Friday, 31 January 2014

The Domino Effect of Swansea Injuries

With 3 points against Fulham and the return of several players from injury, things are suddenly a lot rosier. It was less than a week ago that Swansea were top of the Phsyioroom Injury table with 8 first team players out, most of which would arguably be included in Swansea's strongest line-up.

Much has been made of the demands of the Europa League and the impact of extra games and travel on Swansea's league position, it's purely speculation and maybe a bit biased but I'd argue that our level would be closer to that of Southampton without the extra games (Swansea have played 10 Europa League games but 2 fewer matches in the League Cup compared to Southampton).

As at end of Jan 2014, Swansea have already played 36 competitive matches (23 League, 10 Europa League, 2 FA Cup and 1 League Cup) with late Nov until early Jan being particularly busy with the absence of any international breaks and 2 games a week for 5 of the 6 weeks.
Swansea Minutes Played per week - All Competitions
The heavier than normal schedule combined with a couple of key injuries resulted in a domino effect of a shrinking pool of players to pick from as those left we required to play when ideally they would have been rested resulting in Leon Britton being the only fit midfielder of the 4 main squad members with Shelvey/Canas and De Guzman being injured at the same time.

The chain arguably starts with Bony having a succession of injuries early on in the season ranging from Ankle/Foot (Aug 25th) to Rib (Sep 15th) injuries combined with a lack of a full pre-season and then suffering a hamstring injury in a Europa League game on Nov 28th.
Bony - Minutes played per week.  
After a stop-start beginning to the season, Bony is now starting to play on a regular basis and is in great form, but his absence in the early months of the season arguably placed extra pressure on Michu.
In has time with Swansea, due to his importance to the team Michu has very rarely been substituted and has played despite not being fully fit this season having problems in both ankles.  Playing time above excludes his 57 min for Spain in mid October.
With injuries at various points to Bony and Michu, this placed extra pressure on the midfield, where some games you would only need 2 of the 4 central midfielders if both Bony and Michu starting, with one or both being injured there would be more games where 3 would be required (with Pozuelo also contributing to the attacking midfield role at times).

The reasoning that some games you'd need 2 and others 3 of the central midfielders was why Ki was loaned out to Sunderland as unless there was a run on injuries he'd get very little game time (I know there are other conspiracy theories around his relationship with Laudrup but apart from the issue of helping a potential relegation rival, Ki is better of this season at Sunderland).

The gradual build up of injuries meant that instead of a regular rotation that happened earlier on in the season, Shelvey and Canas in particular were called on even more during the Nov/Dec period which may well have had an impact on their fitness.
Shelvey has possibly been Swansea's player of the season so far but a heavy schedule in recent weeks had arguably knackered him out to some extent
As with Shelvey, Canas has gone from playing equivalent of around 1 game per week to regularly playing 2 games a week
As well as the problems up front and in midfield, injuries to Dyer, Lamah and Pablo meant that this area was also stretched.

Pablo has gained a reputation this season as being 'made of glass' but last season was an almost ever-present. This season maybe he's been pushed backed too quickly only to relapse.
Playing 2 matches in a week might not seem the greatest hardship in the world, but going from nothing to multiple games may be too much of a rush for some players
If players were parts of a machine instead of human then it would make sense to have had Ki around all season to be used in an emergency but in reality an unhappy player can disrupt the squad not to mention do nothing for their potential resale value if they do look to move on.

Over the season so far Chico has played by far the most minutes (Williams was often rested in Europa League games partly due to a niggling ankle injury but also to give Amat experience).
Chico has played 2745 minutes this season, 489 minutes more than Ashley Williams in 2nd.
Pozuelo has featured in the most games this season (34 of the 36) although only 19 of those have been starts.
Pozuelo's been regularly involved, if not as heavily as some but played an important role in keeping things going during late Nov/early Dec
Any patterns of injury will be a matter of training, match volume and luck (no matter how fit or how sensible your playing schedule, impact injuries can just be split second collisions that cause long term injury), it's easy to look back when there's been a run of injuries and say that x or y caused them but it's a fine line between a well oiled machine running at optimum levels and having to end up playing a defender in midfield so small decisions can end up having far larger repercussions.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Swansea 2 - Fulham 0 Stats and and Chalkboards

For me the phrase 'must-win' is a bit like turning the amp up to 10, where do you go after that (a 'must must win')?  There's still 15 league games to go and we're not safe yet and neither are Fulham doomed.

