Garry Monk’s reign as Swansea City boss got off to the perfect start after his side blew past Cardiff City 3-0 in the south Wales derby at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.
A trio of second-half goals from Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and Wilfried Bony lifted the Swans into the top ten of the Premier League, whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men stayed 19th in the table and three points adrift of safety.
In a game where the Bluebirds made the pitch smaller through their high-line and elevated pressing in Swansea’s half, three sloppy errors compiled Solskjær to a fourth defeat in his first five games in-charge as Cardiff lost their defensive shape for the second and third goals conceded, due to a pivotal shift in formation to try and get back into the game.
Structure & Position: What Monk and Solskjær Wanted and Got From Their Players
Swansea made four crucial changes from the side that lost 2-0 away to West Ham United last week, with Michel Vorm, Àngel Rangel, Leon Britton and Marvin Emnes all coming into the starting lineup.
Monk instructed a 4-2-3-1 formation when playing out from the back, moving into a 2-4-3-1 in the middle of the pitch as the centre-backs split and both full-backs lined-up with Jonathan de Guzmán and Britton, whilst it eventually ended up as a 2-4-4 the further they advanced into Cardiff’s territory.
The introduction of Pablo Hernández for the second-half saw Swansea occasionally build through the middle in a 2-3-2-3 via the Spaniard dropping deep to receive the ball, alongside a slightly advanced de Guzman/José Cañas at times, and then driving forwards with it to create the 2-4-4.
Cardiff made just two changes from the team that downed Norwich City 2-1 seven days previous, with Wilfried Zaha making his first start for the club on the left whilst Kim Bo-Kyung was brought in on the right-hand side.
The key difference between the two sides was how they each played out from the back. Whilst Swansea deployed the 4-2-3-1, which gradually built into the 2-4-3-1 or 2-3-2-3, Cardiff’s high-line meant they played out in a 4-2-2-2 and David Marshall was instructed to direct it long towards Kenwyne Jones to win knock-downs.
Cardiff’s layout switched depending on the zones they entered on the pitch, with their wingers having the biggest say. In the middle with possession, it was a 4-2-2-2 and both Kim and Zaha joined the front line to make it a 4-2-4 the more they got forward. But without the ball, Kim and Zaha stayed in a 4-2-4 to press in Swansea’s half but would fall back into a 4-4-1-1 when in their own areas to support Cardiff’s full-backs defensively.
Swansea also used the 4-4-1-1 without possession, with both Dyer and Routledge dropping in line with their central midfield duo of de Guzman and Britton as both Rangel and Ben Davies also descended accordingly.
These plans worked well for Cardiff in the first-half with their 4-4-1-1 defensive shape in particular looking good against Swansea’s possession dominance, despite conceding seven chances to them, whilst conjuring up four opportunities themselves although the quality was never really there in their attacking play throughout.
But that defensive frame was soon lost in the second 45 minutes as Swansea ran riot and exploited Cardiff’s bare centre of midfield, which created itself following a tweak towards a 4-1-3-2 through substitutions in order to chase the game with the scoreline at 1-0.
However, a few positives can still be taken away from Cardiff’s first-half performance by Solskjær, as their adventurous high-line and sporadic hunting in packs without the ball, added to that with how well their wingers retreated from that pressuring to support both full-backs in defensive phases, was solid and foiled Swansea from repeatedly testing Marshall in the opening period.
First Half: Cardiff’s Defensive Shape Asked Swansea Questions In Their Probing With The Ball
It was widely expected that Cardiff would allow Swansea to have the ball because they’re the best team in England for holding onto it, but Solskjær wanted to ensure that they “rushed” them in their half when they owned it and only dropped deeper when in their own territory.
Both Kim and Zaha supported Cardiff’s two forwards in Craig Bellamy and Jones/Fraizer Campbell in pressing Swansea’s defence when they played out from the back, hoping they would panic and launch it towards their high-line, whilst each wide man got back tremendously well to ensure Cardiff’s full-backs were not isolated by their rivals’ pace and overlap on the flanks.
Cardiff, who had one of Bellamy or Jones/Campbell stationed just in front of their midfield block of four in their own half should they intercept Swansea’s play to launch a counter, also “rushed” to delay Monk’s players from getting into their rhythm quickly – with both of de Guzman/Cañas and Britton needing to drop deeper to give their backline more options when playing out of defence.
