Skip to content

Football Focus, Swansea-Manchester United: Swansea shows promise in possession, but poor defensive shape

Aug 21, 2013, 11:16 AM EDT

source:  Two goals in quick succession in the first half turned an even match into a comfortable 4-1 win for Manchester United over Swansea City on Saturday. Before conceding twice, Swansea looked like a fairly capable, possession-based team.

The biggest surprise in player selection was United manager David Moyes‘ decision to start only one forward in Robin van Persie, leaving Wayne Rooney on the bench. Ryan Giggs played in a withdrawn attacking role, making the formation essentially a 4-2-3-1.

Wingers Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia took up narrow starting positions, with Welbeck preferring to cut in from the left wing and allowing Patrice Evra to overlap from left back.

Ahead of the center backs, Michael Carrick played more of a traditional holding role, while Tom Cleverley roamed box to box, with a little more freedom to push high. Swansea didn’t really play with a No. 6 (holding) and No. 8 (box-to-box) midfielder; instead, Leon Britton and Jose Alberto Cañas (and Jonjo Shelvey, in the second half) both played No. 8 roles.

Many teams prefer to have two players starting from that deeper role, as it allows for more movement and an element of less predictability — the players involved just have to make sure that one is always in the gap between the center backs.

Swansea defensive shape to blame for two

Even with two players protecting the defense, Swansea conceded two preventable goals. The first directly involved the team’s defensive shape with relation to its deep midfielders’ roles.

source:

When an attacking player sits in the space between the defensive and midfield lines, the goal is to draw the center backs out of position, which is exactly what Welbeck does. Chico steps up to him, and Ashley Williams is also drawn up. This leaves the outside backs setting the offside line, which should never happen.

Both Angel Rangel and Ben Davies are in proper position, accounting for United’s wide threats, but one center back needs to stay goal-side of van Persie. Shelvey (who in the run of play has temporarily switched positions with a holding player) should preferably step to Welbeck, leaving both center backs to take up their ideal positions (green line).

source:

On the second goal, van Persie uses change of direction to get behind Williams. Before Evra crosses, Williams is in good position, goal-side and ball-side of the attacker. But watch the video — van Persie’s quick, choppy steps in opposite directions allow him to float onto Williams’ back shoulder.

source:

The resulting separation is not much — maybe a step — but it’s enough that when Evra floats a ball over Williams, Davies realizes that his central partner will be beaten by the cross. He has to leave Valencia alone and hope he can win the ball in the air. He doesn’t, and it sends the defense scrambling.

Triangles everywhere

Before those two daggers, Swansea showed a lot of promise, trying to keep the ball on the floor and play.

source:

The idea, à la FC Barcelona, is to create triangles of support all over the field for the player in possession. The pattern of play becomes less predictable the more passing lanes for the player on the ball.

source:

This is one of its better sequences of ball movement, created by Wayne Routledge tucking in from the left wing and Cañas and Shelvey distributing. Davies gets involved, overlapping from left back, and Rangel on the right is also in an advanced position.

source:

When Davies loses the ball, it’s not so much a lack of options as awareness. He tries to force the ball forward when his best passing lanes are behind him, either back to Cañas or one of the center backs.

Encouragingly, Swansea never resorted to kicking the ball over the top, even when it went down a couple goals. Swansea attempted 534 passes in the game, according to OPTA, only 41 of which (7.7 percent) were long. The home side attempted 161 passes in the attacking third of the field, compared to United’s 123. Of United’s 471 total passes, 53 (11.3 percent) went long.

Second-half adjustments: New forwards in the mix

source:

Swansea stayed in a 4-3-3 in the second half, but Wilfried Bony took over the target role. Michu dropped and took over the playmaking role, and his partnership with Bony looked promising. Shelvey moved to a holding position, which suits his skill set more. For his part, Shelvey is a good distributor, but he isn’t as apt moving forward as Michu.