That said, things look a hell of a lot rosier than they did a day ago, 3 more points and 10th place (at least until tonight) along with Shelvey, De Guzman, Pablo and Dyer returning.  Where there was worries about the wheels coming off, in-fighting in the squad and questions about Laudrup 'not standing enough' there now comes two games against teams currently in the bottom three with the opportunity to get real breathing space before the return of the Europa League.

That's not to say this was a walkover, Fulham had a couple of decent chances, most notably this header:
It feels like crosses have been a weakness over the last few weeks especially.  With the 'direct' football of West Ham, Cardiff and Stoke the next 3 games, minimising set pieces for the opposition will be key.

Overall, another relatively low key 1st half (22 of Swansea's 29 goals have been scored in the 2nd half), things were stepped up at the start of the 2nd.
Shots by Minute: Fairly even first half with Swans upping the attack at the start of the 2nd half before a late flurry from Fulham when already 2 down
Despite the odd misplaced pass, I thought that this was one of Chico's better games for a while, not just because of the goal (which may like his effort against Sunderland get taken off him depending on the mood of the dubious goals panel) but his ability to break up Fulham attacks and willingness to move forward.
Chico with most interceptions (7) of any player in the match, his more aggressive defending works well in tandem with Ash doing the clearing up when it goes wrong.
It would have been fun if self-destructive to have seen him rather than Amat being given the role of emergency midfielder over the last couple of weeks although the worry would be that Chico would take that a licence to roam wherever he wanted.

Twitter: @we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using Statszone , Whoscored  and Squawka

Monday, 20 January 2014

Swans 1 - Spurs 3 Match Stats

Generally I'd say you learn more about a team in defeat than in victory but I think analysing the second half display yesterday would be an act of masochism.

Things started well enough with a good opening half hour, although Spurs scored with their first shot there were before that a couple of situations where they had opportunities but failed to create.
Shots by Minute: Swans with only 4 shots in the second half and none after making it 3-1
The way the game went on in the second half it was a relief that things didn't completely implode, defeat if not welcomed was always the most likely outcome.  Much has been made of Swansea's poor home record but that is in part to having lost at home to Man City, Man Utd, Spurs, Arsenal and Everton.  With Newcastle and Liverpool also having visited, only Chelsea of the top 8 remain to visit the Liberty.

With a tough run now behind us (1 point from the last 6 league games is the same return as the corresponding fixtures last season) the next four games are ones where there is expectation rather than just hope.  On the downside all 4 corresponding fixtures last season (or 2011 in Cardiff's case) were defeats so it's a double edged sword, lose to the likes of Spurs and it makes little difference, lose to Fulham and we'll find ourselves really in trouble.

With 11 teams arguably in relegation contention all it needs for any side is a couple of wins to really take the pressure off but things are getting twitchy and the injury list worse after every game.  Canas and Shelvey have been run into the ground which will make it hard for Laudrup to rest Leon for the cup game against Birmingham.

The Ki situation is obviously a bit of a farce where it seems as if we didn't read the small print, for the last couple of games it would have been useful to have him around but give it another couple of weeks and he would probably have been out of the squad again when everyone's fit.

Bony's form however is a ray of light, here he is taking Chiriches to the cleaners:

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Man Utd 2 - Swansea 0 Stats and Chalkboards

It's of little consolation given the result but it doesn't require too much of a stretch of the imagination to visualise the 2 matches against Man Utd having the opposite results.  Both games saw Swansea look to control possession and restrict Manchester United's chances.

