Opposition Scouting Report: Swansea City

Michael Steele

Chelsea's 63rd game of the season sees them take on Swansea City for the fourth time this season.

Ever since Swansea triumphed in that historic Cup final at Wembley in February, their season has dissolved into nothingness. With European qualification already secured and relegation not a serious threat, it's little surprise to see that their last win came in the early days of March, against Newcastle (the first game after the Carling Cup final).

This will be the fourth time Chelsea will face Swansea this season, and even with that aside the Swans playing style will be very familiar to most fans, given the many plaudits that came their way since arriving in the Premier League last season. Brendan Rodgers had them playing a possession-based game in which the philosophy of dominating the ball was used as a defensive measure.

When he left for Liverpool, Michael Laudrup was signed primarily because his preferred coaching style mirrored Swansea's ingrained system. "Michael has a clear picture and understanding of what we require at Swansea City to build on the good work and strides we have made over the last few years as a football club," said chairman Huw Jenkins at the time of his appointment, and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who could argue the Dane hasn't taken Swansea forward.

Key to this has been the widely discussed introduction of a more ‘direct' game, with Swansea introducing more speed into their traditional passing game. New signings Jonathon de Guzman, Ki Sung-Yeung and Pablo Hernandez are progressive with their distribution, willing to hit the ball forward quickly on the break to find the attackers in space. This has suited another new signing, Michu, whose remarkable goal-scoring feats have seen him many regard him as the signing of the season. He can play either behind a striker or up front on his own, providing physical hold-up play and clever runs into the channels, towards the space in behind opposition centre-backs.

If Laudrup continues with recent team selection, Luke Moore would start as a central striker - but considering that Michu started as a lone centre-forward in all of Swansea's games against Chelsea this season, that selection seems more likely. That means De Guzman, Ki and Britton will play in midfield, with two of Nathan Dyer, Wayne Routledge and Hernandez starting on the flanks.

De Guzman will play higher up in a more penetrative, incisive playmaker role, while Ki and Britton will sit deeper and try to set the tempo of the game. The Japanese is capable of hitting quick, accurate long balls into the paths of the attackers, and must be closed down quickly. Meanwhile, the wingers are all confident, technical dribblers, and will drift inside from the touchline to collect possession before making darting runs into the space between full-back and centre-back.

Swansea's attacking game also relies on supporting runs in the full-back positions. Laudrup instructs Ben Davies (but possibly Neil Taylor, returning from injury) and Angel Rangel to motor forward readily and provide width on the overlap - crucial, because the lack of ‘runners' from midfield can sometimes leave the wingers isolated. Rangel is the more influential, as evidenced by Swansea's 40% bias down that flank.

Chico's positivity on the ball is important - he makes more passes than any other Swansea player, and from the right hand side of the centre-back partnership, is perfectly positioned to find Rangel advancing down the flank. The two often account for Swansea's highest pass combination, and Rafa Benitez might be inclined to field a more defensive player on his left hand side. If he continues the recent trend of starting Oscar-Mata-Hazard together, expect the Brazilian to be deployed on the left, as the most defensively inclined of the trio.

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