Date: 15th September 2016 at 10:28pm
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Swansea City earned an unlikely point in an enthralling match at the Liberty Stadium that had pretty much everything as we analyse the game tactically as we saw Francesco Guidolin adopt a new 3-5-1-1 formation.

Rumours of a switch to a 3-defender system were growing during the week up until the match, as Guidolin clearly recognised that something needed to change after a very poor performance at champions Leicester.

We analyzed the Leicester game here and recognised a number of problems with our 4-2-3-1 formation that day, and how the defence lacked support and cover in midfield.

Our Italian boss moved swiftly to correct those problems, but looking back, you could argue that he shifted the balance too much in terms of ensuring his defence had protection from midfield.

Guidolin hasn’t ruled out using 3-5-1-1 again this season, believing that he has the characteristics within the squad to play the system well, but you have to wonder how he would solve the big issue of a lack of pace and attacking threat out wide.

It’s been widely said that we were fortunate to come out of the game with a point, after all, the first half saw Chelsea fail to make the most of their chances – but it’s worth pointing out that the Swans were making unforced errors to gift the opposition these open chances – rather than being cut open simply by Chelsea’s attacking play. We’ll demonstrate this point later on.

Swansea start well enough in possession

The Swans actually made a decent enough start to the game, they were better in possession in the opening 10 minutes than they were at Leicester, but then again, they couldn’t do much worse.

Chelsea were happy enough to sit back off Swansea and allowed them to play with space and freedom in their own half, possibly in a way to attract as many players into their half as possible and to try and win the ball and expose them on the counter.

To avoid Chelsea causing a threat on the counter attack, the Swans were quick to apply pressure on the ball, forcing Chelsea to kick long in their own half. They were also quick to apply pressure on Costa. Swansea’s extra defender in their system gave Amat the freedom to move out of the defensive line to limit Costa’s time and space on the ball.

This was mainly effective defensive play, but we let ourselves down again by sloppy passes. Up until they scored, they had 1 shot on target (gifted by a poor pass from Cork). The other 2 shots they had, 1 long range dragged wide, and another – a header wide from 8 yards.

Swansea’s 5-man defence also limited Chelsea’s attacking space and opportunities to get in behind:

We were also able to get space in between the lines in Chelsea’s half of the pitch, but we were never able to take full advantage as Sigurdsson was always isolated and lacking support around him. His attacking partnership with Llorente is still developing.

Defensive differences on the flanks for the Swans

Defensively, Kingsley and Taylor both did an effective job in the first half, they worked well together to stop Chelsea’s Ivanovic-Willian link-up from gaining an advantage down their right. Taylor’s main problems was when he tried to provide attacking width, and only managed just over 50% passing accuracy.

Above shows one of Taylor’s poor passes in Chelsea’s half that gifted them possession and a chance to break. Poor passes that he really shouldn’t be making at this level.

Below shows though, how Kingsley and Taylor covered their flank well:

However, on the opposite flank, Kyle Naughton was left exposed far too often, as he lacked cover and support from his nearest centre back – Federico Fernandez.

An example of this is below, Naughton has to push up to mark the Chelsea full back, which leaves Hazard free to make a run beyond him down the left. With Cork and Amat covering the area in front of him, he can move out wide to cover the space that Hazard can run into, but he doesn’t.

Swansea always forced backwards out wide

Swansea’s main problem in the new 3-5-1-1 formation was marking the system work when attacking down the wings via the wing backs. They were never able to support them. Usually, we see a full back and winger linking up out wide, but Naughton and Taylor had nothing to work with, and were constantly forced to pass backwards as a result.

Below shows a typical example. Taylor has to pass back as he’s under pressure and lacking a passing option near him, and we can’t utilise that large area of space through the channel. Ideally, Taylor needed a team-mate near him who he could pass to, who could then play a pass to match Ki’s forward run.

It was the same on Naughton’s side. Below, Chelsea have a row of 4 players blocking a route forward, and with no winger beyond him, Naughton is also forced to pass backwards:

This lack of potential out wide, and our inability to support Sigurdsson in Chelsea’s half meant that we just couldn’t create any chances. The only one of the first half was Sigurdsson’s long range effort:

Chelsea open the scoring

Barring one or two clear chances for Chelsea thanks to a heavy touch from Naughton, and an awful pass from Cork, the 5-man defence did a solid enough job of keeping the Blues at bay. You can see Chelsea’s difficulties below:

The opening goal however gave the visitors a lift, and they soon started to create chances all by themselves as the Swans’ confidence was rocked.

The goal came from a high ball not being dealt with properly inside the box, Fabianski didn’t claim the ball despite there being no competition for it around him. Yet Fernandez was the player to try and head it clear. Possession was back to Chelsea inside our penalty area, Costa was left unmarked, he received the ball and finished with an excellent low strike into the corner.

