The Season So Far
After the fiasco of last season, the only thing most Swansea fans really wanted this time around was to stay away from the relegation battle. Following the surprising departures of titanic, long-serving captain Ashley Williams and last season’s top scorer André Ayew, that hope seemed somewhat forlorn. The striking signings of Spanish strikers Fernando Llorente and Borja Bastón seemed to promise much, but the reality has been extremely disappointing.
Quickly sucked into a struggle for survival, manager Francesco Guidolin had no answer and was sent packing in October. Managerial change has been a constant theme for Swansea over the last few years, but it’s worrying that the trend has changed from losing their bosses to bigger clubs after significantly overachieving to firing their managers every season because they seem to need to make a change in order to pull away from danger.
Last weekend’s blockbuster 5-4 win over Crystal Palace was only the Swans’ second of the season, and it was the first under new and suspiciously American manager Bob Bradley, who has angered much of the British population by being born in the United States and thus being unable to understand football. On the plus side, ex-Spur Gylfi Sigurðsson has been in absolutely sensational form, with four goals and four assists in his last ten games. The talismanic Icelander is a tower of certainty in a sea of mediocrity.
The Season Ahead
In the short term, a winnable run of games starts after the Spurs game, so they will be hoping to move up the table as the likes of Hull City, Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Burnley drop down it. The Swans’ success in the next month or so will probably determine how the rest of their campaign goes. Win now and the subsequent boost in morale and league position should be enough to secure Premier League football for another season, but more defeats and it could well be curtains.
It would be extremely useful for Swansea if strikers Llorente and Borja could put a run of form together, but at the moment they can’t get on the pitch at all. The likes of Jefferson Montero and Ki Sung-Yueng must be wondering what they have to do to get into the team, being so obviously among Swanea’s most talented players. With any luck the useless crackpot Moneyball Trump-voting nut in charge will put the right players in the team and they will start to look more complete again.
Since coming in and finding himself in charge of a rudderless ship, noted football troglodyte Bob Bradley has experimented with several systems, be they 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-2-4 and most recently a strikerless 4-3-3. One senses that he would like to play with a number nine but doesn’t fancy Llorente or Borja. Similarly, despite his reputation as a dour, flair-free, hard-work-fetishising coach, one senses that he would prefer to play a less cagey system at the moment, but recognises that a back four made up of Kyle Naughton, Federico Fernández, Jordi Amat and Neil Taylor needs a hell of a lot of protection.
Despite beefing up his midfield in recent weeks, Bradley has been unable to stem the tide and Swansea continue to look extremely porous and seem unable to stop shooting themselves in the foot. Furthermore, Sigurðsson’s set pieces aside, the attack doesn’t seem to be doing its job at all. Modou Barrow and Wayne Routledge are pacey wingers but pace aside offer little. Spurs should be able to dominate and thrash them.
The good news for Swansea fans, in the long term, is that they’re nowhere near as bad as their league position suggests. They rank firmly in the middle of the pack in almost all shot metrics and their defensive actions numbers are sound. There’s no glaringly obvious reason why they are in the league position that they are, and with the previously mentioned run of winnable fixtures coming up, it seems reasonable to expect them to pull away from danger in the next few weeks.
Specifically for Spurs, the obvious danger is Gylfi Sigurðsson: somewhat underwhelming at White Hart Lane but with good cause – often played out of position, often asked to do jobs he doesn’t excel in, rarely allowed to do the stuff he’s great at – he is by far Swansea’s best player and will surely move on (again) in the summer. There are plenty of better teams with worse number tens.
Besides that, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose have to be aware of the threat posed by the pace of Barrow and Routledge at transitions, while Leroy Fer has already plundered six goals in a midfield poaching role this season. Conceding a set piece is dangerous in two phases: primarily, Sigurðsson could bury any free-kick from within 30 yards; secondly, Sigurðsson could work Lloris and leave Fer with a tap-in.
Every member of Swansea’s backline has a penchant for slapstick and it would be no surprise if they gifted a goal or two in thoroughly laughable circumstances. The Swans have been especially vulnerable from set-pieces in the absence of the departed Ashley Williams, and, even in the absence of Toby Alderweireld, if Spurs can get their delivery right, they can reasonably expect to have chances from dead-ball positions around the box.
There’s also the fact that Swansea’s defensive strategy limits their attacking possibilities on the counter, and asks too much of Sigurðsson in open play. Spurs should find it relatively easy to regain the ball when it’s cleared and work it back into goalscoring positions. There’s plenty of reason to fancy Harry Kane to bag at least one goal here.
Bob “USA! USA! USA!” Bradley is still getting to know his squad and his players have given him next to no reasons to trust them so far, so it will be no surprise if he chops and changes again. It would be good from a neutral perspective to see Ki, Montero and Llorente given 90 minutes, but it would be a surprise.
Spurs are overwhelmingly superior and should be looking to score three or four here. However, Spurs are Spurs, so don’t be surprised if they take 30 shots, find Fabianski in inspired form, hit the woodwork five times and lose to Swansea’s only shot on target.