Date: 25th January 2018 at 10:07pm
Written by:

Detailed tactical analysis of Swansea City’s incredible 1-0 home win against Liverpool, as Alfie Mawson’s 40th-minute strike was enough to end the Red’s 18-match unbeaten run.

Swans boss Carlos Carvalhal adopted, as expected a defensive 3-5-2 system and it worked perfectly; frustrating Liverpool whilst picking up that priceless goal that exposed Klopp’s side’s set-piece vulnerability once again.

As is the norm one hour before kick-off, there was no lack of eyebrows raised and questions asked about Carlos’ choices. Kyle Naughton’s return from suspension meant there was no place for youngster Connor Roberts in the matchday squad. In midfield, Leroy Fer was given a rare start ahead of Carroll who dropped to the bench. Clucas kept his place and produced his best performance of the season. Up top, Ayew was joined by Dyer has Bony settled again for a place on the bench.

Swansea’s defensive shape

The Swans set up in a 5-4-1 defensive shape in which they looked to play long, direct balls forward in an effort to counter-attack when re-gaining possession in their own half. Liverpool committed players forward, as defenders would bring the ball forward into our half, but this left gaps further forward.

It was defensive, but there were one or two players given more freedom to push forward and press. Usually, it was Dyer or Clucas and Fer.

The Swans picked their moments – when to press and when to drop off, depending on where Liverpool had possession on the pitch, but always ensured they blocked passing routes and/or closely marked opposition players.

Liverpool lost for ideas

Swansea’s defensive setup and effort off the ball frustrated Liverpool more and more as each minute passed, as they found it very difficult to get behind Swansea’s two tight lines of five and four.

When Liverpool were able to get the ball near the edge of the penalty area, the Swans always had at least two defenders ready to watch balls played through and Liverpool attackers making runs in behind. Klopp’s side attempted these moves on numerous occasions, but the centre-back trio was always equal to them.

There were moments when the Swans set up slightly differently, usually when Liverpool were still in possession in the middle third. They could afford for a midfielder to push further forward to press. In the example below, Clucas applies pressure, forming a front 3 ahead of a midfield duo. This was also their attacking shape on the counter.

Swansea counter attack

In order to pose any attacking threat whilst adopting such defensive tactics, Carvalhal told his team to get forward with one or two quick, long direct passes – usually into wide areas to limit their vulnerability if these passes were intercepted.

To counter, we had to apply some pressure in our own half, winning back possession and looking to catch Liverpool – who did leave big areas of open space.

When possession was won, the likes of Ayew and Clucas would quickly race forward; Olsson would also offer wide support down the left.

Clucas pushing forward formed a front 3, either wide left of a front three or operating as a central false nine.

Swansea’s winning goal

As the Swans grew into the game during the first half, they were able to win a few corners – with two in quick succession just 5 minutes before the break.

van Dijk was disappointed with the way he conceded the second corner, but he would have been even more disappointed with his poor header that failed to clear the danger just before Mawson’s strike.

Liverpool prefers zonal marking, which has been heavily blamed for their poor record at defending set pieces, but plenty of other teams have other teams – Swansea included – have benefited from the system.

Klopp adopts a zonal system below, but he does have a man marking each of our two centre-backs – the goalscorer Alfie Mawson and Mike van der Hoorn – possibly identifying them as our strongest assets in these situations.

As the ball comes in (below), Liverpool leave a large open space at the back post, where Dyer could benefit if the ball was flicked-on into this area.

Mawson and van der Hoorn’s markers both go up with them in an effort to win the ball. van Dijk leaves his zone to try and dominate the situation and clear the danger.

van Dijk is the player that wins the header, but having climbed over a team-mate, he can only get a weak connection to the ball – simply heading it downwards, leaving the ball still bouncing around in the middle of the penalty area. Fernandez get a crucial touch, helping the ball fall nicely for Mawson to pick out the bottom corner from 12 yards.

Second half

Liverpool’s dominance grew in the second half, as the Swans found it even more difficult to find opportunities to counter-attack.

The screenshot below shows an example of the space that was available, as Liverpool had to quickly track-back, but these were moments were few and far between in the opening 20 minutes of the second half.

Swansea were able to congest the central areas, as Liverpool were happy to move the ball through the middle, without overloading the flanks, meaning the Swans were never stretched across the pitch.

As we saw in the first half, we were always equal to balls played through and in behind the backline. In the example below, two players follow the two Liverpool players running through, while van der Hoorn intercepts the through pass.

Liverpool’s frustrations grew and grew so much that it forced them into taking pot shots from distance, all of them going harmlessly wide.

They also tried to go long, but long balls into central areas were always going to be easily won by one of the three central defenders.

When Liverpool did move the ball wide, Swansea were quick to get across, cover and outnumber them, as they forced the ball back inside.

Swansea also got 8, 9 or sometimes even 10 players all inside the penalty area, making it almost impossible to get shots through on goal or passes to a team-mate.

Swansea needed a change of dynamic mid-way through the second half, as Liverpool were simply dominating and dictating proceedings. Carvalhal’s decision to bring on Tom Carroll was initially unwelcomed by many, but it helped us get forward down the right – where the left-footer operated in this game.

It was no coincidence that moments after he came on, we had our first shot on target in the second half.

Liverpool’s late big chance

If the Swans were able to cover all areas and have an answer for Liverpool’s methods of attack, then how were the visitors able to create such a clear-cut chance in the final seconds of the game?

A long diagonal pass is played over to Liverpool’s left. Swansea had no less than four players all looking at the ball, leaving two Liverpool players unmarked on the edge of the penalty area.

It was a rare occasion where the Swans lost their defensive shape and got overly desperate to win possession. This meant that space finally opened up for Liverpool inside the penalty area, as van Dijk picked out Firmino – whose header came back off the post before Mawson was able to deny Lallana at the rebound with a game-winning block.

An impressive win from Carvalhal’s side, not just the result against a Liverpool side that had beaten and ended Manchester City’s unbeaten start to the season, but for executing a well-prepared game plan that brought out some well-overdue performances from a number of players. It was the sort of performance that we’ve been crying out for all season. No lack of desire and determination and it was the sort of result and showing that could finally re-ignite our season – well it has to if we want to avoid relegation.