Coventry City have endured the rarest of things in the world of football between 2020 and 2023, a week’s rest. On the basis of the performance last time out, against Preston North End, a rest is clearly what this team needs, whether a week is enough will become apparent over this upcoming run of five games over the next fortnight, which could well decide whether the Sky Blues remain in the play-off race in this division.
The prospect of travelling away to a Swansea City side that were one if, if not the, best away team at the CBS Arena is a daunting start to this crucial run of fixtures – even if Swansea are lingering at the lower end of mid-table. However, now is the time to cast all fears of what opposition teams might do aside and focus on how this Coventry City side can put together a top six charge.
Having had to rotate the squad simply to manage the team’s fitness levels over the past month, Mark Robins is freer to name what he feels is his strongest XI, if not completely free, given that this game is the start of another rapid run of games. Not helping Robins either is that the injury situation does not seem to have improved over the past week, while he is a player down, given Fankaty Dabo’s suspension.
All eyes are on who starts in attack, and how that attack is lined up. Fabio Tavares’ excellent equalising goal last week against Preston North End leads to the question of when the time is right for the youngster to start. However, Mark Robins has seemed to have settled on Ian Maatsen in that advanced midfield role in recent away games, on top of it not being clear what kind of impact Tavares can have over a longer period, both within matches and across more regular appearances. What seems unlikely at the moment is a continued starting place for an out-of-sorts Martyn Waghorn.
There is another big decision for Mark Robins to make in this game, whether Michael Rose or Kyle McFadzean starts in the heart of the back three. The manager seems to have looked to switch the two around depending on the type of game – McFadzean for physical opponents, Rose for more mobile forwards – it may be counter-productive to continually mess around with the defence. Given the threat of Swansea City’s pacey forward, Michael Obafemi, Rose may get the nod here, but there may be a longer-term decision to be made in that position between now and the end of the season.
Last Time We Met
Never has a 2-1 defeat felt more like a thrashing, than it did back in early November, as Swansea City became the first side to win away at the CBS Arena. The Swans set out their intentions early to dominate possession and strangle the game out of Coventry City’s control, with a Jake Bidwell cross forcing a sliced clearance from Jake Clarke-Salter that allowed Cov kid, Jamie Paterson, to put the away side ahead.
The Sky Blues looked unable to react to what Swansea were capable of doing, with a second materialising after the rapid right wing-back, Ethan Laird, got in behind the Coventry City defence to tee up Joel Piroe to make it two within the opening 12 minutes. Despite Kyle McFadzean pulling a goal back before half-time from a corner-kick routine, Swansea’s control of the game was such that a one-goal lead felt as good as a three-goal one.
The Manager – Russell Martin
A manager who is very much unwilling to sacrifice his principles for a possession-dominant style of play, there is a perfect synergy between Russell Martin and Swansea City (who famously established themselves in the Premier League not too long ago with such a philosophy). There was a point this season where that looked to be carrying the Swans into the top six, however, this looks to be a transitional year as Martin ingrains his style into the team, while the squad is re-shaped to suit Martin-ball.
Results have been very inconsistent over the past few months, with Swansea City varying between being almost completely unplayable to being a complete walkover. That is because Russell Martin’s style of football is so high-risk and high-reward that there is little margin for error when mistakes happen. Without a squad fully-suited to such a philosophy, this is likely to continue until, at least, the end of the season.
Who To Look Out For?
Matt Grimes continues to be the beating heart of this Swansea City side, a midfielder with a metronomic rhythm to his passing game, Russell Martin has relished being able to work with him. His midfield partner, Flynn Downes, is another technically-gifted midfield player, but plays with a level of steel and nous that is rare to see in such a young footballer.
In addition, Andy Fisher in goal, has followed Russell Martin from Milton Keynes Dons because he is so important in contributing to build-up play from the back. Ahead of him, Kyle Naughton and Ryan Manning have been made into unorthodox centre-backs also because they are so good on the ball.
The wing-backs are another essential element to how Swansea City want to play, with January signings, Hannes Wolf and, ex-Sky Blue, Cyrus Christie impressing since their arrivals. A couple of years ago, Wolf was seen as one of the premier young talents in the Bundesliga, before injury issues set back his development. Primarily an attacking midfielder, Wolf has been made into a useful option at wing-back due to Russell Martin’s preference for quick, attacking players in wide areas. It should be no surprise to anyone that saw Cyrus Christie break through at Coventry City that he has relished being played in an attack-minded role from wing-back.
In attack, the tactical intelligence of Olivier Ntcham and Jamie Paterson has been crucial for Swansea for much of this season in combining dominance of the ball with threat on goal. More recently, top-scorer, Joel Piroe, has been pushed into an attacking midfield role because of the Dutchman’s tendency to drop deep, allowing the pacey, Michael Obafemi, to get a run in the side at centre-forward.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost?
The key to this game for Coventry City will be in remaining patient against a team looking to hoard the ball, picking opportunities to press Swansea City, and executing quickly on the counter-attack. Playing Ian Maatsen further forward could be very useful in providing that ability to turn defence into attack quickly, while there is probably a case for starting Jamie Allen in central midfield for his extra energy, over either Ben Sheaf or Gustavo Hamer.
The Sky Blues’ wing-backs are likely to have a key role to play in this game as they look to face up against a very enterprising duo in Hannes Wolf and Cyrus Christie. There is a danger that the less-mobile and defensively-minded Coventry City pairing of Jake Bidwell and Todd Kane could end up spending little time in the opposing half, leaving the attacking players isolated. It will be important that Bidwell and Kane take opportunities to push up the pitch when they can, giving Wolf and Christie something to think about as they look to take up advanced positions.
The recent move to push Joel Piroe back and start with Michael Obafemi in attack could make Swansea City harder to contain as an attacking threat, compared to the reverse fixture. That threat of Obafemi’s pace in behind has the potential to see a slow Coventry City defence (even without Kyle McFadzean, if he doesn’t feature here) come unstuck, or, that notional threat could help the Swans pin the Sky Blues even further back into their own half.