Three clean sheets in the last five Championship games for Swansea City sees them in joint second place for the most amount of clean sheets so far this season with twelve, only Bournemouth have a higher total with 13.
— The Near Post (@TheNearPostEFL) February 7, 2022
That statistic might well be a headscratcher to a large number of Swansea City fans having watched some of our defensive displays this season. How have we kept so many clean sheets yet looked so awful at the back in other games?
As someone else on Twitter pointed out, when we do concede goals we concede in high numbers and in 6 games so far, we’ve conceded 3 goals or more.
If we look at our opening 12 games where we see the bulk of those clean sheets – eight – including a four-game run of clean sheets, we can also see that in the 4 games where we conceded, 3 of them saw us concede 3 and 2 in the other.
In the 16 games that followed, we kept just 5 clean sheets, 3 of them coming in the last 5 games.
Far too often we’ve conceded first goals in games by gifting teams goals by our own mistakes with the ball – giving ourselves a bit of a mountain to climb, chasing draws instead of chasing wins.
The key to that tally of clean sheets is our possession game. I would argue that only in the Blackburn game did we really show some solid defending throughout the game to keep a clean sheets.
For the majority of the others, it was mainly down to our control of the game and limiting the opposition to very few opportunities due to our high possession.
‘If we’ve got the ball, they can’t score’ type of thing.
If we look at some of the games where we’ve conceded a high number of goals, we can see a trend.
That trend being that the opposition have done an effective job of targeting our main weakness – conceding high turnovers and the opposition teams punishing us.
Blackburn on the opening day was a clear example of that. It was very early days and we were constantly losing the ball in our attempts to play out from the back and one such move resulted in goalkeeper Steven Benda conceding a penalty.
Two games later at home against Stoke City, we concede three and again, we conceded at least one goal from our own mistake and our own possession in our own defensive third.
Four clean sheets in a row then followed, with two 1-0 wins and two 0-0 draws.
Preston, Hull, Millwall or Bristol City were able to really cause us many problems when playing out from the back and so our clean sheets were safe.
Luton Town, however, gave us huge problems. Their energetic and intense pressing forced errors throughout and they didn’t take long to race into a 3-goal lead.
Fulham’s quality then showed 11 days later as they comfortably beat us 3-1 at Craven Cottage.
Bournemouth also took advantage of some of our possession play in deep areas as they picked us off in the second half and a promising first 45 to beat us 4-0.
Defeats at home to Reading (3 goals conceded) and Forest (4) also saw us committing individual mistakes to gift the opposition goals and victories.
So the argument here is, how bad is our defending, really?
First of all, when we do concede goals, we tend to concede a few and we do look very, very poor at the back. But I would still argue that it’s partly down to our style of play and our shape. We’re particularly vulnerable down the flanks and in the channels because our wing-backs play so high up the pitch, leaving gaps in wide areas to exploit on the transition.
Our wide centre-backs then sometimes cover these areas which can then leave us vulnerable in central areas.
Teams are at their most vulnerable just after losing possession. They’re out of their defensive shape and we’ve so many times now how desperate we are in trying to get back into shape that before we can, teams are countered quickly and scored.
Is this just poor defending? We adopt a high risk, high reward strategy which isn’t going to make defences look good when it goes wrong.
High risks as Russell Martin is happy to play Kyle Naughton and Ryan Manning in a back three. Neither of which are centre-backs nor have the height to best suit the roles but they’re there for their technical and passing ability.
For the 2nd goal, Latibeaudiere loses possession further up the pitch and Hull can quickly break. pic.twitter.com/x7Jd6hMi4D
— Vital Swansea (@VitalSwansea) January 30, 2022
And they release a player down their left pic.twitter.com/xxQYkUuQKX
— Vital Swansea (@VitalSwansea) January 16, 2022
We often discuss our defence and the need for better players at the back but it’s not always because they can’t defend, but more often because they don’t suit Russell Martin’s philosophy and they don’t look comfortable trying to pass their way out after receiving the ball short from the goalkeeper.
Ben Cabango is the perfect example. Russell Martin has been praising him in recent weeks for his consistent performances. In another team, one more focused on maintaining a defensive shape, he would look like a much better player but he can look uncomfortable at times under pressure trying to play out.
It would be interesting to see how many of our goals conceded this season have been a result of our own mistakes in possession. I would guess it would be a rather high number. If we can improve that side of our game which Russell Martin sounds confident will happen, then I’m convinced we’ll pick up more points this season. Far too often we’ve conceded first goals in games by gifting teams goals by our own mistakes with the ball – giving ourselves a bit of a mountain to climb, chasing draws instead of chasing wins.