Last week’s defeat to Reading was disappointing, but not disheartening. Coventry City demonstrated that they can dominate games with a level of control, which was something they had yet to do despite some excellent form prior to the World Cup break. To lose to a set-piece while players were short of full fitness is no dishonour, the only source of concern is whether it affects momentum as the team heads into the half-way stage of the campaign – possibly informing decisions made by players, managers and owners in the January transfer window.
This upcoming game against Swansea City will be an interesting test of what this Sky Blues side is capable of as a team looking to control and dominate games, with the Swans famed for a very possession-heavy style of football. For Mark Robins, specifically, it’s a call between trying to maintain a style that may serve the team better over the longer-term and reverting to a pragmatic approach which may be the best way to garner a result. It’s another acid test of where this Coventry City team is at.
The good news for Mark Robins is that there is no sign, at the time of writing, of any injury issues following last week’s game against Reading. The bad news is that there remains one pretty significant absentee, Kyle McFadzean at the heart of defence, who is injured despite no longer being suspended and looks to be out for a while yet.
In terms of the team selection for this game, it leaves the manager with little option but to stick with the XI that started last week. The only considerations will be performance-based, where Jake Bidwell at left wing-back and Jamie Allen in midfield may well be in danger of being dropped after pretty quiet displays against Reading when the team needed some thrust from their respective positions.
Whether Jack Burroughs is of the standard at left wing-back to unseat a senior player in Jake Bidwell for this game, only Mark Robins will know. In terms of Jamie Allen, the two options are to either bring Kasey Palmer in as a straight swap – potentially robbing the team of useful game-changer from the bench – or to bring Martyn Waghorn in as an extra forward. Given how dependable both Bidwell and Allen have been over the course of this season, it would be a surprise, nonetheless, to see either, and certainly both, dropped after individually underwhelming displays.
Last Time We Met
It was something of a strange game back in March where Swansea City thoroughly outplayed Coventry City for long periods, yet the Sky Blues came out of the game feeling they wondering what might have been. With little happening in the game early on, Coventry seemed to fall into a slumber as they watched the Swans pass their way around them and eventually work a goal for Jamie Paterson to hand them the lead.
Despite the Sky Blues refusing to awake in the first-half, Viktor Gyokeres was handed a complete gift by Swansea City defender, Ben Cabango, to level the scores, only for the Swede to fluff his lines. Swansea then went quickly up the other end to make it two, via Michael Obafemi, to make their lead comfy. Just after the break, the same striker made it three after some loose play in the Coventry City midfield, which was then the cue for the away side to start trying to play football.
Viktor Gyokeres, Ian Maatsen and Matt Godden all had excellent chances in the second-half to potentially make a game of it, demonstrating that Coventry City hadn’t needed to be so supine in their approach earlier on, but it was too little, too late. Gustavo Hamer grabbed a consolation goal later on, but the points had been long sealed at that point by Swansea City.
The Manager – Russell Martin
Having arrived late last pre-season with the team in the middle of a hefty rebuild, the onus on Russell Martin’s reign at Swansea City was always on what his team could achieve a year or two later – i.e. now. A manager religiously devoted to seeing his team dominate the ball, only Burnley – managed by Pep Guardiola acolyte, Vincent Kompany – have had anywhere near the same average possession as Swansea have had this season, getting consistent results to match with the quality of football has always been the doubt against Martin.
A slow start to the campaign forced Martin to change from his preferred back three system to a 4-2-3-1, which saw his team rise towards the play-offs during September and October. However, results have tailed-off recently, with Swansea City without a win in their last six games. Their possession-heavy style tends to rely upon being able to take the lead before choking the life out of games, however, the issue this season has been in not being able to do so consistently, which can leave them looking fraught instead of composed.
Who To Look Out For?
Heading into this season, the key reason to be excited about this Swansea City side’s prospects was because they had a strike duo in Michael Obafemi and Joel Piroe who both looked set for somewhere in the region of 20 goals apiece. Piroe had been excellent right from his arrival from PSV Eindhoven’s youth ranks last summer, an intelligent goal poacher who could also drop between the lines to link play before getting into scoring positions. Obafemi had struggled initially after arriving at the same time as Piroe but was in excellent form over the second half of last season, with his ability to run in behind adding teeth to Swansea’s dominance of the ball. While the duo remain a significant threat, it feels as if Russell Martin hasn’t found a way to get both firing at the same time, especially after a switch to a 4-2-3-1 shape had made it hard to get the two in the same team.
It is Swansea City’s ability to hoard the ball through their defence and midfield that is their primary threat in this game. Matt Grimes in central midfield remains the absolute star of this Swansea side with his understanding of both how to use the ball and where to position himself in order to receive to allow the Swans to dominate games so consistently. He is joined in the centre of the park by Jay Fulton, who keeps things ticking over nicely, and by the tidy Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee, Luke Cundle.
The Swans also have a handful of attacking midfielders that can be decisive when on form, with Olivier Ntcham perhaps the most mercurial presence in this team with his tendency to glide through games before picking the occasional brilliant long-range shot out of his locker. Another key option for Swansea City in that area of the pitch is Jamie Paterson, whose best skill is his ability to find space in the penalty area. Additionally, academy product, Ollie Cooper, has sparkled this season with his skill and eye for goal, while Armstrong Oko-Flex is an exceptionally quick and skilful winger who represents another wildcard option for Russell Martin to deploy.
Further back, Swansea’s best mode of defence is through keeping the ball as a method of prevention. This is typified by the two full-backs, Kyle Naughton and Ryan Manning, whose are not the most physically prepossessing of defenders but are excellent with the ball at their feet. That is not to say that Swansea don’t have physical defenders, as Ben Cabango and Nathan Wood, are a powerful, albeit youthful, central defensive pairing.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
As was the case last week, Coventry City’s approach to this game is likely to set the tone of a contest against an opponent who have a very specific approach of their own that they won’t deviate from. This time around, it is about how Mark Robins responds to a Swansea City side who will look to dominate possession in something of a similar manner to how the Sky Blues would want to see his team execute.
The pragmatic, and possibly best, choice would be to focus on defending deep and looking to counter via Viktor Gyokeres and Callum O’Hare, who thrive on the break. However, it seems like the manager wants to see this team take a more proactive role in games now that there is a little buffer from danger. The key to such an approach being successful will be in how well the attack and midfield press Swansea in an attempt to knock them out of their rhythm and turn the game into a contest between who is best able to turn possession into chances and goals.
The danger in this game is that Swansea City are so well-versed in playing around a team looking to press them, that an aggressive approach may play into their hands, allowing them to drag Coventry City around the pitch before finding space to pick out their forwards in the penalty area. The opportunity in this game is that, if the Sky Blues can get it right in the press, possession will be won in areas that directly threaten the opposing goal.
It looks to be a choice for Mark Robins here between pragmatism and bravery.