Date: 10th May 2016 at 12:02pm
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Swansea City produced one of their best away Premier League performances in years to thrash West Ham United 4-1 in a thrilling penultimate game at the Boleyn Ground.

The Hammers were stunned as a relentless Swansea knocked in two goals either side of half time to claim three points in emphatic style, that incredible sees them rise up to 11th in the table.

You have to wonder how Francesco Guidolin has been able to turn it around in the last two games given how poor the team performed in the two games before it. The Swansea defence leaked 7 goals against likely-to-be-relegated Newcastle United and Champions Leicester City respectively. But they`ve since responded with scoring 7 goals, against a weakened Liverpool side and a strong West Ham outfit who were looking to secure a Champions` League qualification spot.

Given West Ham`s strong home record, their record against the Swans, the likes of Payet and Carroll in the side and Swansea`s decision to rest some first team players – our chances of getting anything from the game were ruled out by many before a ball was even kicked.

But the team – that had the likes of Jordi Amat, Stephen Kingsley and Kyle Naughton in defence – three players that have barely played in recent months – looked a strong side that oozed togetherness and team ethic.

After a 20 minute spell that was dominated by the hosts, Swansea opened the scoring and from then on, the Hammers barely had a chance to compete. It just wasn`t happening for Bilic`s men. Payet was pretty much anonymous after going close with two free-kicks, while Carroll was mostly a spectator as he couldn`t threaten anything like he normally does against the Swans.

Swansea defend 13 corners

You could soon tell that it was going to be Swansea`s day and not West Ham`s. The Swans looked eager to impress and prove their quality. West Ham looked like they thought the season had already finished. You could also tell that when the Swans were defending a flurry of early corners with confidence.

Below is a screenshot of an early West Ham corner. The setup, compared to recent games when the Swans have failed to defend corners – most notably the recent 3-0 defeat at Newcastle, looks far better. Firstly, all of Swansea`s players are goal side of their markers for a start. All of the defenders are marking – not occupying free space (that`s Fer`s job here), and the players also looked more physically strong and competitive as the crosses were coming in.



It was also interesting to see Lucasz Fabianski coming out to try and claim crosses again, he hasn`t done that in recent games which you could say has been a factor when conceding goals from set pieces.

Swansea`s wing play

Crucial to Swansea`s win was their wing play, plus Guidolin`s excellent and influential decision to switch his wingers – coincidentally around the time that saw a switch in momentum – and the opening goal scored.

It looked like Modou Barrow was effective on the right – the side he usually plays on – cutting in from the flank inside into the space that West Ham were leaving. But the problem was his reluctance to get back and defend when Payet was attacking down their left.



You can see above, a typical inside run from Barrow and how much space Ki had to run into on the opposite this. It was the space in wide areas that led to the opening goal.



Above shows Barrow`s inside running at a better angle. Antonio`s overly attacking intent exposed the team throughout the game. It was a wonder why Bilic didn`t sort this problem out after the first goal went in.

West Ham are far too narrow and shapeless. Ki has space to run into down the left, Barrow`s inside run takes a defender with him which allows Naughton to also run into space down the right. Routledge can then afford to join Ayew in the centre to offer support as a second striker.

Looking at this, you wouldn`t think changing the wingers would be needed. But as you can see, it`s mainly the full backs providing the width with the wingers moving inside. Guidolin`s decision to switch the wingers benefited the team in more ways than one.

Firstly, from a defensive point of view, Routledge`s more disciplined style helped nullify the wide threat of Payet down West Ham`s left.



Above shows the space that Payet has and Barrow`s lack of tracking back. Guidolin was constantly encouraging Barrow to get back to defend on the touchlines. That problem was soon solved when Routledge switched to that side, tracked back and gave Naughton defensive support.



Swansea`s attacking shape also changed. It had more balance and width – with both wingers now mostly sticking to their wide roles – and offering support to the full backs who were also given freedom to get forward.



The Swans were soon in control and punished West Ham continuously for poor shape and discipline.

Gaps were opening up in various areas of their half:





Swansea`s opener came about thanks to West Ham`s awful defensive shape, but they still needed to play quick, one-touch attacking football to punish them for it.

Months ago, the Swans would never have scored a goal, despite the space they might have found themselves in. They wouldn`t have had the confidence to make first-time crosses from the flank, the full backs wouldn`t have got so far forward and they wouldn`t have played so many risky, forward passes.



Above shows Ki helping to setup the opening goal. The South Korean easily picks out Naughton, unmarked on the opposite side, and his first time cutback-cross picks out Routledge for an easy tap in. The wingers were mainly staying wide to offer width – like the example below, but as Routledge does here, he makes a well timed run to be in the right position to score.



The Swans soon added a second before half time. Kingsley easily got the better of Antonio to send in a stunning cross – in behind the West Ham defend for Ayew to slide in and score. We`ve seen the likes of Rangel and Taylor float in cross up in the air to the likes of Paloschi that were far too easy to defend. At West Ham, Kingsley showed what`s been required all season – quick, low crosses flying in around the back of the defence at pace that are a nightmare to defend. Defending them usually requires sticking a leg out that often results in a corner or an own goal conceded. This time it was Ayew sticking his leg out to score.



The third goal? Another similar situation to the second. Antonio beaten down the left, a ball whipped in low and Ki with a first time finish – devastating. The Swans had three players waiting in the box for the cross against just two West Ham players.



It`s anyone`s guess as to why the West Ham manager didn`t sort out the first half problems that were so evident and clearly punished by quick, attacking and clinical football.

Another refreshing thing to see against West Ham was good movement off the ball – another huge problem that was always evident under Garry Monk.



Good movement off the ball, shown above, had West Ham moving in all sorts of directions and getting into all sorts of problems. Ki, Barrow and Fer are all making runs in different directions to give Ayew a forward passing option, as plenty of space opens up for yet another attack – in the centre and in behind the defence.

The only disappointing thing was to see us concede a goal – when the Swans defence looked more than capable of keeping a clean sheet.



Above, Swansea had already cleared the corner, a front post header seeing the ball go back to Payet – the taker. 4 Swansea players are guilty of ball-watching and not marking up players again. Antonio has yards of space to head at goal, but the Swans couldn`t keep the ball out despite Fabianski making two brilliant saves.

But other than that, Swansea`s defence looked a strong, well structured and confident unit. As you can see below, they got back in numbers when needed to protect their lead, before counter attacking at speed.



Average Formations:

Below shows the average shape of both sides. West Ham’s on the left is all over the place with gaps at the right back spot and in midfield. Swansea’s though, shows a far more structured and attacking shape – averaging a 2-1-4-3 – with both wingers mainly playing as a front 3 with Ayew.

 
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