EFL Championship 2019/20: Swansea City vs Barnsley – Tactical Analysis
Last weekend, one of the Championship matches that caught the eyes of many fans was between Swansea City and Barnsley. As they registered a decent run of form before entering this match, many fans expected this to be a fascinating clash. For Steve Cooper’s side, their strong run at the start of the season was hindered as the Welsh club found themselves slowly plummetted down the league table and would hope for a positive result to shoot them right up the table.
Barnsley, meanwhile, saw an opposite thing happened to them after the appointment of Gerhard Struber to their managerial spot. From being placed last on the league table, they rose up thanks to a good run of form that saw them secured two wins and one draw. Things were turning towards the positive side for them as they travelled to Wales for their away match against Swansea.
And that decent form of Barnsley was able to continue as they held Swansea to a goalless draw at the Liberty Stadium. This tactical analysis will provide an analysis of Swansea’s 0-0 draw against Barnsley. Meanwhile, using statistics, we will point out the noticeable tactical points in Cooper’s tactics and Struber’s tactics.
Swansea entered this match with their familiar 4-1-2-3 formation that saw Freddie Woodman continued to be Cooper’s first choice in goal. They also had a few injury problems with the centre-back position being hit the hardest. While veteran Mike van der Hoorn remained doubtful on the sideline and wasn’t available for this match, Joe Rodon was still being nurtured through his injury. This left no player who could play as a centre-back on the bench with Connor Roberts and Declan John being the names who were included among the substitutes.
In goal, Erwin Mulder also suffered an injury that forced him to remain on the treatment list. But this didn’t come as a significant problem for Cooper as he still had Woodman in goal and a decent backup choice on the bench in Kristoffer Nordfeldt. Up front, Bournemouth loanee Sam Surridge was the player chosen to lead the line as Borja Bastón was on the bench alongside the likes of Barrie McKay or Wayne Routledge.
In contrast, Barnsley had almost the strongest squad when they travelled to Wales for the match. The only absence in the squad list was through Mallik Wilks’ doubtful situation as he continued to recover from his injury. Other than that, Struber was able to pick the strongest front three that included Conor Chaplin and Jacob Brown leading the line while Cauley Woodrow provided support from the attacking midfielder spot.
Compared to the lineup that helped Barnsley steal one point away from West Brom in the 90th minute thanks to Aapo Halme’s goal, there wasn’t any change being made to it. At the heart of the defence, Bambo Diaby and Mads Juel Andersen still continued to link up with each other to limit the opposition’s attacking threat as they received support from the wing-backs duo in Clarke Oduor and Jordan Williams.
Barnsley’s style of play
After Struber’s arrival from Wolfsberger, Barnsley fans had seen their team playing with the principles that the Austrian manager deployed at his former club. When they were out of possession, the team heavily focused on playing out from the back utilising the passing ability of the two centre-backs.
One of the standouts from Struber’s build-up principles was the use of the third-man concept to beat Swansea’s high press. With Halme tended to drop in between Diaby and Andersen, it was viable for them to create a flexible passing triangle among them which benefitted them during the ball circulation process. The involvement of the Finnish player also allowed them to connect to the full-backs in case Swansea attackers overloaded the central half, similar to the shot below.
One of the aims in Swansea’s pressing strategy was to gain numerical superiority inside Barnsley’s defensive half and allowed the players to cut down the passing lanes. They also tried to apply pressure on the ball carrier with the intention of forcing him to make mistakes and lose the ball, which could allow the home side to start a counter-attack. Still, the three-man concept that Struber instructed his players to play with prevented them from losing possession while still be able to progress the ball forward.
As they entered the opposition’s half, it was possible for them to capitalise the space in between Swansea’s defensive line during the home side’s defensive transitioning period. This happened on several occasions which saw Swansea players created a significant pocket of space inside their defensive third. Unfortunately, though, that space wasn’t made the most out of by Barnsley players as they circulated the ball up the pitch quite slow and found the opportunity to pass a ball towards that space closed down.
Still, they managed to create several chances which also threaten Woodman’s goal. One of them came from a direct set-piece that came inside the second half, which saw Chaplin’s cross towards the far post found the head of Andersen. He managed to outjump his marker and drove the ball towards the ball, but the Newcastle loanee managed to move across quickly enough to stop the chance.
Overall, the away side registered a total of eleven shots throughout the match, a decent number considered how tight both teams’ defence were. But, surprisingly, there was only one of them managed to find the target since Woodrow struck a long-ranged shot from outside the box. Another thing that worth noticing that their total xG rating was 1.21, which resulted in one goal should be taken away from the match by Barnsley players. With most of their chances went wide and were blocked, this contributed much to the fact that they didn’t have much luck in front of goal.
Defensively, they tended to be aggressive in recovering possession while keeping the number of fouls as low as possible. This allowed them to monitor the players that involved in Swansea’s build-up process in their sights and acknowledged about the direction they would pass the ball to. When this happened, a player would close down the ball carrier and apply pressure on them while his teammates marked the available passing options around that player.
