Preview: Swansea City

It’s not that you lose, it’s the way that you do it. For the second game running, the Sky Blues made things rather easy for a strong opponent offering neither defensive resistance or much in the way of attacking threat. While we’re not expected to beat teams like Bournemouth and Brentford, the difficulty we’re going to face this season is identifying teams in this division that we are supposed to beat. It’s about raising our game rather than waiting for less challenging opponents.

It would be easy to look at this upcoming run of fixtures before the November international break as too difficult to expect to pick up points. However, if we do that, we will be in a relegation scrap at an early stage of the campaign and under pressure in the supposedly easier games to come to take maximum points. Not only that, but if we can demonstrate to ourselves that we can take points off teams such as Swansea City – who we face here – it engenders the sense that we can take points off anyone in this division.

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1) Marosi; Rose, McFadzean, Hyam; McCallum, Sheaf, Allen, Giles; O'Hare, Shipley; Godden.
Possible Line-Up

Expected Line-Up

Having attempted to go with two up front against Brentford in order to give the side both more of an attacking presence and also to relieve pressure on the defence, it was notable that our best spell in the game came when we returned to the 3-4-2-1 system that the players are clearly more familiar with. It is likely that Mark Robins will revert to that system from the start for this game, with the only changes likely to be where personnel are line-up.

With Fankaty Dabo out injured for an unspecified amount of time, the gaping hole in the team is at right wing-back. Josh Pask has worked hard in the role but clearly lacks the technique in order to be a threat going forward and has tended to drop a little too deep while defending as a wing-back. Fortunately, an impressive substitute appearance for the naturally left-sided Sam McCallum means that we don’t have to persist with Pask in that position if Dabo remains out for a longer period.

In midfield, the return of Liam Kelly can’t come soon enough. There just isn’t any other midfielder available at the moment who offers a physical presence and defensive nous in the way Kelly does. However, it’s important to remember that the captain is unproven at this level of football and may take us much time as others are in getting up to speed. If Kelly isn’t fit enough to start here, I would imagine that Jamie Allen will drop into one of the deeper midfield positions and Jordan Shipley will be pushed further forward, with Allen’s work-rate going some way to address the lack of physicality alongside Ben Sheaf at the moment.

Last Time We Met

Leaving aside a Checkatrade Trophy game against Swansea City’s under-21s which doesn’t really count, the last meeting between the two clubs came in 2011. Swansea City were on the rise as Britain’s model club, under the management of Brendan Rodgers, Aidy Boothroyd’s Coventry City, meanwhile, were almost the exact opposite in every way imaginable as they were in a tailspin that the man who is somehow currently in charge of England’s under-21s couldn’t get out of.

In terms of the game itself, it was actually a pretty dominant performance from Aidy Boothroyd’s side, who registered nine shots on target versus Swansea’s three. However, the one shot that mattered most came from a Swansea boot, with Stephen Dobbie lobbing Keiren Westwood to settle the game and send the Welsh side into the automatic promotion places.

Here’s the goal (1m 28s), with some added dubstep.

The Opposition

The Manager – Steve Cooper

A former England youth-team manager, Steve Cooper has had a promising start to life as a manager in senior club football, leading Swansea City into the play-offs last season and kicking off this campaign in good form. The most notable thing about Cooper’s tenure at the Liberty Stadium thus far has been his ability to attract star youth prospects on loan from some of the country’s biggest clubs – benefitting from pre-existing relationships from his time in the England set-up – at a time when Swansea have been cutting their cloth since their relegation from the Premier League.

Cooper has tended to pursue a possession-based style of football, although he isn’t necessarily dogmatic in that approach. His main focus has been in finding a system to suit the talent he has available, which is currently centred around an exciting young defensive unit and pace up front. After losing the prolific Rhian Brewster over the summer, Cooper has gone for a fluid front-line, often without a nominal centre-forward, which can make it difficult to pick up Swansea’s attackers.

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2) Woodman; Cabango, Bennett, Guehi; Roberts, Grimes, Smith, Bidwell; Palmer; Ayew, Lowe.
Possible Line-Up

Who To Look Out For

The most notable remaining relic of Swansea City’s time in the Premier League is Andre Ayew, who has performed impressively under Steve Cooper despite the sense that the club has needed to offload his significant salary from the books. Ayew is a hard player to nail down his best position, while his best work has tended to come out wide, he has the movement, skill and finishing ability to be a threat through the middle.

Ayew has been complemented this season by the talents of the rapid winger Jamal Lowe and the gracefulness of Wolves loanee Morgan Gibbs-White. Although Gibbs-White has picked up an injury that will see him out of action for the next few months, Steve Cooper has the option of replacing him almost like-for-like with another talented young attacking midfielder in Kasey Palmer or going for an out-and-out centre-forward in Brighton loanee Viktor Gyokeres – a physical operator who was a team-mate of Leo Ostigard on loan at St Pauli from Brighton & Hove Albion last season.

In the centre of the park, Matt Grimes is the metronome that keeps this Swansea City side ticking over. He has been paired this season with the physical, energetic and experienced presence of Korey Smith to give the Swans more assertiveness in the middle of the pitch to go along with that ability to control possession.

Adding to Swansea’s attacking threat has been the energy of wing-backs Connor Roberts and Jake Bidwell. Bidwell has been a particular threat this season in advancing into the final third of the pitch and providing a goal threat himself, having previously been seen as quite a defensive, unadventurous option at left-back.

In defence, although Swansea lost the talented Joe Rodon to Tottenham Hotspur in the final minutes of the transfer window, the performances of other youngsters, Ben Cabango and Chelsea loanee Marc Guehi mean Rodon isn’t as big a miss as he might otherwise be. In addition, the experienced and physical presence of new signing Ryan Bennett should add some extra nous at the back to help shepherd Guehi and Cabango through the season.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

This is another tough test against one of the best teams in this division, hopefully our players will have recognised by now the need to be braver and more assertive in order to give ourselves a chance in this game.

Similar to the challenge that Brentford posed, the biggest threat we’re going to face here is the mobility and pace of Swansea City’s front three. The temptation will be for the wing-backs to drop back in an attempt to avoid leaving our central defenders isolated in one-against-one situations, however, that might be the kind of risk we’ll need to take if we want to carry an attacking threat in this game.

With both teams playing with wing-backs, this game is likely to be decided by which set has the opportunity to get into advanced positions and stretch the opposing defence. That extra width and attacking verve that Sam McCallum – or Fankaty Dabo, if fit – will provide for us on the right could well prove to be crucial in a game like this.

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