There was a time when the Swans had a habit of conceding goals from set pieces. It was a big weakness of ours that certain teams liked to exploit. Particularly the sort of teams managed by Tony Pulis who like to rely on set pieces for goals so today was a big test of how they’d cope defensively and they came out of it with flying colours as Potter’s side kept their fourth clean sheet of the season.
It wasn’t until Paul Clement came in as manager that we finally sorted out our set-piece defending issues for good. That was one key area that the now Reading boss significantly helped us improve in.
To put it into numbers, Paul Clement saw his side go 17 games without conceding a goal from a set piece. As a comparison, in the previous 17 games before his arrival, we conceded 7 goals from set pieces, and another two in the previous 3 games before that. Under Francesco Guidolin in 2016 was a particular time when we struggled against set pieces and we were dropping a good number of points as a result but now it appears to be one of our best strengths thanks to the defensive pairing of Joe Rodon and captain Mike van der Hoorn.
The zonal vs man marking has been a long-standing debate now particularly amongst tv pundits and co-commentators. A set piece goal is scored against a zonal-marking system and more often than not a co-commentator or pundit will comment on the use of zonal marking, yet you’ll rarely hear the same thing heard when the same happens against man-marking.
I’m a fan of zonal marking – if it’s done right and you have the right defenders. The turnaround under Paul Clement was down to his zonal-marking system. Graham Potter is also using zonal-marking to great effect as we’ve only conceded one set-piece goal in 9 games this season.
After today’s 0-0 draw at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis praised Swansea’s set-piece defending:
“Swansea defended ever so well off set plays. When things do go our way in the final third we win games, but when they don’t … that’s where games are won and lost.
“Defensively they had one chance in the first half, they didn’t cause problems other than that.
“We needed a break, we needed the one that hit the bar off George, and the one that got blocked. It needed a goal, we played some good football.
“For set plays, they got bodies behind the ball.”