At 3.15 yesterday, I’d already written this column. Swansea City 3-0 up, and surely cruising to at least a six or seven – nil victory, to provide their fans with a home version of the demolition of Fulham, against an extremely toothless Wolves.
How wrong was I?
Such is the analysis of football available to us these days by experts on TV and radio, replay after replay, and articles like this that use detailed stats to try to prove or disprove footballing theories, that we all feel the need to demand to know the detailed reason why this or that happened during a football match.
– How did we concede so many goals?
– Why did we defend so badly?
– Why didn’t we pass as well as usual?
– Why didn’t we score more goals?
And so on. But sometimes, you witness a football match that makes you simply hold your hands up and realise that you have just watched an old-fashioned contest where detailed analysis is almost pointless because it was simply a game where plans went out the window, players reverted to instinct and the result – for the neutral anyway – was an exciting 90 minutes where either team could have won, or the score could have easily ended up as seven all. There is something to be said for games like that, as they happen so infrequently these days, and yesterday’s offering at the Liberty Stadium was certainly one of those that was almost a “throw back” game to a more innocent time in football history. But despite all that, we can still try to make some sense of what went on.
In truth, there was little pattern to the game after that first 15 minutes of Swansea dominance that had convinced me that Wolves were in for a slaughtering of monumental proportions. Instead, the game began to ebb and flow constantly with Wolves showing an appetite for the game that surprised those of us who thought they might roll over, as relegated sides often do. Clearly, neither side will be happy with their defending for most of the eight goals, and it was obvious by the sacrifice of Orlandi at half time, which followed an on field re-organisation after about half an hour, that Brendan Rodgers didn’t feel the back three of Williams, Monk and Caulker was an experiment worth continuing with, such was the success that Matt Jarvis in particular was having down Swansea’s right hand side.
It was particularly hard on Orlandi. Injured for such a long period since his excellent performance in the Swans first away win at Aston Villa in January, his classy touch was clear in the first move of the game that he started and finished himself with a neat header from Scott Sinclair’s cross. Then he turned provider ten minutes later with a great run and nutmeg followed by a cross that was met by Dyer’s goal bound header. Orlandi’s match stats show how unlucky he was to be sacrificed as Rodgers reverted to a back four that had served him so well this season. The Spaniard provided two of Swansea’s seven shots that were on target – scoring one goal – supplied an assist, and of his 25 passes, 24 (96%) were completed. There was nothing to suggest during his first half performance that those stats wouldn’t have been continued or even improved after the break. As disappointed as he no doubt would have been by being withdrawn, perhaps he can take some comfort from match stats as positive as that.
Next Page: Match Stats Analysis from the 4-4 draw…
The overall stats of the game show just how foreign a performance this was to the watching Swansea fans, spoilt this season by almost complete dominance of possession against almost every team that has visited the Liberty. Possession in the game between the teams was almost as equal as the 4-4 result, Swansea just edging it by 55% to 45%. For a team who this season have topped 900 passes in games, and regularly gone over the 700 mark, the 516 passes attempted by Swansea is a relatively low number for a home game, and for a team who have also topped 90% accuracy in games, Rodgers will not be overly thrilled by an 84% pass success rate which saw 433 of his teams 516 passes hit their target.
To be fair to Wolves, their passing stats were almost the equal of Swansea which is a credit to them. Their pass completion was just 1% lower than Swansea’s 84%, and even though they made fewer passes than Swansea, completing 335 of 406 attempted, Wolves passed and kept the ball far better than many teams who have visited the Liberty this season. They also made the most of their possession too, throwing in an amazing 37 crosses to Swansea’s 12, proof that Wolves did not turn up at the Liberty just to make up the numbers, and the point they ended up with as a result of this positive approach is all the more commendable considering they came back from 3-0 down after that opening 15 minutes and were 4-1 down after just 31. Interestingly, despite the change by Rodgers back to his trusted formation, Swansea’s possession still dipped in the second half, falling from 60.4% in the first period to just 49.5% in the second, a figure almost unheard of to Swansea fans at home this season, which is credit to Wolves. Maybe the travelling Wolves fans will be asking where this resilience and quality had been during the earlier stages of the season.
As you’d expect in a four-all draw, the stats also highlight the attacking endeavour of both teams. Of Swansea’s 516 passes, 154 were forward (30%), with Wolves’ percentage even higher, with 149 of their 406 (37%) being played forward. The breakdown of passes in the attacking half and then the final third are also more flattering to Wolves, showing they attempted 309 attacking half passes compared to 232 by Swansea. In terms of passing in the attacking final third of the field, Wolves again out-passed Swansea by 133 passes to 96. At the risk of labouring a point and upsetting Wolves supporters, I’d have to ask, where has this attacking intent been in their previous 35 games? Maybe the certainty of relegation has cast away the shackles and allowed them to play with a freedom previously denied to the Wolves faithful. Whatever it was, I have seen many worse teams at the Liberty season this year than the Wolves team I witnessed yesterday, who were definitely good value for their entertaining, but ultimately fruitless point
There was one interested spectator at the Liberty who, as he is steeped in football from a bygone age, would no doubt have enjoyed the spectacle that was served up in front of him, a certain Sir Alex Ferguson. However, no matter how much he would have enjoyed the game, I’m not sure what he actually will have gained from watching Swansea in readiness for what could be a title clinching match at Old Trafford next Sunday, such was the dissimilarity of yesterdays performance to how Swansea usually perform. With that in mind, I have a word of warning for Sir Alex, don’t expect Swansea to play that way again next week, instead expect a return to an organised, controlled performance that has been the hallmark of their season so far. And despite what the mischievous Roberto Mancini has suggested this week, don’t expect Swansea to roll over and hand you the Premier League trophy, because this squad has much more pride running through it than to do that.
One thing that has been levelled at Swansea throughout this season has been their lack of goals. Well, they scored four against Wolves, and it could easily have been six or seven, and that is probably the only positive Brendan Rodgers will take away from this topsy-turvy game. If Sir Alex underestimates Swansea next week based on the performance against Wolves, it could prove to be the biggest mistake he will make in his long and illustrious career.
About as big a mistake as assuming that because a team is 3-0 up after 15 mins, they will go on and win pretty handily. It’s a funny old game football!
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.