Teams and Tactics
Martinez made two changes to the Fulham line-up with James McCarthy back from suspension to replace Leon Osman and Kevin Mirallas coming in for the injured Gerard Deulofeu. The hosts made numerous changes; in goal, Tremmel replaced Vorm and in defence Tiendalli was given a start in place of the suspended Rangel with pony tailed fairy Chico coming back into the centre of defence. Further forward, Routledge came in for Dyer on the left and Bony replaced Michu in a similar 4-2-3-1 setup to ourselves.
The first half wasn’t much of a spectacle and contained limited action in either side’s penalty boxes.
This season Swansea have averaged a league high of 62.3% possession at home compared to our 58.5% away from home – second only to Man City. Breaking down Swansea’s forward passing angles whilst maintaining our own flow were therefore the big challenge here and our tactical approach was the usual one we have adopted against the Swans in previous meetings. When our hosts had the ball our wide players tucked in and blocked off forward passes through the middle. This worked fairly well and Swansea’s passing was predominantly in their defensive third between Chico and Williams with us dominating territory to the tune of 70% in the first 20 minutes.
In this early spell we also successfully forced Swansea into mistakes in their own half with one notable example being when McCarthy robbed Chico to play in Mirallas, however the Belgian was having a patchy game and was wasteful when the opportunity presented itself.
As the half went on we became less effective at winning the ball back in the Swansea half. When we did win the ball back our passing was a tad slow and we failed to generate much down the flanks particularly on the right where Coleman was well reined in by Routledge.
This resulted in us creating just 1 chance from open play in the first half – pretty awful in comparison to our usual yield. Up front, Lukaku in particular was having one of those afternoon’s where little seemed to stick. The ‘Big Belgian’ won no fouls against his marker and seemed to devote more time waving his arms about in frustration at his teammates service than in ragging his marker into the ground. It was Barkley’s ability to receive in tight areas, turn and drive into the Swansea half that was our only real outlet in the opening half with the youngster forcing Swansea into repeated fouls in the opening period.
After the relatively insipid first half, expectations for the second were relatively low. With our possession failing to suck in Swansea combined with our hosts maintaining their shape on the ball well, it seemed deadlock was the only certainty.
What benefited us most after the break was that we started moving the ball a bit quicker and again it was the wing backs who were central to the action. Firstly Oviedo absolutely bust a gut to drive forward and feed Pienaar inside. The South African then played in Barkley – sporting a Gravesen style shaved head – however in true erratic Gravesen style Barkley’s legs gave way and our best chance of the match had gone. Shortly after, the dynamic youngster drove through the middle of the pitch and fizzed a shot onto Tremmel’s bar with Swansea by now rocking.
On the right flank, Coleman was being a lot more positive on the ball and was repeatedly committing Davies and the now flagging Routledge. The Irish marauder was rewarded for his relentless positivity with the opening goal of the game as he ‘latched’ onto the excellent McCarthy’s pass to hit an absolute humdinger of a shot that curled away from Tremmel and into the net.
Swansea’s game plan after the break was to attack down us down our left flank with Tiendalli’s link play with Hernandez the most frequent passing combination of any players on the pitch and with Hernandez making the most passes in the final third from either side. This consequently led to Oviedo spending the bulk of the second half back peddling in his own half and having to make more tackles than anyone on the pitch. Just four minutes after the Coleman goal Swansea struck level and it was Tiendalli who got it after he connected with a cross from the left by Ben Davies. From a defensive point of view it was a poor goal to concede, with the communication between Pienaar and Oviedo very dubious. Still, it was a highly fortuitous goal with the strike going wide until the deflection from Oviedo.
Ultimately it wasn’t to be a big factor, as we went down the other end and won the game with another brilliant goal. After a Coleman style marauding run from the superb James McCarthy was checked by Ben Davies, Barkley completed his Gravesen transformation by delivering a sumptuous free kick from outside the box into the roof of the net to win the game for the toffees.
After a frustrating first half when we managed to nullify Swansea but do very little ourselves in the final third, the second half was more open and we created a lot more chances. Laudrup felt afterwards that Swansea had been unlucky and statistically they did create more chances from open play than us, albeit with fewer shots on target. In terms of possession Swansea also shaded it but a lot of it was in our half with us edging the territory figures. Ultimately the positivity on the ball shown by Coleman and Barkley combined with the relentless drive of McCarthy in midfield were the key differentials that made us deserving of a three point haul which takes us back into the top 4 and with an outside chance of going top on Boxing Day.