The second-half Swansea look is closer to its ideal lineup, and Bony could turn out to be one of the signings of the year. He and Michu interchanged well, and with Nathan Dyer cutting in dangerously on the right, it gave the team a more dynamic attack.

When Rooney came off the bench around the hour mark, United moved to 4-4-2 with him and van Persie running up top. Carrick and Cleverley flattened out their line, and the wingers pulled wider.

Welbeck’s starting position changed noticeably. Even though he still cut inside, he began his runs wider and also had the option of running the flank. Evra stayed home more, and Rooney and van Persie had space to operate in the middle of the field.

Breaking through the ceiling

Coaches often talk about players’ “ceilings,” or potential. That same terminology could be applied to teams. While United looked to be a bit closer to its top form on Saturday, Swansea has a lot of room for growth.

When Bony came on, it changed the dynamic of Swansea’s attack. Michu is too dynamic of a player to not have him in the middle of the field (he checked back often from the striker spot anyway), and Shelvey is not dynamic enough for that spot.

Although United won this game comfortably, Swansea will likely improve more as the season progresses than its opponent, relative to the start of the season. Swansea’s ceiling isn’t as high as United’s because of the gap in individual talent, but fans have plenty of reason to be optimistic.

Did you miss the game? Watch it all unfold here.

Latest Posts
  1. Spain’s Del Bosque says De Gea’s Euro spot in trouble without playing time; Speaks on Chelsea’s Costa

    Sep 2, 2015, 12:31 PM EDT

    Manchester United's goalkeeper David De Gea of Spain arrives at Soccer City training facility for a Spanish soccer team concentration meeting in Las Rozas, near Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. The day after De Gea's multi-million euro move to the Spanish capital was called off, Madrid pointed the finger at United, issuing a lengthy 10-point statement claiming officials at Old Trafford held the deal up with their delays, but United hit back at their old rivals by publishing a counter-statement on Tuesday evening. (AP Photo) AP

    “He needs to be professional and move on from this episode,” Del Bosque said of the Manchester United keeper.

  2. Arsenal’s Ozil says he’d play in Olympics; Joachim Low doubts it very much

    Sep 2, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT

    FBL-WC-2014-MATCH45-USA-GER Getty Images

    Unified Germany hasn’t medaled since 1964 in Tokyo (Bronze). East Germany won gold in 1976.

  3. No Arsenal big Deadline buy? Wenger says price for Martial “sums it up all the way”

    Sep 2, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 09:  Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal reacts on the touchline during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on August 9, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) Getty Images

    “The Financial Fair Play today is too complicated to be efficient,” said the Premier League’s longest-tenured manager. “There’s a need to simplify the process.”

  4. European qualifiers preview: Netherlands, Spain, Germany in unusual positions (full schedule)

    Sep 2, 2015, 10:38 AM EDT

    (L-R) Arjen Robben of Holland, Birkir Bjarnason of Iceland during the EURO 2016 qualifying match between Iceland and Netherlands on October 13, 2014 at the Laugardalsvollur National Stadium at Reykjavik, Iceland.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images) Getty Images

    Some of Europe’s biggest sides find themselves in tricky positions ahead of the final four group stage matches of qualification.

  5. $10 million Gradel set for six-month Bournemouth absence after ligament tear

    Sep 2, 2015, 9:24 AM EDT

    Bournemouth's Max Gradel battles for the ball with Aston Villa's Micah Richards, right,  during their English Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, England  Saturday Aug. 8, 2015. (John Walton/PA via AP)  UNITED KINGDOM OUT  NO SALES NO ARCHIVE AP

    Bournemouth took a big hit on transfer deadine day, but it had nothing to do with sales or purchases.

  6. Transfer window by the numbers: The Premier League breaks its records

    Sep 2, 2015, 8:47 AM EDT

    watfordfc.com watfordfc.com

    Let’s dig into the figures, at least in terms of the 20 Premier League clubs, including the controversial amount of players on loan from Chelsea.

