Detailed tactical Match Analysis as Swansea City lose 4-0 to title hopefuls Manchester United at the Liberty Stadium.
The scoreline might immediately suggest that it was something of a thrashing for Paul Clement`s side, but like the Swansea boss said afterwards, the scoreline was harsh on his players, and somewhat flattered the visitors – who were devastatingly clinical after late subs were made in the hope of cancelling out United`s opening goal on the stroke of half time.
The game saw the Swans switch to a 3-5-2 system for only the second time in the Premier League – the last time was last season when Francesco Guidolin trialled it out against Chelsea before quickly switching within 20 minutes.
But Clement made it work against Manchester United, his side setting up to frustrate and outnumber Mourinho`s side in their own half, but it still lacked a route forward to attack de Gea`s goal.
Swansea`s new 3-5-2 system allowed them to always have a man extra in all key defensive situations. With a third centre back, Kyle Bartley – tasked with man-marking dangerman Romelu Lukaku, this allowed full backs Kyle Naughton and Martin Olsson to push out and defend in wide positions.
This was rarely needed though as Mourinho didn`t give his full backs the freedom to move too far forward down the flanks.
Swansea`s defensive discipline
The Swans were reluctant to apply pressure on the opposition when they were in their own half. Time and time again, Matic was given plenty of time and space to bring the ball out from the back.
But Swansea`s discipline to remain in their own half before applying tight pressure allowed them to maintain a good distance between midfield and defensive lines – giving United no space to cause a threat in between the lines.
You can see below how Swansea`s shape below makes it difficult for Matic to pick a pass – despite him being under no pressure.
The obvious pass would be out wide to his full back Blind, but he probably knows that he too has no option other than to pass it back straight to him.
This was a common pattern of the game in the first half, as United recycled possession back and for before being forced to hit the ball long and direct to the likes of Lukaku and Rashford.
Swansea could have afforded here to apply some higher pressure, as they have plenty of players in strong defensive covering positions. Ayew at least could force Matic to rush his passes more and force more attacks. Abraham blocks a passing route to Pogba, Fer to Rashford, and Naughton prepares to apply pressure on Blind if he receives the ball.
But the Swans were always disciplined in their defensive game plan, as Matic moves forward with the ball and into Swansea`s half, they can now apply pressure on the ball, without losing their tight defensive shape.
You often see a block of 6 players defending the middle of the pitch, and this was key to limiting United to half chances.
Swans force United to kick long
Swansea`s disciplined and well organised defensive shape meant that United were often forced to kick the ball long and direct to get into the final third of the pitch.
Above, the Swans do a good job in blocking all forward passing routes, and Valencia – in possession – doesn`t even have a player near him to help work the ball across to the opposite side.
We also have a block of four defenders blocking into two United players, while Kyle Bartley continues his role of man-marking Lukaku.
Swansea`s struggles going forward
While United couldn`t penetrate our defensive setup, we had problems of our own in trying to get forward and create chances on goal.
The main issue was the distance between front two and the rest of the team – it was so big that Abraham and Ayew were pretty much operating as a lone unit by themselves.
In the example below, the Swans go on the attack with the ball played down the right for Abraham to chase, but our lack of players committed forward and poor hold-up play from the front 2, the ball could never “stick” in the final third.
We don`t usually include manager quotes in the match analysis but Clement himself mentioned poor hold-up play that we had to include.
“I think both Tammy and Jordan needed to do better when the ball was played forward to them in securing it better,”
“They had good defenders right up behind them but they have to find ways of keeping the ball for the team and that enables you to get further forward.
“Their industry and effort was very good, but there were times I felt the ball should have stuck up front a bit better.”
It wasn`t just the front 2 that lacked support in the opposition`s half, but on many occasions other players were either forced to pass backwards or were putting in ambitious and hopeful crosses from deep positions.
Below, Kyle Naughton lacks support down the right flank, with United also doing a good job in getting numbers back behind the ball and blocking forward passing routes.
Below, the Swans start a counter attack with Tom Carroll, but with a lack of support through the middle – just Abraham and Ayew ahead of him, he has to back track.
Rather than passing backwards this time, Kyle Naughton tries a cross from deep, despite the likes of forwards Abraham and Ayew standing outside of the box.
Above, another long, hopeful ball is punted forward for Ayew to chase, but he`s on his own up against three United players, so it was always going to be difficult for the front 2 to do anything productive.
United open the scoring with a set piece
United never really looked like scoring in the first half, so a set piece was needed to break the deadlock.
I`m sure Paul Clement was fuming at half time to see us concede in the manner we did. Right before half time, it changed the game completely, as Clement probably wouldn`t have been forced to make such drastic changes later on that allowed the visitors to score 3 goals in quick succession.
Clement, with his zonal marking coaching ability, made us a side that didn`t concede from a set piece until the very last game of the season last year – and that was mainly down to some poor goalkeeping from Nordfeldt.
But this goal was more reminiscent of games under the likes of Guidolin or Bradley, as we got it badly wrong.
Initial zonal marking setup:
The Swans set up in their zonal marking system, but things go wrong once the ball is delivered.
Below, as two or three United players make moves towards the ball (to the right), this takes a few Swansea players with them.
Paul Pogba hangs back though, giving himself 2 yards of space, as Alfie Mawson remains in his spot and doesn`t pick him up – allowing him a free header that Fabianski did well to keep out. I`ve no idea what Fernandez was trying to do though before Bailly knocked it in on the line!
