Sometimes in football, you have to witness something with your own eyes just to assure yourself that what you just saw actually did happen. I refer of course to Swansea City’s complete demolition of a streetwise and experienced Barclays Premier side in the shape of Fulham, who entered yesterday’s game at Craven Cottage having won six out of their previous eight home matches in the League, scoring an impressive 21 goals in the process, suggesting that Martin Jol had turned his particular home in west London into the type of fortress that all managers dream of.
When I arrived at the ground I was asked my prediction for the game ahead by a travelling fan from South Wales, “Swansea win” was my instant reply. My response was a little bullish based on their excellent win the week before against the big spending Manchester City, which followed hot on the heals of a very solid performance in a victory at Wigan, but in reality, I actually felt that leaving Craven Cottage with a point would be an excellent result for Brendan Rodgers’s travelling Swans, such was the Cottagers strength at home.
But just as I was taking my seat to consider the afternoon’s prospects, I learned of the news that Swansea’s star performer against Manchester City, and a player who has been the very bedrock of Swansea’s courageous assault on the Premier League this season, Ashley Williams, would be absent with a virus. My optimism changed instantly, and I have to confess, I then feared even a draw might have been out of reach for Swansea.
I thought that, not because Williams’ replacement, Gary Monk, would let Swansea City down – far from it, he never has – but I was far more concerned by the fact that Monk and his young defensive partner, Steven Caulker, had never shared central defensive duties in a Premier League game. This untried partnership would now have to deal with the threat offered by the new Russian sensation, Pavel Pogrebnyak, who in his first five matches since signing from Stuttgart had scored five goals from his ten shots, and that of his experienced strike partner, the dynamic Andrew Johnson. Communication and understanding is paramount in any defensive partnership and my pre-match fear was that those particular attributes would not necessarily be as strong as they usually are when Williams and Caulker line up together.
Next Page: Leon Britton analysis…
But I shouldn’t have worried, because there was one factor I was overlooking that only became clear as the game developed. For Pogrebnyak and Johnson to exploit any potential confusion in the new Monk / Caulker partnership, they would need the ball, and thanks to a truly astonishing performance from midfielder Leon Britton, they hardly ever saw it. In fact, Pogrebnyak saw the ball 25 times, Johnson 19, but in carrying out his defensive duties, patrolling the area in front of his central defensive pairing, Britton enjoyed an amazing 100 passes, completing 96 of them. Astonishing.
Leon Britton has been a star performer many times this season, but in 90 minutes yesterday afternoon, the diminutive midfielder probably enjoyed his most influential game of this fantastic début season in football’s premier division, that set the very foundations for Swansea’s superb 3 – 0 victory.
Watching Britton throughout the game is an education in itself. From minute one, he makes himself available for any of his teammates who are in possession of the ball. Whether that is from keeper Michel Vorm, either of his central defenders or full backs, Britton is always available. In fact, the most telling statistic of his game was that of his 96 completed passes, only 14% of them were backwards, suggesting that where possible, Britton likes to start things. I don’t think there is a statistic yet for the amount of space a player makes for himself in order that he can help out players under pressure with the ball, but if there was one, Britton would head that list too. He is simply perpetual motion personified.
So far this season, Britton has made 1,688 passes – one of the highest in the division – and has completed 1,573 of them, that’s an amazing 93% (Editor’s Note: Highest in the league too.). Such is his importance to Swansea, and in particular the possession game they have almost pioneered under Brendan Rodgers, Britton has helped Swansea to attempt 15,561 passes this season, an average of 536 per game, completing 13,250 of them. Only Manchester City can top that completion figure. Those statistics are a complete vindication of Rodgers’ pass and move approach to football at the top level.
But maybe the most telling statistic of all in relation to Britton relates to his clearances. A question. Bearing in mind that this sublime footballer earns his living in the rough and tumble area just in front of the back four where, often, last ditch tackles or clearances into row Z are a staple for many a defensive midfielder, how many of Leon Britton’s 1688 passes this season do you think have been long ball clearances? Twenty? Fifty?
No, Just two. That is mind-boggling.
Next Page: Further Britton analysis…
When you consider that of those 1688 passes, 979 have taken place in the defensive half of the field and on just two occasions in all the time Leon has had the ball at his feet, often under extreme pressure, only twice has he felt the need to “put his foot through it”, then you can see that not only are we talking about a footballer of extraordinary passing ability, we are also talking about one of intelligence, craft and above all, a player with a steely commitment to carry out the on field vision of his manager’s off field instructions, where possession of the football is paramount to everything that his team does.
In hindsight, I guess it’s no surprise that Fulham were put to the sword so comprehensively, and maybe they saw it coming themselves. Back in December at the Liberty, Fulham were beaten by a rampant Swansea 2 – 0. In that game, Swansea completed 490 of their passes out of 544 attempts, a success rate of 90%. In reply, Fulham mustered an 81% success rate of 331 passes being completed – almost 160 less than Swansea. With figures like that, yesterday’s domination by Swansea should really have come as no surprise to them, but even they must be shaking their heads in wonder at Swansea’s 700 attempted passes, of which an amazing 613 (88%) were completed. In reply, Fulham’s percentage return was actually worse that they managed at the Liberty, with their 344 completed passes reflecting an 80% success rate.
All this means is that in two meetings this season, Martin Jol and his players have basically been chasing shadows – 1,103 of them to be precise – whilst Swansea City and Leon Britton in particular, have been dancing triangles around them.
I’m guessing that everyone associated with Fulham are just delighted that they only have to face Swansea twice a year, because the team I saw wearily walking off the Craven Cottage pitch yesterday was one that had been run ragged for a second time and were looking completely shell-shocked by the experience.
Next up for Swansea is Everton at the Liberty Stadium, and as such, I’m guessing that David Moyes had someone in the crowd watching at Craven Cottage. I’m also guessing that whoever that was, when he’s asked by Moyes to sum up Swansea’s success against Fulham, his scout will offer just two words – Leon Britton.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if he’ll also tell Moyes something like, “if I hadn’t seen with my own eyes how good Britton was, I simply wouldn’t have believed it.”
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) See Demo’s and videos about the Stats Centre & read about new additions to the stats centre.