Story of a Match: Swansea

Posted by on October 17, 2011 in Match Analysis | 0 comments

I could get used to this winning feeling, you know. Three wins in four games following Saturday’s game have Norwich sitting comfortably mid table and with a settled side. But given the struggles we had against Swansea last year, the 2-0 home win masking a poor performance and then the 3-0 defeat away, how were we able to comfortably knock them off their perch this season?

Predictable Swans

Ultimately, Swansea were completely predictable and without any sort of backup plan once their preferred way of playing, controlling possession, was removed. Norwich came out of the blocks like the clappers and were 2-0 after just 9 minutes. There was no luck to these goals. Morison had the measure of the defence all game and showed it after 40 seconds with his perfect header down for Pilks. A few minutes later, the defence was again exposed as Martin stole in for the second. The defence Swansea have seems to have been picked mainly for its ability to build up play and control the football rather than its ability to defend. You’d never see a player like Leon Barnett in the Swansea backline, but he’s a far, far better defender than either Williams or Monk. Yet his strengths lie in, you know, defending, not passing. And all Swansea want to do is pass.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not when you’ve got an end product anyway. But Swansea didn’t. Aside from their goal, after 12 minutes, Ruddy had a comfortable first half as Swansea reverted to type; endless passes followed by a long shot. This isn’t to say Norwich were comfortable, and nor were the fans. The more Swansea dominated the ball, the more restless the crowd became. I’m not sure whether they expected Swansea to turn up and dominate possession, but anyone who knows about the Swans should’ve. So Swansea piled on the pressure, and the Norwich defending at times became more and more desperate as they just launched it forward and waited for another wave…

Above you can see the Swansea passes between the 12th minute, when they scored, and half time. Here you can see them dominating the middle, passing it from side to side, involving the centrebacks, trying to get it wide and putting a couple of balls into the box. Above, you can see Norwich’s unsuccessful passes from the same period, increasingly relying on long balls and hoofs to clear the lines as Swansea piled on pressure. “Boring Boring Norwich” chanted the self indulgent Swansea fans, so wrapped up in their ‘Swanselona’ image that they seem to forget the only stat in football that matters: the result. I couldn’t put it better than Lambert himself did post match, saying he appreciates good football, but he appreciates results too. Just ask West Brom fans; there’s no virtue in getting relegated by stringing together 600 passes and getting no goals.

And here’s why. This zone between the half-way line and the final third of the pitch was owned by the Norwich defence. Whenever Swansea tried to break through, someone was there to break up play or put a foot in. They were content to let them play in front but once they got too close, a tackle was put in and the play broken up. For a period of the game that had the fans tense and quiet, it was reasonably comfortable and all credit for this has to go to the Norwich defence (and midfield). They concentrated on the job, were in the right position, and Hoolahan and Johnson in particular ran miles to close players down.

And the result was the comparison above. Swansea, dominant in possession and with a good few hundred more passes than us, mustered up less shots and mostly outside the box. Speculative long rangers that posed danger only to the crowd. Norwich, in contrast, made their possession count. Morison had the best game of his short Norwich career, first to every ball, harrying defenders, creating chances and making a real nuisance of himself. He deservedly picked up the man of the match award. Down the flanks, both Pilkington and Bennett were causing a hassle and getting the ball into the box while Wes, second half at least, began to run the show.

It was a triumph of managers, more than anything. Lambert had clearly learned the lessons of last year’s meetings with the Swans and had the players drilled to perfection. An example of this was getting Norwich players close to Swansea defenders every single time they had a goal kick. He removed the short ball and the chance for them to build up from the back and forced Vorm to hit it long. By removing these options, he won the tactical battle and the result was only a matter of time.

Another player in the overall chess game was Scott Sinclair. The dangerous winger was nullified by a combination of Naughton and, increasingly, Bennett who put in a hell of a shift down the right. His map of tackles above proof of his range that day, putting tackles in both boxes and winning the ball, and at one point racing back 60 yards to do so. Lambert had clearly isolated Sinclair as a dangerman, as we all know he is, and he was given no room all afternoon, and credit has to go to the players on the pitch who stuck to their jobs and played with the concentration and determination to see it through. A generally excellent performance and by the end, as we passed rings about them for the last 15 minutes, the chants of Boring Boring Norwich were coming from the Barclay.

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