De­fen­sive dilemma has many causes in­clud­ing fa­tigue

South Wales Evening Post - - RUGBY -

SWANSEA City’s de­fence has been one of their great­est strengths this sea­son but over re­cent games it’s en­dured a big wob­ble.

The Swans are still sta­tis­ti­cally the joint-third best de­fen­sive out­fit in the Cham­pi­onship but their record has taken a bit of a bat­ter­ing of late with eight goals con­ceded in their past three games.

More than a third of the goals con­ceded by Swansea in all competitions this sea­son have come in the matches against Nor­wich, West Brom and Derby.

The big ques­tion is whether this flood of goals is a blip or a sign of things to come.

Ob­vi­ously, with­out the as­sis­tance of a crys­tal ball, we’ll have to wait and see if this proves to be a short or long-term is­sue, but there are a few things which have def­i­nitely changed over re­cent weeks to con­trib­ute to Swansea’s more por­ous rear­guard.

It’s worth not­ing that all of their re­cent op­po­nents are in the top six and have some of the most tal­ented at­tack­ing play­ers in the di­vi­sion.

Con­ced­ing eight goals in three games is a poor record against any­body but it’s more un­der­stand­able when it’s against three gen­uine pro­mo­tion con­tenders.

Five at the back has been a con­stant de­bat­ing point for Swansea fans over re­cent years and af­ter a poor run of re­sults the old dis­cus­sion has once again re­turned.

Since mov­ing to the Lib­erty in the sum­mer, man­ager Gra­ham Pot­ter has reg­u­larly al­tered per­son­nel and ap­proach ac­cord­ing to each match­day’s op­po­nent.

Over the first four months of the cam­paign he’s played 4-3-3, 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 to name but a few. He’s also oc­ca­sion­ally played with five at the back, usu­ally against more tal­ented sides in­clud­ing the past few games.

The think­ing is ob­vi­ous, by play­ing an ex­tra cen­tre-back the aim is to fur­ther so­lid­ify Swansea’s strong de­fence. Per­haps the pain of con­ced­ing four against Nor­wich a fort­night ago stung Pot­ter and made him feel change was nec­es­sary.

But against West Brom and Derby the five at the back failed to give Swansea the de­fen­sive steel they craved and also sti­fled their at­tack­ing play.

De­spite hav­ing Cameron Carter-vick­ers, Joe Rodon and Mike van der Hoorn on the pitch at the same time Swansea looked un­usu­ally open and ex­posed at the back, es­pe­cially against Derby.

Swansea have failed to keep a clean sheet ev­ery time they’ve played with a back five this sea­son. Con­sid­er­ing the main purpose of the ad­di­tional de­fender is to keep it tight at the back, it sug­gests the for­ma­tion isn’t work­ing.

But there’s an­other prob­lem, some of these play­ers look tired.

In the sec­ond half against West Brom and through­out Satur­day’s game against Derby there were a lot of play­ers on the pitch who looked both men­tally and phys­i­cally fa­tigued.

Eight of the start­ing 11 against Derby were 23 or younger and most of them are not used to play­ing this much com­pet­i­tive, first-team foot­ball.

The hec­tic sea­son seemed to be catch­ing up with a few of them, in­clud­ing Con­nor Roberts who has been key to Swansea’s de­fence and at­tack this sea­son.

Hav­ing al­ready played 2,268 min­utes for club and coun­try, fea­tur­ing in all of Swansea and Wales’s games this sea­son, it looked like the bat­ter­ies re­quired a re-charge in re­cent games.

Tired­ness doesn’t just af­fect the legs, it af­fects the mind too.

Swansea’s pass suc­cess rate against Derby was just 75 per cent, very low for the Swans. Sloppy passes aren’t the only mis­takes creep­ing into their game.

Swansea con­ceded just five goals in their first 11 games. They were fresh, alert and made very few er­rors. In the past three games we’ve seen goals con­ceded through poor po­si­tion­ing, loose mark­ing and care­less passes in dan­ger­ous ar­eas as well as an own goal.

Swansea’s re­cent de­fen­sive trou­bles aren’t down to any one fac­tor but there are nu­mer­ous is­sues con­tribut­ing to the gen­eral lack of sharp­ness at the back.

Some of these is­sues aren’t easy to fix. The thin squad makes it dif­fi­cult to give play­ers the rest they need and could also lim­its Pot­ter’s abil­ity to change the for­ma­tion.

Swansea shouldn’t panic, they have eas­ier games com­ing up which should put the de­fence un­der less pres­sure than it’s ex­pe­ri­enced in re­cent weeks.

But with Swansea en­ter­ing the busiest pe­riod of the sea­son it’s an in­con­ve­nient time to be deal­ing with de­fen­sive dilem­mas.

Pic­ture: Nick Potts

Swansea City’s rear­guard has shed its st­ingy im­age, leak­ing goals against Nor­wich, West Brom and Derby.

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