Where the first game saw this happening and United being caught out late on (helped by Fabio's red), this match saw all of the good work of the first half undone right at the start of the second.  When so much of the Swansea's gameplan is sticking to Plan A (keep it tight, frustrate and hope to nick a goal), things become difficult when you go a goal (or two) down.
Shots by Minute
Pozuelo's performance (especially in the first half) was a major positive, although in an ideal world he'd still be the kind of player you'd want to bring on in the last 30 minutes rather than playing a full game.  He made the most ball recoveries (14, next highest was 10) and was the most fouled player (5 times, next highest was 2).
Ball Recoveries for Pozuelo (left) and Swansea overall (right)
Swansea's crossing was again something of a disappointment, with only 3 completed crosses:
Crosses by Team - When generally only a single target (Bony), making a cross count is going to be a difficult task
With 8 days until the next game that will hopefully feel like a holiday between matches for players compared to the recent glut of games.  With Canas due to be out for a few weeks (was tough on Amat that he gets centre back start then ends up playing most of the game in midfield), the squad is starting to look strained but it'll probably be more a case of crossing fingers and hoping for no more injuries than bringing in anyone major.

Despite all the panic, we're still 13th although it's a 11 team struggle with a few 6 pointers coming up after the Spurs game, it's not quite squeaky bum time yet, but it's going to be a nervy few weeks.

Twitter: @we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using Statszone , Whoscored  and Squawka

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Why Tom Ince (probably) won't join Swansea this month

I'll be more than happy to be proved wrong on this as I think Ince is a decent player and (at the right price) could be a good acquisition but I'd be surprised if there's a picture of him at the Liberty holding the scarf aloft by the end of January, the closest so far is this image going round Twitter of Paul and Tom Ince Talking to a 'Swansea representative'.
This picture has sparked plenty of rumours but could of course be them a) anywhere, b) taken anytime c) talking to anyone with Leigh Dineen saying it's Ince's agent.
We may be short on wingers at the moment, although given that both Pablo and Lamah are due back this month and Dyer maybe in February it's not the case of needing to panic buy.  Ince is certainly someone who could fit in well and has a decent stats, the goals have dried up recently but there've been plenty of assists instead:
Ince's League stats from whoscored showing Assists and Goals (most recent games at bottom)
With 7 goals and 6 assists, Ince has been involved in over half of Blackpool's goals in the league this season (13 of  25) and averaging 2.8 shots per game so is not afraid to have a go and could well add a different dimension to Swansea's play.

The above is all well and good but there are a number of reasons I don't think he'll be joining anytime soon:

  • Money - Football Transfers are nearly always far from simple transactions but this one has even more issues than most.  
    • End of Contract: As Ince has only a few months left of his contract he has the extra option of doing nothing and always certainly creating more value for himself.  If the generally reported fee of £4m is true (I've heard Palace for £8m rumours but that just seems crazy) then by sitting tight it's arguable that a fair proportion of that would come his way in terms of signing fee and increased wages above what he'd get if he went somewhere in Jan
    • Liverpool: As Liverpool have a sell on clause (I've seen it reported in various places as 30%,35% or 50% - most often at 35%) then any fee Blackpool get will be significantly reduced.  I've also seen it reported that Liverpool have first refusal (god knows how that works if the player for whatever reason didn't want to join them as opposed to another side).
    • Blackpool: Given the sell-on clause reducing their share, Blackpool are left in the position of considering whether to take maybe £3m of any fee or keeping Ince and hoping for the pot of gold via the play offs (they do have Dobbie in their squad).  Despite only getting 1 point from their last 6 games they are only 4 points from the play-offs, if I was Blackpool's manager I'd be saying 'sell him over my dead body' but given his manager is his Dad, that dynamic might be a bit different.
    • Everyone Else: Despite Michu signing a new deal last January (£40k a week?) and the arrival of Bony, Swansea are not going to match other teams who are a bit looser with their wages/turnover ratio.  Ince ticks plenty of boxes and there's almost certainly going to be a club out there willing to offer £10-20k a week more than us. 
  • Manager - It's not the same as Zaha joining Manchester Utd and then finding out his face doesn't fit, but there's no guarantee that Laudrup will still be around next season which may reduce the appeal of joining Swansea.  It's probably not as big an issue as at other clubs as overall style and philosophy is unlikely to change regardless of who's in charge, but it adds an extra layer of uncertainty. 

