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December 4th, 2013 by Michael Cox
1) The strain of the Europa League
This is clearly Swansea’s biggest problem. The Jacks’ first-ever European campaign has frequently forced Michael Laudrup’s side to play two games in quick succession, and considering clubs of the stature of Newcastle, Liverpool and Tottenham have all struggled with a constant Thursday-Sunday schedule, it’s no surprise that Swansea’s comparatively slender squad has been stretched to the limit.
Swansea were forced to start their Europa League campaign on August 1st, more than two weeks before the start of the Premier League. That meant pre-season was shorter than expected, and by the end of August they’d already played six matches compared to everybody else’s two. Even now, whereas the likes of Liverpool and Everton have played 14 matches, Swansea have played 23.
The Europa League seems to be particularly problematic for English clubs, perhaps because the league remains the most physical in Europe, and tiredness can be particularly damaging. Swansea’s record after Europa League group games is won one, drawn two and lost two, with the only victory coming over relegation certainties Crystal Palace.
Swansea are well on course for the knockout stages, but the Europa League has certainly cost them points in the league.
2) Michu’s shot conversion dropping
The major factor in Swansea’s superb 2012/13 campaign was the goalscoring form of the previously unheralded Spanish striker Michu, who managed an amazing 18 goals in 35 Premier League games.
Particularly impressive was his shot conversion rate – only Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku and Steven Fletcher bettered his 20% in this respect, a highly impressive figure that implies both that Swansea were creating fine chances, and that Michu was clinical in front of goal.
So far this season, that rate has dropped to just 7%. Michu is slightly confusing player – he actually prefers playing as a number ten, and his dip in goalscoring form is partly because of his change in role this season. But with Wilfried Bony starting less than half the games so far this season, Alvaro Vazquez misfiring and fewer goals from midfield, Michu’s goalscoring has been missed. Out for a month with a knee injury, his return could be crucial.
3) Uncertainty in goal?
It was surprising to see Gerhard Tremmel start last weekend’s defeat to Manchester City, despite the fact Michel Vorm was fully fit. Tremmel was arguably responsible for the first goal, Alvaro Negredo’s thumping free-kick, and while the 35-year-old has proved a decent deputy for the Dutchman, surely an away trip to the Etihad isn’t the time to experiment in goal?
Vorm is a fine shotstopper, but he’s also crucial because of his ability on the floor. His pass completion rate is 73.7% so far this season (equal to that of Dimitar Berbatov, for example) whereas Tremmel is something of an old-school keeper, and boasts just a 50% completion rate – in other words, effectively the same as it would be if you randomly dropped a ball anywhere on the field.
Vorm remains Swansea’s best goalkeeper, and in a side under pressure more than last season, can play a crucial role.
4) Poor home form
The statistics tell the story – Swansea have collected the seventh-most points on their travels, but just the 17th-most points at the Liberty Stadium this season, with six points from six games.
Their home fixture list was tough at the start of the campaign – Manchester United, Liverpool and then Arsenal – and the 4-0 victory over Sunderland was highly impressive. But consecutive draws against West Ham and Stoke have been a big disappointment, especially as Laudrup’s side had 67% and 65% of possession in those matches respectively.
It’s too small a sample size to ask serious questions, but the fact remains: Swansea must be winning more than a point per game at home this season.
5) Avoidable errors
Swansea’s results haven’t actually been too bad overall – defeats to Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United are hardly unreasonable – but when Swansea have dropped points against other sides, it’s often been because of poor individual errors.
There was Jonjo Shelvey’s horror show (in a defensive sense) against his old side Liverpool in a 2-2 draw, while Chico Flores and Jordi Amat failed to deal with a bouncing ball at Southampton, resulting in the Saints’ second goal. Shelvey also conceded the crucial penalty in the 1-0 defeat at Tottenham, converted by Roberto Soldado.
Swansea’s overall performance hasn’t been bad. They boast the highest possession share in the division, the seventh-most shots on target, and the eighth-fewest shots conceded. Individual mistakes, however, will always cost points.
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