Swansea City bounced back from last weekend`s woeful 5-0 thumping defeat at Spurs in a perfect style at the Liberty Stadium today – beating fellow relegation rivals Sunderland 3-0 with goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente.
Yet again, the discussions prior to kick off and approaching 2pm when the teams were announced were whether or not Bob Bradley would name a striker in his side. Discussions that us fans shouldn`t be having prior to a crucial home game, but thankfully the American decided to put Fernando Llorente back in the side – and it paid dividends after scoring a second half brace to secure all three points.
The 3 points have proved absolutely crucial, it`s moved us up 3 places and out of the bottom three, sending Sunderland back to rock bottom – with the bottom four now seperated by a single point. West Ham will have the chance to go above us if they can get anything against Liverpool on Sunday.
Having tried to ensure some consistency with his first eleven, Bradley went back to his earlier ways – making five changes from the 5-0 defeat at Spurs. But it was changes that benefited everyone, as he finally looks like he might have found a formula that`ll work.
Bradley restored old favourites Angel Rangel and Leon Britton back into the team. Alfie Mawson replaced Federico Fernandez, who was missing today, while Routledge was back in for Montero. Crucially, Llorente started up front as Bradley ditched the false-nine containing 4-3-3 for a more traditional 4-2-3-1.
Another important change was switching the wingers to the opposite flanks. Something that Bradley might not get the credit he fully deserves. Wayne Routledge started on the right, and as a result, Rangel produced one of his best performances in a long time. No coincidence surely doing so with a more defensively minded wide-man in front of him.
Rangel wasn`t the only full back to benefit from the switch either. Neil Taylor looked more promising going forward too with Modou Barrow for company. Our left flank has been a big issue this season, mainly caused by Routledge moving inside to join Sigurdsson in the middle of the pitch. Today though, for the first time this season, we had proper balance across the pitch and could look to either flank to start an attack.
The first half was a rather boring affair, plenty of endeavour on display but a severe lack of quality in both boxes. Sunderland probably had the best chance to open the scoring, while Swansea`s best hopes of a goal were from Sigurdsson`s excellent set piece delivery. Both defenders – Amat and Mawson saw headers go harmlessly over the bar from good positions.
Defoe had the quietest game against us in a long while. He was probably confident of doing more damage after his hatrick last season, but he barely got a look in against a more competitive Swansea City backline. Sunderland look to go direct to Anichebe, with Defoe playing off him but it rarely came off for Moyes` side. Defoe`s best chance of the first half came down the left when he was played in. The striker had to create the opening himself as he took Mawson on and was able to get a left-footed shot at goal that flew over the bar. Mawson and Amat looked a better defensive partnership today – the only partnership that had yet to be used up until today. My only slight criticism of Mawson so far is his inability to get touch-tight on opposition players – having a tendency to drop off them allowing a yard or two on the ball, but other than that he looked calm and composed.
In the second half, Sunderland were made to rue one or two missed chances in the first half when they conceded a penalty less than 6 minutes after the restart. Routledge`s cross was handled and Sigurdsson, proving to be one of the best penalty takers in the Premier League, confidently finished by sending the ball down the middle of the goal as the goalkeeper made an early dive to his right.
A goal early in the second half, and a second goal minutes later, it was like Christmas come early for Swans fans! But a 2-0 lead isn`t enough for us as we know from the Palace game, so thankfully a third followed with 10 minutes to go.
Having said that, Sunderland never looked like having the ability to get back into the game.
Defoe continued to have an off day on the few occasions where he had a half chance to score.
Llorente proved why starting him – or a striker at least – is a must 3 or 4 minutes after Sigurdsson`s opener, and it was Sigurdsson who was involved again. A classic move from the training ground that David Moyes will look back on in horror. Sigurdsson cut a low cross back for Llorente to steer into the far corner of the net.
2-0 up and the Swans were flying at this point. I should now have to give a mention to the two central midfielders, and Rangel for that matter. The trio in particular – Leon Britton, Jay Fulton and Angel Rangel were vital to our success today. Britton and Fulton especially complimented each other brilliantly. Fulton provided the extra steel needed in making crucial tackles, while the other helped to keep the ball moving at a constant and decent speed. Too often recently, we`ve played a lethargic, stop start game that has lacked one-touch, quick passing. Britton and Rangel are two players that have played it for years here with us and allowed us to dominate possession with 62%, plus have a passing accuracy of more than 81%. In comparison, in recent games, we`ve barely managed to get higher than 70%.
Later, Jefferson Montero came on to set up another goal. The left winger came on to replace Modou Barrow and it wasn`t long before he was causing a threat. Similarly to the Palace game, he sent in a left-footed cross – one of those that seems to hold up forever in the air – perfect for a striker to nod home into the top corner. 3-0 – and there was definitely no way back for a sorry Sunderland that have quickly gone back to looking a team certain to finish in the bottom three.
After winning 3 of the last 4, Sunderland were a side improving, but they were poor from the very start. David Moyes, who lost his first ever game against the Swans, may well have said that the penalty changed the game in our favour, but there only looked to be one side really going for it, even in the 6 minutes before that spot kick. They were especially poor in midfield, with a huge gap between them and the two strikers and the midfield never functioned as a link to their frontmen. Therefore, both Leon and Fulton could afford to push further forward, something that they had to do after the break as the Swans lacked numbers in the box. It didn`t really matter in the opening 45 minutes as the final delivery into the box was awful.
The Swans went into today`s game, a huge one against a close relegation rival with the perfect attitude, playing positive football and didn`t look nervous whilst doing so, it was great to see. Sunderland were really poor, but take nothing away from our approach to the game and the professional manner in which we won the game comfortably, controlled the majority of it and kept what is now a rare clean sheet.
They`ll face a much tougher task on Wednesday night at West Brom, but Bradley has to establish his best side and work around it, plus going into that game with the same attitude as today.