When the press was bypassed, the players would form a 4-3-1-2 which aimed to defend deep in their defensive third. They usually stretched their shape wide but also maintained a sufficient distance between the players that wouldn’t allow Swansea players to capitalise and entered the 16-yard box.
Also, by keeping the distance between the lines as narrow as possible, they also eliminated the possibility of the opposition’s players capitalising the space in that area. Combined with their high press, it helped them enjoyed a decent day in terms of keeping things tight at their end, which was the crucial factor to their convincing win at the end of the day.
Another factor that can be spotted from their defensive strategy is how efficient they used their offside trap when they pushed their defensive lines higher. As Surridge, and the later substitute Routledge, played the role of an advanced forward, they tended to sit on the shoulder of defenders and received long balls or through passes from their teammates. In order to limit the threat, two centre-backs would push up on several occasions to create a pocket of space behind them and invited Swansea’s striker to enter. This proved to be an efficient strategy as Surridge was caught offside during the match quite often and, therefore, disrupted Swansea’s attack.
Swansea’s style of play
Being considered as a better team between the two, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see Swansea entered this match with high confidence. On the ball, they tended to be a wing-oriented team as they focused most of their attacks down the left-hand side. As shown in the graph below, there were 23 chances being created from the left flank of Jake Bidwell and Bersant Celina, and their total xG rating even reached almost an expected goal for the team.
Looking at the role that they occupied during the match, it is quite understandable to see why Swansea relied heavily on the left side of the pitch. As an attacking full-back, Bidwell overlapped up the pitch quite often to provide support for Celina, who played as a winger but tended to cut inside and worked more inside the half-space. On the average position map, their average positions were located even higher compared to Kyle Naughton and André Ayew on the opposite side, the duo who contributed to eleven chances that the team created.
As the result of being efficient in terms of creating chances, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see Swansea registered more shots compared to their opponent, whose record stood at twelve shots, and they even reached a higher efficiency with six of those shots found the eventual target.
Again, a similar story happened to the home side as the numbers expected them to have at least a goal from this match. The rise of both teams’ xG dynamics were demonstrated clearest just few minutes after the second half started with both teams came close to a goal, and even Barnsley went further ahead.
Still, luck wasn’t on their side either as they found most of their shots being saved by Samuel Şahin-Radlinger, who was having a good day and played a crucial role in keeping Barnsley’s clean sheet. Furthermore, they also found some of their chances hit the post, similar to Surridge’s attempt below to beat Radlinger.
As he found the Austrian goalkeeper went off his line to clear the ball, Surridge immediately picked up the ball and attempted a lob on the edge of the defensive third. The direction of that lob was exquisite, but the power wasn’t since it went a bit too much and found the crossbar instead. It was the chance that Swansea could gain the lead in such a tight match but it was denied in an unfortunate way.
When they didn’t hold possession, Swansea players would form a narrow 4-5-1 defensive shape inside their half. Their defensive shape looked to be fairly wide but still maintaining a sufficient distance between each defender as they aimed to prevent the opposition’s players from making runs into the spaces between them. At the same time, they would also pin the opposition’s attack down and force them to circulate the ball outside the box.
This would allow the three players who took on the pressing duty to retreat to their half and regroup with the rest to form the structure. Another point to note is the structure itself focused on defending the central area and the half-spaces while leaving little spaces on both flanks. By keeping a sufficient distance between each player, the structure could shift laterally and covered any spaces that the opposition could utilise.
With a deep defensive line, Swansea were able to swarm the box and prevented short combinations between Barnsley players. This is also one of the reasons that the away side couldn’t get most of their shots on goal. Since there were too many players in front of Woodman’s goal, their attempts were mostly blocked or cleared immediately. They were also able to limit the number of passes being made into the final third as they gained numerical superiority to cut down possible passing lanes being created in between their defensive lanes.
As mentioned, when Barnsley played out from the back, they deployed a man-oriented press depending on the situation that happened on the field. The midfield line would join the attackers to enter the opposition’s half and each player was instructed to follow one another on the opposite side. Since most of his attacking players were lauded for their pace, this pressing strategy had worked efficiently and helped the team recovered possession high up the pitch on a couple of occasions.
A hard-fought battle was demonstrated at the Liberty Stadium between Swansea and Barnsley as both teams showed their strength on the defensive side. But, at the same time, they lacked a bit of luck in order to help them convert the chances that they created into goals and secured the points for their side. Still, it can be considered as a fascinating tactical battle between Cooper and Struber, two of the must-watched managers in the Championship this season.
With one point coming out of this game, Swansea and Barnsley saw their league positions changed quite a bit but in a contrasting way. The Welsh side will want to pick up the form that they had earlier this season to maintain their hope of securing a play-off spot. For Barnsley, they continue their rise up the table and with Luton Town continue to struggle, they have a big chance to escape the drop zone.
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