From then on, Chelsea began to control matters and they should have at least doubled their lead. Swansea lost control in possession and Chelsea missed one or two easy chances from close range.

As a result, Guidolin quickly realised he needed to changes things to get a “reaction” from his players. He certainly got that, in more ways than one.

Taylor showed a lack of professionalism when he was taken off. Frustration that it wasn’t Kingsley going off instead of him, or because deep down he probably realised he hadn’t had a great game. Then again, none of his team-mates had either up until this point. But he was one of two left backs on the pitch, and with a lack of game time so far for the Swans this season, it had to be him.

The Swans did have a few moments going forward (below), but they desperately needed an attacking outlet and Barrow provided that – as proven by our equalising goal early in the second half.

2nd half improvements:

Barrow’s introduction gave the Swans a much needed boost and an attacking outlet that allowed the Swans to get back into the game, rather than concede another and lose – like they did at Leicester.

With only one winger on, the Swans switched to a system that lacked balance, but it at least looked capable of causing an attacking threat.

You can see the tactics below and how the Swans looked when in attack. Kingsley provided width on the left but lacked a team-mate, while Barrow and Naughton attacked down the right.

With Ki and Cork holding, Sigurdsson and Fer provided a key attacking link in Chelsea’s half. Fer has struggled as a holding midfielder, and has always performed far better when given freedom to attack.

The below screenshot shows some of Swansea’s problems when attacking down the left due to a lack of a second winger on that side:

Due to Swansea’s vulnerable left side of defence, Cork dropped back as cover.

Swansea City - Premier League - Football tactics and formations

Swansea’s positive start to the second half saw Chelsea create chances only from distance, with no shots coming from inside the penalty area for the first half hour after the restart.

Costa isolated

Another reason why Chelsea struggled to create chances was due to how Costa was isolated and always outnumbered during that first half hour of the second half. Later, Chelsea instructed Oscar to move beyond Costa when he dropped deep.

The Swans also worked hard off the ball, outnumbered Chelsea’s in zones and switched between various defensive shapes as the game went on – 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1 to 4-5-1:

4-4-2 defensive shape:

Swansea City - Premier League - Football tactics and formations

Defensive shape vs Chelsea 2nd half:

The tactics board below shows Swansea’s typical defensive shape during the second half and how they were able to outnumber Chelsea in key zones. Cork, Naughton and Barrow managing Matic and Hazard, and Ki, Amat and Kingsley keeping tabs on Willian and Ivanovic. Costa was often dropping deeper in support but he was often crowded out amongst Swansea’s midfield.

Swansea City vs Chelsea - Premier League - Football tactics and formations

As the half went on, Swansea began switching to a more defensive and deeper 4-5-1 shape without the ball as Chelsea slowly began to dominate possession:

With Costa often outnumbered, Chelsea instructed the likes of Hazard and Oscar to run beyond him in support:

Fer’s key passing ability

A big helping factor in Swansea’s comeback in the second half, together with Barrow’s introduction and Fer’s movement further forward with Sigurdsson, was the Dutchman’s long range passing ability.

Unlike Ki and Cork, who were often playing basic short sideways passes, Fer could make a 50-yard pass up field to create a quick counter attack, and this was what happened for our equaliser. He released Barrow down the left, whose cross forced Courtois to bring down Sigurdsson for the penalty.

Rangel came on for the last 5 minutes or so of normal time, and while it appeared as a typical defensive substitute from Guidolin, it actually allowed his team to cut out a couple of passes aimed for Hazard, and to start a counter attack. Barrow and Naughton both sent in late crosses into the box but the Swans couldn’t make the most of their few chances late on.

In summary, the 3-5-1-1 system wasn’t effective in attacking sense, it would need a lot of work to develop it into something that we could use effectively to create chances. It could well help us get to half time goalless against other strong sides in the Premier League – that’s if we can avoid making unforced errors – sloppy passes and heavy first touches.

But I can’t see how we could play the likes of Montero or Barrow in it as wing backs to make it work in an attacking sense.

We looked better with Ki and Cork as holding midfielders, allowing Fer to play his preferred attacking game, but other systems struggle to allow room for the three – plus Sigurdsson.

Guidolin may have got it wrong to begin with, I’d like to think that had we not made that mistake for their goal and got lucky to go in at half time at 0-0, Guidolin would still have changed it to give us an attacking threat.

He needs to find his preferred shape and line-up now. In fairness to him, he’s still waiting for the likes of Sigurdsson and Llorente to get up to full fitness, Ki is slowly getting involved too, while Borja Baston is still yet to make an appearance.

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