Steve Cooper’s recent switch to a back three could potentially force Swansea City to change their Summer recruitment plans slightly.
Previously working with a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 blueprint to re-build the squad for the new 2020-21 season, the club’s recruitment and coaching staff may need to re-plan their requirements over the next couple of months if the head coach decides that a back three is the best way to go.
From the outside, the switch to a back three was forced upon Cooper by injuries and a lack of fit centre-backs for the arrival of Sheffield Wednesday at the Liberty Stadium. Chelsea loanee Marc Guehi was thrown into the deep end, playing as a centre-back with full-backs Kyle Naughton and Jake Bidwell either side of him. Despite the poor first-half performance that day, we still felt it was a much better system for us to use compared to the failings of the 4-2-3-1 before it.
So much so that we wrote this after the 2-1 win against Garry Monk’s side:
We got the above article slightly wrong, believing that we were one player away from making it work as Bidwell didn’t look like he’d be best suited to a wing-back role but he’s actually adjusted to it remarkably well, so well that he’s one of our main attacking outlets now down the left thanks to his excellent crossing ability.
Steve Cooper may still prefer a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. After all, it’s what he’s used before but surely he can see that our performance levels have improved tenfold since the change. Not just the performance level as a team but a number of individual players have benefited too. We’ve already mentioned Jake Bidwell and another to benefit is his fellow wing-back team-mate Connor Roberts. The Welshman had been left in the dark somewhat at times this season, constantly in and out of the side and failing to show his attacking quality at full-back. Now that he has the license to get forward, he’s now able to show his qualities again in the final third of the pitch.
In midfield, Matt Grimes has improved, so too has Jay Fulton alongside. The double-pivot remains but no longer does it look so vulnerable out of possession, mianly because Fulton often has to sit deeper to cover the attacking wing-backs so he’s now available in that deep central zone in front of the defence.
Another big benefit for the team is Andre Ayew moving to a more central attacking role alongside Rhian Brewster. He was wasted out wide and while he does shift across to support build-up play in wide areas, the key focus is to get into the box and be on the end of chances coming in. Connor Gallagher hasn’t benefited from the change though but in his defence he’s playing a number ten role when he prefers to act as a box-to-box midfielder. Bersant Celina, meanwhile, doesn’t appear to be in Cooper’s thoughts at all and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him moved on.
So looking ahead to recruitment and bringing new players in, the requirements in defence and wing-back would change the most. The key attributes for a wing-back would be different compared to those of a full-back target as an example. Mike van der Hoorn’s contract ends so he will need replacing while Joe Rodon is attracting plenty of interest. That leaves us with Marc Guehi and Ben Cabango. Signing another two would still only leave us with one in reserve so we would need 3 centre-backs to come in as well as wing-back cover on both sides.
Kyle Naughton is not expected to stay after his contract expires. A wing-back role would surely not suit the 31-year-old so it could be in both party’s interests to part ways. It would be a shame, however, as Naughton has been a reliable and excellent professional for us.
In midfield, we need a deep-lying defensive midfielder to add some physical presence in that area.
With Celina surplus to requirements it would seem and Conor Gallagher’s loan coming to an end, a number ten is also a key position to strengthen in.
If Cooper did want to move to a back-three more permanently, then we also would need less focus on bringing in new wingers. Routledge and Dyer are surely set to leave as well as Kalulu following his loan spell. That then leaves us with Garrick and Asoro. The duo would probably need to develop into forwards here. Asoro did play up front for brief spells last season under Graham Potter. With our current strike duo shifting wide during build-up play, Garrick and Asoro could still fit in somewhere thanks to their pace and ability to cause problems running in behind the last defender.