulnerable to conceding.
The chance of a repetition of the Derby game based on the above seems to me to be very high, as that wasn't a one off. We struggled against lowly Coventry who pressed us aggressively. Likewise Luton, who were unlucky to lose against us.
The only notable scalp in their 8 victories, was Watford's, with all their other wins coming against lower-half teams. All 4 of their defeats, on the other hand, have come against teams currently in the top half of the table. So, this game will be a good test of whether we're the real deal, or may be occupying a false position in the play-offs.
Interesting to see that in that victory over Watford Barnsley used the 3-4-2-1 box formation, which I suggested in the Derby thread that we should adopt. I'm even more convinced now that we need to go this way, or at least change from a 3-5-2, because otherwise we face the prospect of being overloaded in midfield, which is what happened to Watford with their 3-5-2
"They [Barnsley] had set out to overload the midfield and were successfully able to that through the major portion of the game."
A big test of Cooper's tactical nous and flexibility. We'll learn a lot from this encounter.
Yes fatigue, mental and physical was a factor, but the way the two teams set up had a massive bearing on things. Take Roberts, I thought he had a decent second half after a very poor first one. If fatigue was such a factor you would have expected his performance to deteriorate, not improve. The big difference is that Derby stood off in the second half, and comfortably protected their lead, whereas first half they aggressively closed down Roberts in particular.
Teams that adopt a 4-3-3 and press us aggressively seem to get more joy than most. Cooper needs to be alert to this, and when things clearly aren't going our way needs to change things sooner rather than later. The killer second goal had been coming for some time, but Cooper chose to wait until half-time to change things. Big mistake.
Despite the result I though perhaps our best footballing performance of the season came against Norwich. We need to adopt a similarly enterprising approach against Bournemouth. We have enough quality to give Bournemouth a good game, but whether we play that way depends on the manager. How we play on Tuesday will be a good indicator as to whether we have the tactical flexibility to sustain a challenge over the course of the season.
To be fair we started the game really well, not just up to the early goal, but for the first quarter of an hour or so. Lots of tempo, movement off the ball, one-touch football, short passing triangles. I was beginning to indulge in the conceit that Cooper reads this message board. As if...
Credit to Nathan Jones. They set up to defend quite deep, understandably not expecting us to start in such dynamic fashion. But he soon changed things and went for the high press. As soon as that happened we didn't cope at all, and the curse of the over-long pass reared its ugly head again. I'd love to watch the game again if only to see how many times we surrendered possession by playing 30/40 yard passes into Ayew's feet, or vaguely in an upfield direction. Ayew's not bad at holding the ball up to be fair, but far too often passes were being intercepted or possession was being coughed up on the second phase because we couldn't cope with the aggressive press. And how did Cooper respond? By doing very little. The fact that we only had 45% possession against a team that were reduced to 10 men for over 20 minutes is frankly embarrassing. Luton deserved a draw at the very least, we just got lucky.
Cooper just doesn't value or understand the possession game. We often have short intervals in games where we pass the ball fluently, but they happen so infrequently it's obviously not a central part of Cooper's game plan. Our defensive organisation and resilience is probably good enough for us to sustain a challenge near the top of the league, but it's not going to be much fun. The Swansea Way it most definitely ain't.
It will be interesting to see if Guehi recovers from the boot to his head. If not, then we may have to revert to a 4-2-3-1. If it means we start playing more football then it may be a blessing in disguise. I won't be holding my breath though...