Optimism and hope. The great words of torture for any football fan. After the clinical demolition of Fulham at Craven Cottage in what was, by common consent, Swansea City’s best performance in a generation, Swans supporters turned up in their thousands at the Liberty Stadium yesterday, confidently expecting to put the mighty Everton to the sword. Sadly, as they exited the stadium 90 minutes later, the optimism and hope they had arrived with had turned into gloomy disappointment and frustration.
There was no sign of the ultimate disappointment to come in the early stages of the match however, as Swansea started the game extremely positively, so confidently in fact, it suggested there was no reason to doubt that they wouldn’t pick up from where they left off in West London and dominate Everton exactly as they had Fulham. This optimism was backed up by early chances that fell to Danny Graham, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Sinclair, which suggested that finally, Swansea would beat a team they had never before triumphed over in any form of football in the club’s long history. However, as we now know, that history making victory was sadly not meant to be.
There have been several games this season – Blackburn and Sunderland away to name just two – where I’ve had the feeling that had the Swans got an early goal as a reward for their initial dominance and pressure, then they would have streaked away and won games comfortably. I couldn’t help feeling the same way yesterday as the first half began, but when the goal didn’t come in return for that supremacy and Everton themselves then started to get a foothold in the game after about half an hour, the optimism I had flowing through me when I arrived at the ground, began to cease and was replaced instead by an uneasy feeling of apprehension.
Whilst it was clear that the Swans were not reaching the dizzy heights of the Fulham game, they still completely out passed Everton over the 90 minutes, attempting 554 open play passes compared to Everton’s 323, with only Bolton, Stoke, Sunderland and Wigan attempting fewer passes at the Liberty this season. Swansea also topped Everton in accuracy too – 86% completion (475 passes) to Everton’s 77% (249), again, comfortably outplaying their opponents. So with passing statistics like that, how exactly did Everton manage to walk away with the victory? Well, apart from the precise excellence of Leighton Baines’ free kick, I think the answer lies in where those passes were made and the attacking intent of them.
Next Page: Further analysis of Swansea and Everton Passing…
Of Swansea’s 554 passes, only 51% of them took place in Everton’s half, which was the lowest percentage of all teams in Saturday’s Premier League games. On the other hand, of Everton’s miserly 323 passes, 80% of them took place in the Swansea half, which, in complete contrast to the Swans, was the highest percentage of attempted passes completed in an opponents half in any of yesterday’s fixtures. Those stats clearly show that when Everton coped with that early Swansea period of dominance, David Moyes then utilised his plan to use his combative midfield three of Osman, Piennar and Gibson to push high up the field and attempt to press Swansea back, forcing them to do their best work at least fifty yards away from Tim Howard and the Everton goal.
This approach is confirmed by the intent of Everton’s passing, with 40% of their open play passes being played forward, compared to Swansea’s 26%, and Everton only passing backwards with 13% of their passes, compared to Swansea going back with 20% of theirs. Sometimes, no matter how much we want our team to win, and win comfortably, you have to give credit to an opposition team who have come with a plan, put it into operation and then carried it out successfully. Despite Everton having so little of the ball compared to Swansea, they basically forced Swansea to use almost half of their possession in non threatening areas and ensured that when Everton then had the ball themselves, they made the very most of it in a positive way, up the field and for the bulk of the time, moving forward. Having said all that, and as effective as they undoubtedly were yesterday, I still wouldn’t swap any of Everton’s midfield three I mention above for the likes of Britton, Allen or Sigurdsson, nor would I ever want Swansea to adopt the pressing game that Everton favoured yesterday. But nonetheless, David Moyes deserves credit for blunting Swansea’s attack and for handling Swansea’s superior possession better than most managers who have visited the Liberty this season.
Everton’s sharpness in attack over Swansea is also borne out by the shots of each team. Despite their lack of overall possession, Everton made the most of what they had in those advanced areas by having 12 shots on goal compared to Swansea’s eight, but crucially, 5 of Everton’s were on target, while Tim Howard was only forced into action on one occasion, very early on by Danny Graham’s shot.
In terms of individuals, whilst the stadium announcer gave the Man of the Match to Leon Britton, as accomplished as Britton once again was, I must admit that I would have gone with his young midfield partner Joe Allen as my top Swansea performer. It was no surprise that Britton’s percentage for passes completed was again up at 93% in completing 66 of his 71 attempted passes which was superior to Allen’s return of 87% (54 out of his 62 completed), but I thought Allen was everywhere yesterday, and when the contest became restricted by the pressing game employed by Everton, Allen rose to the physical challenge and never gave an inch to his more experienced opponents nor allowed himself to be intimidated, as was displayed by his second half booking for a pretty robust challenge on Phil Neville. Allen covered his fair amount of ground too, getting through 6.38 miles during his 90 minutes, which coincidentally was the same distance covered by both Britton and Angel Rangel.
So, another dip in the roller coaster season that is Swansea City’s debut in the Premier League, and with a visit to White Hart Lane next weekend, nobody can predict with any certainty exactly what will happen in that particular part of North London. Despite the disappointment I felt walking away from the Liberty yesterday, my crumb of comfort lies in the knowledge of knowing that one of the many positive things that Brendan Rodgers has demonstrated this season, is that he learns from every setback that he and his team experience and then progresses positively from it as a result. I have no doubt that over the next seven days he will work on the lessons of yesterday and arrive in London with a plan of his own and his team again full of confidence for the tough challenge ahead.
Me? Well, I see no reason why Swansea won’t get something from Harry and his boys at the Lane, especially as Spurs themselves are not currently enjoying the rich vein of form that they were earlier in the season, so I don’t believe Brendan and his boys need to be fearful at all of Tottenham. Just as they weren’t at the Liberty in December, which saw Harry in raptures talking about the style of Swansea’s play.
There’s nothing wrong with being optimistic and hopeful is there?