There's plenty above to suggest that any deal is unlikely but on the positive side, Ince is undoubtedly a good fit and Swansea offers arguably the right level of step up, go to a relegation threatened side and maybe end up back in the championship or go somewhere like Everton and maybe hang around on the bench.  Maybe he'll see sense and within a few days he will be pictured at the Liberty holding that scarf aloft.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Swansea 2 - Man City 3 Stats and Chalkboards

The Christmas period of 4 games in 11 days comes to an end with arguably the best Swansea performance of the period but no points again.  This season has already seen single goal defeats against, Arsenal/Chelsea/Everton/Spurs and now Man City so there are fine lines between positive and negative results.

That said despite the performance, there was still the feeling that Man City had plenty left in reserve if needed and stepped up in the first 15-20 minutes of the second half and were pretty clinical when required.
Swansea might have had more shots but generally the better opportunities were Man City's
Total Shot details - Swans with plenty from distance which is not necessarily a bad thing if it's Bony doing the shooting but Canas shooting from range is optimistic to say the least
Even without his last minute goal, Bony was one of the best players on the field yesterday but that long range finish will hopefully hammer home the fact that the guy knows where the goal is and if he's given opportunities he'll score plenty.  As well as the goals, the thing that equally impressed me was his strength on the ball and also his link up play.

He's more than just a big guy up front, but his ability in the air is an advantage as seen from his passes received yesterday where of his 31 passes received Tremmel was the joint highest provider with 6 passes.
Bony Passes received vs Man City and previous game vs. Villa.  Higher possession vs. Villa meant fewer balls from back to front.  In neither game was there much service within the box but De Guzman's pass for Bony's goal yesterday a perfect example of the kind of service he can thrive on 
Build up for Bony's goals
One of the downsides of the game was that with the injury to Pablo, this game showed that I don't think either Lamah or Routledge look comfortable playing on the right wing and with a couple of weeks before Pablo's back (which given his recent history may be optimistic) and Dyer a while from returning I'd be tempted to play Rangel at right wing with Tiendalli/Jazz at right back.
Attempted Take-ons for Lamah and Routledge, Routledge's only attempt was the unsuccessful one that lead to Man City's third goal 
Pablo has had plenty of criticism this season for his injury record where last season barring a couple of weeks off in the middle of the season he was pretty much ever present, looking at minutes played over the 4 games during the Christmas period he was one of the players who played the most minutes (given he would have been expected to last around 60 minutes yesterday that would have put him as having the 6th most minutes of any Swans player.  It's obviously easy to be wise with hindsight but maybe that was too many minutes for him.
Minutes played by Player over the four games
Credit as always has to go to Ashley Williams, who's appearance record over the last few years is phenomenal.  I think Britton's illness meant that Shelvey played more than would have been expected although I would have like to have seen Pozuelo come on for him when Man City had made it 3-1.

With Man Utd and Spurs next in the league, there's a real possibility that league form could be 1 point in 6 games with 5 of the following 6 league games being '6 pointers' against Fulham/West Ham/Cardiff/Stoke/Crystal Palace (along with the game against Liverpool and the Napoli tie).

Anyone from Hull in 10th downwards could end up in trouble but as long as there's no more major injuries, there's enough in this squad to be comfortable.  It's sad in a way however that what not so long ago would have been the match of the season (away to Man Utd in the FA Cup) is possibly now seen as more of a chore, not least coming on the back of the Christmas fixtures.

The game should be more about glory than just mid-table survival but the pragmatic view would be the odds of actually getting as far as Wembley again (i.e, Semis or beyond) are fairly large and a mini run of 3-4 games (including possible replays) doesn't bring glory but just a fixture pile up.

Laudrup (unlike Rodgers) took the League cup seriously from the very beginning in his first season and was handsomely rewarded for it, this season priorities are different and it may be that with the Europa League tie with Napoli to come, the FA Cup (at least for now) is given less focus.

Twitter: @we_r_pl
Match Stats: Created using Statszone , Whoscored  and Squawka