Tactical Analysis: New Swansea – Possession with Penetration

Last season Brendan Rodgers was given high praise for the style of play Swansea was playing. A high possession percentages and an aggressive pressing style caught the eye of those across the country and were given the nickname “Swansealona” for their similar “tiki-taka” style to the Catalan giants.

However upon further inspection, it could be criticised that Swansea played too safe and played easy possession in safe areas of the field, statistics show that Swansea were the 3rd worst team in Europe’s top 5 leagues in terms of possessions-to-shots ratio, averaging only 12 shots per game with their 56% average possession.

Swansea finished the season with only 22% of their attacking play taking place in the opposition half, the worst in the league and 31% of their play occurring in their own half, the second highest beaten by Blackburn. These statistics show that possession stats can be deceiving, but rather territorial possession tells a more detailed, accurate story to how a team plays.

But regardless of this, Rodgers and his team can be more than proud of their achievements in their first ever appearance in the Premier League. They were an inspiration and a model to other promoted teams that survival can be attained without having to sacrifice pass and move based football, the common theme with promoted teams is that defence and a safety first approach is the most effective way of competing when fighting for survival, Swansea can be proud that they broke this mould emphatically.


Manager Switch, Player’s Roles Switched

In the summer of the 2012/2013 season, Rodgers was appointment the new Liverpool manager with the view of him being able to impose his style with the Merseyside team, Swansea made a greater appointment with Danish legend Michael Laudrup taking the helm.

Laudrup’s view on football is similar to those of the Guardiola’s, Wenger’s and Rodger’s of football, possession football, high pressing, fluid movement and emphasis on attacking through the middle.

As soon as he took charge of his first match, the influence of Laudrup was clear to see. Under previous managers, the wingers at Swansea were asked to provide width for the team, and the fullbacks were used predominantly in the build-up.

This time the roles are reversed, the wingers are asked to come inside and create overloads in areas outside the box and provide support for Danny Graham, the space that they vacate are then taken by advancing fullbacks who provide width and penetration in areas that are usually afforded to them by teams defending the width of their box.
By committing them forward, Swansea ensured there was always a safe pass available if the central areas became too congested to play into; this is a common theme that occurs in teams who wish to play possession football.


Midfield Adaptation

Another aspect that Laudrup changed was the role of the midfielders, under Rodger’s, Sigurdsson was the focal point of the attack and Joe Allen was the metronome of which possession was played through in order to advance further up the pitch.

However under Laudrup Michu and De Guzman were brought in to replace the departed duo and in doing so, Swansea have become more effective in their possession play.

Sigurdsson use to receive the ball much higher up the field and link directly with the striker, this was effective when Swansea were playing a team who didn’t play a structured defence and used a pressing system instead, but was less effective when teams sat deep and squashed the space he wanted to operate in.

In contrast, Michu is more adept and picking the ball deeper, this providing more avenues to pass into. His positioning is a key feature of his game and consistently encourages the ball to be fed to him for him to half turn into space ahead of him.

Michu is a forward thinking player but has special qualities when it comes to ball retention, as you can see from the image, he operates in the same sort of areas as De Guzman, which allows better ball circulation and combination play between the midfielder.

With the wingers coming inside and linking with Graham further up the field, there is no need for a sacrifice in numbers in the central attacking zones.

When Joe Allen was plying his trade with Swansea, his role in the team was to be the link between Leon Britton and Sigurdsson. His style of play offers safe and accurate passing and a good tempo setting ability. The disadvantage of his style is a lack of penetration and also combination play too deep to have an effect on the attacking part of the play.

Laudrup, by bringing in De Guzman, solved this issue. De Guzman predominantly starts as a deep midfielder playing next to Britton but once Swansea are playing further up the field, he follows his passes and begins to affect the play in the upper midfield third.

His passing may not always be as safe as Joe Allen, but is far more penetrative and incisive, Leon Britton continues to be the metronome of the team and supplying passes to the more creative members of the team.


If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It

Although every manager makes changes to a team they manage, Laudrup provided continuity in terms of the defence style and shape, the passing philosophy that was imprinted into the club through Martinez and Rodgers and also the behaviour and movement of the striker.

By doing this, it quickens the transition between managers and allows the team to play the way they are used to.

Swansea didn’t have many flaws in their team last season, and anything they did need fixing, Laudrup has attended to it swiftly, only time will tell whether he made the right decisions.


New Swansea

This new Swansea combines possession with penetration, the football they have played so far this season has been a joy to watch and should get better once Laudrup truly makes his mark on the team.

Critics of Swansea last year had justification, but can say little about the new Swansea.

Laudrup has ensured that the team plays a brand of football that he was known to play during his playing career, and has realised quickly that the players he manages may not be the best in the world, but are brilliant at what he wants them to do: “You can’t ask players to do things that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are doing, but you can ask the easy things. Sometimes the easiest things in football, a simple pass five or eight yards, can be the most effective. That, everybody can learn.”


Written by Zaheer Shah

Follow him on Twitter @ZazooShah

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