  7. U.S., Swiss attorney generals to give joint press conference on FIFA investigation

    Sep 2, 2015, 8:16 AM EDT

    U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch listens to East Haven Police Chief Brent Larrabee, left, speak during a community policing tour, Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in East Haven, Conn. Lynch is in Connecticut to highlight improvements in relations between police and Latinos since four officers were arrested in 2012 on abuse charges. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) AP

    We’re just a few weeks away from further information on the strength of the cases against Sepp Blatter’s FIFA.

  8. VIDEO: Could Manchester United and Real Madrid benefit from the De Gea deal collapsing?

    Sep 1, 2015, 10:08 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-ARSENAL Getty Images

    If both sides really wanted to make this transfer happen, they could have. Is it possible neither team wanted the deal to get done?

  9. VIDEO: Manchester City has spent more than $500 million under Manuel Pellegrini

    Sep 1, 2015, 9:37 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptnjmtjlmtrmyznjyjzkyziwmwm1owmzndhiogfmnmiz AP

    Based on the Citizens’ form to start the season, it looks like money well spent.

  10. Arsenal Supporters’ Trust issues statement calling for review of club’s transfer policies

    Sep 1, 2015, 9:08 PM EDT

    Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    After spending just $20 million this summer on a goalkeeper and a teenager, Arsenal fans want to know what’s going on in the boardroom.

  11. Full list of every transfer made by Premier League clubs during the Summer Transfer Window

    Sep 1, 2015, 8:19 PM EDT

    International Champions Cup 2015 - Manchester United v San Jose Earthquakes Getty Images

    Considering Premier League teams spent more than $1.3 billion on transfers this summer, it’s quite the list.

  12. Five deals that didn’t get done over the Summer Transfer Window

    Sep 1, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG--PR-EVERTON-MANUTD Getty Images

    We all thought they would happen, but with the transfer window now closed, we’re left scratching our heads.

  13. WATCH LIVE: Premier League Deadline Day Show

    Sep 1, 2015, 5:34 PM EDT

    PremierLeagueNBC

    Clear your schedule at 7 p.m. ET for two hours of coverage detailing a wild and crazy Deadline Day in the Premier League. Watch live on NBCSN or online, right here.

  14. Complete list of every transfer in the Premier League on Deadline Day

    Sep 1, 2015, 4:24 PM EDT

    FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-MONACO-BASTIA Getty Images

    Take a look at every transfer made in the Premier League on a wild and crazy Deadline Day.

  15. Aaron Lennon inks three-year deal with Everton

    Sep 1, 2015, 3:32 PM EDT

    Everton v Burnley - Premier League Getty Images

    The former Tottenham man spent the end of last season on loan at Goodison Park, and now the move has been made permanent.

  16. Leicester City signs Nathan Dyer on loan from Swansea City

    Sep 1, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT

    Swansea City v York City - Capital One Cup Second Round Getty Images

    The winger was flown into Leicester on the owner’s helicopter as a last minute signing for the Foxes.

  17. Manchester United fires back on De Gea saga, laying blame at feet of Real Madrid

    Sep 1, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT

    Alexander Buttner, Gareth Bale AP

    Let’s hope these guys match up in the UEFA Champions League, where time can be kept on the field.

  18. GRADES: How did each Premier League team fare in the Summer Transfer Window?

    Sep 1, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT

    PST’s Lead Writer and Editor gives each team a grade after a busy summer in the transfer market.

  19. West Brom chairman reacts to Berahino furor over rejected Spurs bids; Takes shot at Levy

    Sep 1, 2015, 2:09 PM EDT

    during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Manchester City at The Hawthorns on August 10, 2015 in West Bromwich, England. Getty Images

    West Bromwich Albion chairman Jeremy Peace is speaking out on the Saido Berahino saga at the Hawthorns.

  20. USMNT Hyndman stays put at Fulham, will have trials to determine next home

    Sep 1, 2015, 1:37 PM EDT

    Hyndman Getty Images

    Frustrated at Fulham, American teen Emerson Hyndman looks set to stay at Craven Cottage through the final year of his contract.

Featured video

MOTD: United's offensive struggles