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Analysing Swansea City statistically - A Tale of Two Halves
Friday, 1st Oct 2021 12:56 by Jerome Thomas

Last weeks column from Jerome Thomas was one of the most read articles we carried over the seven days to the end of last month. So much so he has returned with another reflection on the way Swansea City play and an explanation of how that is implemented from actual game time. This article was written prior to the Fulham game on Wednesday night.

Swansea City’s season under new manager Russell Martin so far can be summed up much like their remarkable comeback against Luton Town - a tale of two halves.

The first half produced a below-par performance, where the opposition were markedly superior in nearly every facet of the game. The second half, however, saw the exact opposite occur, where Swansea were by far the better team in every aspect of the match, and slightly better finishing would have produced even greater results.

Having watched every game this season, it was clear to me visually that the performances on the pitch the last four matches have been significantly better than the previous five. As a football coach, a big part of my job is to examine the key details behind trends such as this, and decipher the results accurately and effectively. Last week, I analysed Martin’s system in detail and outlined some of the crucial aspects behind the sharp uptick in performances and results.

After the win against Huddersfield Town this weekend brought the club level on points with Preston in 15th place, albeit one goal behind in differential, I glanced at the form table since the international break. Somewhat surprisingly given the difficult start the club had to the season, the Swans are sitting pretty, tied for the eighth-best record with Bristol City and West Brom over the last four games.

Since last weekend’s match against the Terriers was the club’s ninth overall, it makes for good comparison to analyse the differences between the two sets of games, so I decided to look at the data and assess what was behind the improvement from a statistical standpoint.

What I found is that when assessing nearly every analytical metric the contrast is extremely clear and very stark - there was a Swansea side before the international break, and there has been a markedly different (and better) Swansea side after the international break.

The per-game statistics above reflect what any keen-eyed Swans supporter or fan could tell you, but they provide proper context for what has been occurring on the pitch. They also give a glimpse into some of the metrics Martin and his coaching staff will have spent time analysing and using to assess their team’s performances this season.

From an attacking standpoint, the Swans are averaging more possession, with far greater figures of shots, shots on target and from inside the box, big chances, total number of passes and at a higher percentage, goals and expected goals, crosses and they are spending far more time in the final third.

The improvements in these areas have been drastic, and they can consider themselves quite unlucky not to have found the back of the net more frequently as a result, particularly in the goalless draws against Hull City and Millwall. Their shots (12.5), shots on target (4.5), and expected goals per-game totals (1.43) would be the seventh-highest in the division had they begun the season playing this effectively.

Noticeably, Martin’s team is also averaging significantly less long balls and clearances than before the international break. When taken in tandem with a sizable increase in the volume of passes overall and a higher percentage, as well as possession, this reflects that Martin has had far greater success as a result of keeping the ball more and passing it around on the deck. It is further vindication for the possession-based system and tactics he employs, which came under increased scrutiny early on after poor results and have been criticised by a small minority of the Swans fanbase.

The opposition statistics above demonstrate that the profound impact on the Swans attack has been equally mirrored in the defensive side of their game. All of the key metrics that the team has drastically increased going forward have seen the same substantial reduction for their opponents.

The Swans defence has turned downright stingy, with numbers that would position them in the top two or three sides overall for the season so far - giving up just 8.8 shots per game and 2.5 shots on target, and only allowing 1.09 expected goals against. As the expression goes, the best defence is a good offence, and the Swans have certainly demonstrated that, although the excellent work they have put in off the ball should not be discounted.

As I identified last week, Martin’s system revolves around patient, measured build-up play, frustrating the opposition and moving them around and out of their positions and shape. When the openings occur, the intent is to spring forward quickly and in numbers, using overloads and numerical superiority to capitalise on the pockets of space that are generated in the advanced zones of the pitch.

Martin clearly used his time on the training ground over the international break, his “mini-preseason”, to implement his system and the key patterns of play it emphasises, in order to work the ball around quicker and get to more dangerous positions on the pitch with more regularity, which they have been doing in far greater numbers since. The tactical and fitness work that was focused on during those two weeks has paid dividends, with the Swans carving out exceptional opportunities, both in quantity and quality, and further refinement of their finishing is the next step to ensuring those chances are fully taken advantage of going forward.

Since the break, the Swans have spent nearly a third of their matches camped in the opposition final third, whereas before that figure was less than a quarter. That is a very sizable increase, as is the sharp rise in their expected goals and big chances tallies, a result of moving the ball quicker and more incisively, with greater precision and intent.

The graphics below are the average positions of Swansea players in their wins against Huddersfield last weekend and Bristol City before the break. They reflect how far forward Martin has pushed his starting XI as the season has progressed, pressing high and closing down the backline and keeper to force turnovers, and then keeping the ball in dangerous zones across the pitch for longer periods through quick ball movement, interplay and player rotations.

These highlight how the team’s ball dominance, one of the key tenets of Martin’s system that he is unwaveringly committed to, is having a far greater effect now than earlier in the season. This is due to the players growing into their understanding of their roles and what is expected of them in each zone and situation on the pitch.

Their vastly improved conditioning has also allowed the team to press higher and for more sustained periods, forcing the opposition into more long balls and clearances, and putting the Swans back into possession quickly, where they can suffocate them by continuously controlling possession.

Taken altogether, what the data reflects is that Swansea has been a far superior team after the international break, when the players had their first opportunity to train under their new manager and alongside each other for an extended period of time. With a difficult match coming up against promotion favourites Fulham, it will be a good test for the club to see how far they have come and how much further they need to go.

Jerome Thomas will continue to write for Swansea Independent this season, what are your thoughts on the analysis provided by Jerome in this article ?

Photographs licensed from Reuters

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