Preview: Swansea City

Just when Coventry City looked ready to move up through the gears in search of a top six spot in the season’s final weeks, they suffered the almightiest of engine splutters at home to Stoke City. As chastening as the 4-0 defeat was, the gap to the play-offs has only increased by one point and leaves the Sky Blues with all to play for as they head into a crucial Easter period.

it is less about making that jump into the top six over these next two games and more about ensuring there is still something to play for over the final stretch of this campaign. This period of chocolate munching can so often be where seasons go to die (and without hope of resurrection), and to kick it off with a trip to a Swansea City side that Coventry City haven’t won at since 1950 has the feel of a moment that could either catalyse the play-off push or begin the process of the campaign fading out.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-1): Wilson; McNally, McFadzean, Doyle; Dabo, Eccles, Sheaf, Hamer, Wilson-Esbrand; Howley; Gyokeres.

Mark Robins has two key things to manage heading into this game. The first is making sure that individuals who were caught in the headlights last week against Stoke City respond in the right way. The second is making necessary adjustments to the structure of the team, with the limited resources available, to correct some of the flaws seen last week, as well as in preparation to face an opponent who will look to dominate possession.

It seems likelier than not that Mark Robins will tweak the team’s starting formation for this game to play an extra midfielder, both because he clearly has a lot of respect for Swansea City but also because he explicitly stated in his post-match interview after the Stoke City game that the distance between midfield and attack was too big. It means that Matt Godden will drop out of the starting line-up, which is probably a change that should have been made more permanently a while ago given the team’s record with Godden starting alongside Viktor Gyokeres. It makes the key decision being the one over Jamie Allen’s fitness as the striker’s likely replacement.

The midfielder has been back in training for the past week or so, but was not deemed fit enough for the bench against Stoke City, which may make this game a little too soon to expect Jamie Allen to start in. With another tough game coming on Monday, against Watford, Mark Robins may start the youngster, Ryan Howley, here in place of Allen to hand the latter the best possible chance of making an impact when he finally returns to the starting line-up.

The other likely change looks to be Josh Wilson-Esbrand coming in for Jake Bidwell after the former put in his best performance for the club after coming off the bench at half-time against Stoke City. On the other side, Fankaty Dabo is really struggling to justify his starting role at right wing-back, but there appears to be an issue that Mark Robins does not trust Brooke Norton-Cuffy to start games in Dabo’s stead.

Last Time We Met

Goals from Jonathan Panzo, Jamie Allen and Viktor Gyokeres saw Coventry City race to a three-goal lead in the first hour at home to Swansea City back in December in a display of perfectly-executed counter-attacking football. The problem was that a lack of control of possession meant that the Sky Blues didn’t really have a means through which to sit on their seemingly comfortable scoreline.

When Joel Piroe nipped in ahead of Callum Doyle to pull a goal back for Swansea City with around 20 minutes left, there was almost a sense of inevitability about the possibility of a rare three-goal comeback. So it proved to be as Coventry City sat further and further back, encouraging the Swans into a groove as they pounced on hesitant defending to pull another goal back, through Jay Fulton, then levelled it when Liam Cullen tapped home a rebound.

It was almost a similarly chastening experience to last week’s defeat to Stoke City, Mark Robins will have to hope that this most recent set-back won’t take anywhere near as long to recover from.

The Opposition

The Manager – Russell Martin

It has been a largely underwhelming campaign for Swansea City, having been expected to challenge for the play-offs after seeing Russell Martin lay some good foundations for such a push the previous year. However, the blame for Swansea’s failure to kick-on from last year has largely been directed towards the board, rather than Martin, with the manager receiving little backing to improve the squad and having had to manage largely the same set of players for a period of two years.

After a difficult run over the winter, Russell Martin has clawed back some buy-in from the fans with back-to-back derby wins over Bristol City and Cardiff City that have killed off any remote threats of relegation. In a position to see the season out with a degree of comfort, Martin can focus purely on his preferred style of completely dominating possession over results, which could be a dangerous thing for Coventry City to come up against.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-2-2-2): Fisher; Darling, Cabango, Wood, Manning; Walsh, Grimes; Cundle, Ntcham; Cullen, Piroe.

It is hard to describe star players for Swansea City given that they are a team defined by their collective style, rather than individuals. They are a few key conductors in the team’s dominance of possession, starting from Andy Fisher in goal, Ryan Manning and Harry Darling as playmakers from the full-back positions, and, most notably, Matt Grimes’ intelligence in midfield to play quick, short passes that keeps play ticking over and to constantly get in positions to receive the ball.

Helping Swansea City out even further in their flow in possession lately has been the man that played perhaps the biggest role in getting Coventry City out of League One, Liam Walsh. After a nightmare three years with a slew of injury issues, Walsh has just started back-to-back games for the first time since he left the Sky Blues, and to good effect. Anyone who saw Walsh run the show for Coventry at St Andrews’ will know it is no surprise that he has been able to fit seamlessly into a team that wants to dominate possession, with him possessing a similar ability to Matt Grimes of being able to both keep and receive the ball to a very high and consistent standard.

In the final third, Joel Piroe plays a key role for Swansea City in providing a genuine threat to go alongside that dominance of the ball. Piroe’s ability to spot space in the opposition penalty area is his primary skill, along with excellent finishing ability. Academy youngster, Liam Cullen, has made a bright impression over the last few months as another final third threat with his ability to play on the last shoulder of defenders. In attacking midfield positions, players such as Olivier Ntcham, Ollie Cooper and Morgan Whittaker are other sources of decisive moments, when they are needed to.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Russell Martin’s Swansea City side have proved something of an Achilles’ heel for Mark Robins over the past two seasons. The Swans’ ability to completely dominate possession is something the Coventry City manager has struggled to find an answer to, which has seen him caught between playing very passively and allowing Swansea to hold the Sky Blues at arm’s length or to be over-aggressive with pressing and provide space to be picked off with quick passing moves.

Notably, Mark Robins stated in his pre-match press conference that the latter approach would be too big of a risk, making it likely that Coventry City will look to being as disciplined as possible without the ball in this game. Crucial to making that approach work is ensuring that the team can spring Viktor Gyokeres in behind to provide a direct counter-attacking threat whenever the Sky Blues can get on the ball. Without an advanced playmaker such as Callum O’Hare and Kasey Palmer to call upon, it may be all the more difficult to move quickly from defence to attack with a degree of precision in this game.

Swansea City are going to be playing with effectively six midfielders in this game, with their narrow midfield four likely to be supported by the full-backs, Harry Darling and Ryan Manning, staying narrow and high in possession to offer additional outlets on the ball. It is going to make for a very congested midfield, which could play into Coventry City’s favour in looking to limit the service into Swansea’s strike pairing of Joel Piroe and Liam Cullen, as long as Josh Eccles, Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer can find the right balance between positional discipline and applying pressure in the middle of the pitch. Should Swansea take the lead in this game, that congestion will make it all the more difficult for the Sky Blues to get anything going in quest of a route back into the match.

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