1. Swansea’s season so far…
Brendan Rodgers has rightly been lauded for the way his side have lightened up what has been a very stagnant and average quality Premier League season. They have been so good that even the wooden tops on motd have ushered the immortal words of condescension previously reserved for Hull and Blackpool of ‘they’re like a breath of fresh air’
The Swans have played some terrific stuff this season with a fluid short passing offensive game harnessed by a great work ethic and intensive pressing in the defensive phase of play leading to them keeping 12 clean sheets so far. Since the turn of the year they have been more free scoring too thanks to the superb loan acquisition of Sigurdsson from Hoffenheim, who Rodgers worked with previously at Reading.
The best thing about their style is that it shows you don’t have to play the direct, dour percentage football adopted by other sides that have come up such as Pulis or the run blocking, tactical fouling model of O’Neill.
2. How to play them?
Against a side who keeps the ball like Swansea do there is perhaps a plan A and Plan B you can use. ‘Plan A’ is to let them have the ball, conserve energy by only pressing when they approach 20 yards from your goal. Plan B is to stop them playing from the source – their top keeper Michel Vorm – recruited from Utrecht as much for his ability on the ball as for his goalkeeping prowess. In midfield, Leon Britton has the best ball retention stats in the top flight with a 93% pass completion and 1574 successful passes in total – the 3rd most in the top flight.
If you opt for plan B than Stracquilarsi would appear a certain starter given the similar job he did in the recent game against Chelsea. Given the small squad and the more important game on Tuesday I’d doubt very much if Moyes would adopt an energy sapping tactic like Plan B and will instead adopt Plan A and look to stand off, narrow the passing angles to Swansea’s defenders and push them to play longer.
The Blues won 1-0 in a very entertaining game at L4 just before Christmas. Swansea had the bulk of possession ( 54%) and kept the ball better than the Blues (82%) but we looked more incisive in the final third than our opponents and secured the points when Osman rose ‘like a salmon’ to head home Drenthe’s delicious cross. As per point 2, Moyes looked to close out passing angles from Vorn to Swansea ’s defensive distributors.
If there is a critique of the Swans its that their domination of the ball is mostly in their own half and they lack penetration to force their way into the final third. Crucially, in the game at Goodison of the successful passes made 27% of ours were made in the final third whilst only 16% of Swansea’s occurred in our final third. The below image shows the average positions of the players in this game…Everton in blue obviously…
I think Moyes will certainly shuffle his pack for this one given the looming cup game on Tuesday night. I’d expect Stracquilarsi, Anichebe and perhaps Gueye to get run outs whilst Pienaar is cup tied for Tues so will probably start also. I’d imagine Cahill, Jelavic and possibly Drenthe will all be rested whilst at the back it wouldn’t be a surprise if Distin was rested for the Jag. Swansea will probably adopt a similar 4-4-1-1 with Sigurdsson in ‘the hole’ behind top scorer Graham. Centre back Williams is their only injury doubt heading into this one.
Make no mistake; this is going to be a very tricky fixture for the Blues on a ground where few teams have come away with anything this season. We average less than a goal a game on our travels which puts big pressure on keeping clean sheets in order to get wins on the road. Given the way the derby was conceded its unlikely Moyes will have too many qualms about writing off this fixture also if it means getting an advantage for Tuesday’s season defining tussle at the Stadium of Light. If my head rules my heart I’d go with 1-0 Swansea in this one but I could see defences coming out on top.