Swansea`s second half slight defensive shape change
The Swans started off the second half and played a bit further forward as the screenshot below shows.
Fer pushes further forward – almost level with the front 2 strikers who force United to play some quick passes out from the back, rather than allowing Matic all the time in the world to bring the ball forward.
Below we see the same sort of problems for United as in the second half – Matic finding it difficult to pick out a pass, and rarely making use of the space in wide areas. Now and again, the former Chelsea midfielder who play balls out to the flanks, but the Swans were able to quickly move out – denying Valencia opportunities to run down the right.
Swansea`s defensive shape and stability continues, as they outnumber United in all areas – proving the defensive reliability on the 3-5-2 system – or should that be 5-3-2.
Fernandez is marking nobody – he doesn`t have to of course, and yet we still outnumber the opposition all over the pitch. Bartley again man marks Lukaku – and gave him absolutely no chance to hold on to the ball. Mkhitaryan has both Mawson and Olsson for company, Carroll tracks Rashford as Mesa closes down Pogba. Fer too is marking nobody at this stage, while Naughton can follow Blind.
Swansea`s first half problems also continued into the second half – big distances between players, and players lacking support and having to “go it alone”.
Crosses still keep coming in from deep positions, this time it`s Carroll sending in an ambitious cross:
The screenshot shows an example of how the front two didn`t function together with the midfield. They`re in possession here but the front two aren`t even in the picture. Therefore, all we can do with the ball in the middle third is play around with it in our own half.
Naughton receives the ball below, and the full back is stuck for options. Mesa is in a vulnerable position where he is, as there`s two United players near him, Fer can move forward into the space, but a failed pass leaves gaps open in midfield for the counter attack.
And the strikers are still out of the picture.
When the front 2 did get on the ball in the final third, they were surrounded by a group of United players, and it would have taken something Messi-esque to put themselves into a decent shooting position.
The Swans have a decent chance in the screenshot below to start an attacking move, as Carroll can pick out Ayew, but he really needs a player in the shaded area to work off. Fer is trying to keep up, but there`s a United player well-placed to block him off. A plyer like Bony or Llorente might have been able to hold on to the ball here long enough whilst waiting for support, but Ayew and Abraham – like Clement said – don`t have that ability.
What went wrong after the substitutions
As the clock ticked on and our attacking problems carried on and on, Clement had to make some changes to boost our chances of putting the scores level again.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the subs he made saw a drastic shape change that did little to improve our attacking potential, whilst losing our defensive stability.
As more players were committed forward to apply pressure and offer support, this left the likes of Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Rashford waiting in space to receive the ball once it was recovered and start counter attacks up against our back four.
This game again showed our lack of options from the bench. Better players might have been able to have caused more problems to eliminate the risk of the counter, but United were clever – as Mourinho teams always are, as they kept the game safe – controlled possession before waiting for their moments to kill the game off.
The screenshot below shows a typical scenario with the Swans out of possession and applying higher pressure in United`s half. With the two central midfielders also further forward, this left big gaps through the middle, leaving the defense without cover.
The goals flood in
Following the changes, the Swans lose their key defensive qualities of the 3-5-2 system – the block of 6, Bartley man-marking Lukaku and two close defensive and midfield lines.
The image below shows the start of United`s second goal, as the ball is played into Lukaku – the striker can now get involved in the play as Bartley is brought off.
The gap between the defence and midfield has grown a lot bigger, leaving plenty of space in between them for Rashford to play off Lukaku – who`s a few yards in front of Fernandez.
As the move progresses, Swansea defenders are all sucked in towards the ball, and Lukaku pulls back in space inside the penalty area – he gets picked out and he easily finishes to confirm the three points.
Below, Fer tries to do some clever swivel on the ball, it goes horribly wrong and United can continue moving forward in possession.
Lukaku is now in space while Blind is too out wide, now that Naughton can`t stay in a wide position.
The second goal was a bit of a gift, as Carroll concedes possession with a poor pass just inside United`s half, Pogba intercepts a pass and another counter attack begins.
Fer`s attitude as we were conceding the 3 goals was poor to say the least, he appears to be interested when the team is in possession, but not so much when we`re under pressure.
He was jogging back slowly as United broke forward and he pretty much gave up on following Pogba as he ran through to score their third.
We found ourselves in vulnerable positions whilst in possession, as plenty of United players were in the middle third and waiting to counter attack if we made a mis-placed pass.
Below, there`s too much distance between players to pass effectively, there`s nobody in the middle of the pitch, and you can see how United were able to play right through us.
The fourth goal was a similar situation, possession lost, players further forward and United able to just run 60 yards through us to score.
I don`t disagree with Clement`s decision to make the changes, but they just seemed a bit too drastic at the time. I felt that if we had someone like Llorente on the pitch, we could have carried on in the same shape, but simply added Narsingh`s pace to give us a different dimension. At least with Llorente available, we always have a set piece threat and could have made more use with the crosses, but Ayew and Abraham weren`t able to make things happen for themselves up top.
The 3-5-2 was defensively effective in denying Manchester United goalscoring chances from open play, but it really lacked the ability to create at the other end. Like Clement said, it needed better hold-up play from the front 2 and I’m hopeful it’ll be better balanced and more useful in an attacking sense when Llorente is back fit.
Match Analysis: Swansea City 0-4 Manchester United
Detailed tactical Match Analysis as Swansea City lose 4-0 to title hopefuls Manchester United at the Liberty Stadium.