The visitors created a few half-chances in the first-half when they broke from their 4-2-2-2 into their 4-2-4, with Jones having two attempts whistle past the same post following neat exchanges down the flanks but the amount of opportunities they could create, with Swansea controlling the majority of possession, were always going to fizzle out once they had a lead to protect.
It was a tale of both teams cancelling each other out in the first-half but for Swansea on the other hand, despite having that superiority in terms of possession and creating seven of their total 14 chances in the opening period, they lacked a “killer edge” in their movement inside Cardiff’s box and also in their passing.
Monk’s decision to switch Emnes for Hernández at the interval changed the game, in the end, but Cardiff and Solskjær will be disappointed with how they conceded all three goals in the second-half as their response after letting in the first strike wasn’t too bad – with Bellamy hitting the bar on the 50 minute mark.
Second Half: Hernández Gets Heavily Involved As Cardiff Leak Three Poor Goals
Throughout the entirety of the second-half, Swansea kept the same shapes they used in the first-half but it was the decisive craftiness following the arrival of Hernández on the scene that gave them that extra spring in their step to win the game – along with lacklustre defending from Cardiff for all three goals.
Emnes, who created two chances, completed one of six attempted take-ons and 93% (14) of his 15 attempted passes, moved into good areas in the first-half, with his team-mates filling the spaces he emptied well and vice versa, but Hernández is more clinical in his attacking third passing by aiming to find gaps in the opposition rather than just keeping things ticking over — as highlighted through his assist for the first goal.
If the former Valencia CF man came deep, he created the 2-3-2-3 alongside de Guzman/Cañas, whilst if he thrusted forwards and looked to get in between the lines, the 2-4-4 with Dyer, himself, Bony and Routledge all interchanging was kept from the first-half.
For the first goal, he dropped deeper to receive the ball and produced a sumptuous pass to find Routledge for his first Premier League goal of the 13/14 season. Whilst the pass was perfect as with it being played in front of Fábio, with Routledge running behind him, it completely flummoxed the Brazilian yet Cardiff’s defending before his mistake could have been marginally better.
When Hernández picked the ball up, Cardiff kept their 4-4-1-1 shape without possession in their half fine but one of Kim, Gary Medel or Peter Whittingham could have “rushed” out towards him, like they did every so often in the first-half, to ensure it wasn’t as easy as it looked because there was nobody in behind them that they had to “majorly” worry about – with Bony in Ben Turner’s sights.
For the second goal, Cardiff were chasing the game in a 4-1-3-2 as Jordan Mutch replaced Zaha after 77 minutes and moved into the centre of the three behind Bellamy and Campbell, whilst Whittingham drifted onto the vacant left-midfield spot.
But as Swansea broke up the pitch, Medel was left completely alone in the build-up, with Routledge, Bony and Hernández all linking up just in-front of Cardiff’s defence in an area he couldn’t protect alone, although another error was that the wingers failed to get back to support the full-backs quick enough – something they done brightly in the first-half as well.
Whittingham got back to help Medel in the end as Routledge picks the ball up and crosses it in for Dyer to nod home, but with Kim not getting back in time, Routledge and Hernández isolated Kevin McNaughton at right-back as the Scotsman didn’t want to commit to a tackle, as a ball could then have been slipped down the side of him.
From this, Routledge had far too much time to make a decision and ends up curling a fantastic cross in for Dyer to score. But just like the first goal, although more could have been done to prevent the goal’s construction, youngster Declan John has to defend better and not allow Dyer to nick in ahead of him.
And with the third and final goal, Bony simply added to the misery for Cardiff, as the victory was pretty much wrapped up at this stage, but Turner just falls asleep and doesn’t get touch-tight with him in the box from Hernández’s free-kick, which was his third chance created on the night and second assist.
By and large, this was a triumph that has the potential to hand Monk the Swansea job on a permanent basis, whereas Cardiff were left to rue three goals that could have easily been defended better.
Swansea’s goal right at the start of the second-half through Routledge, who was heavily influential all game by winning 100% (5) of his five attempted tackles alongside his goal and assist, killed Cardiff’s impressive first-half display and has now given them some breathing space from the tight bottom half of the Premier League.
Besides the majestic Routledge and Cardiff’s downfall, which mainly came from their move to a 4-1-3-2 as Dyer scored two minutes later, Hernández came off the bench and whilst the same principles of emptying and filling for one another stayed in place as always, the quality in his passing showed and he completely changed the complexion of an evenly-matched game up until his introduction.