|Opposition Preview - Swansea City|
Written by ad_wilkin on Thursday, 9th Nov 2023 11:38
Swansea are a team currently on the rise following a poor start to the season.
Two points in their first six games have given way to 15 in their last seven. This is the sort of form that they will need to continue if they are to build on their 10th-place finish from last season.
They sold key player Joel Piroe to Leeds over the summer and have mainly replaced him with loans and free transfers that took some time to click.
However, they come into this one in good form and will pose a big threat to a Town side that haven’t been at their best in recent games.
The Swans have undergone a bit of a transition over the summer with Russell Martin leaving to take over Southampton and Michael Duff coming in to replace him.
Duff had a lot of success at Barnsley in League One last year taking them into the play-offs, where they were very unfortunate to lose to Sheffield Wednesday in the final.
Stylistically the one-time Cheltenham boss is a departure from Martin so that could explain the slow start as the players took time to get to grips with his methods. A key sign of this is the drop of average possession from 64% last year under Martin to 50.7% this year.
Duff will have extra motivation coming into this one as he’s yet to beat a Kieran McKenna team following a 2-2 draw at Portman Road and then a 3-0 defeat at Oakwell last year.
Twenty-two-year-old Carl Rushworth joined on loan from Brighton this summer and is experiencing his first taste of Championship football following an impressive League One loan spell keeping 20 clean sheets in 46 games for Lincoln City.
He’s only kept four so far this season but does have a +1.76 goals prevented rate including a wonderful reflex save to tip Luke O’Nien’s header over the bar in the last game against Sunderland. This form has seen him become the undisputed number one and means he already has some fans calling for a permanent move.
Rushworth’s form is keeping last year's number one Andy Fisher out of the side. Fisher joined from MK Dons in January 2022 and has made 47 appearances for Swansea, only keeping 12 clean sheets in that time.
He rotated with Steven Benda last season and got a run in the side from January onwards. He looks set to spend the majority of his time on the bench this year unless there is an injury to Rushworth but would be a capable back-up if called upon.
Swansea mix between playing a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-1-4-2 with very high wingers. A lot of the summer signings were brought in to play the latter but with injuries hitting recently Duff has had to be adaptable.
Harrison Ashby has started as a more conventional right-back in the last three games. The 21-year-old Scotsman joined on loan this summer from Newcastle and has made eight starts so far this season, having been rotated out of the side following a poor start but coming back in for the last three games and putting in some solid performances.
This is impressive considering this is his first taste of senior football apart from some cup and Europa Conference League appearances for West Ham and six minutes of Premier League football against Arsenal back in 2021.
The other option the Swans have at right back is Josh Key. The 23-year-old was a key figure for Exeter last season, scoring four goals in 42 League One appearances. Swansea snapped him up this summer for a fee that will be decided at a tribunal given that the player is under 24 years of age.
His versatility is a key attribute of his play and he featured at centre-back, right midfield, left midfield and even as a centre forward in his time at Exeter. This season he’s either been deployed on the left or the right in that hybrid full-back/winger role and has one goal in his 12 appearances so far.
He’s missed the last three games with injury and speaking pre–Sunderland Duff reckoned he’d be out for another two weeks, meaning he’s likely to miss this one. Despite those injuries, he’s still ranks third for successful dribbles among all Championship defenders.
On the left-hand side there has been similar rotation between Josh Tymon (six starts) and Kristian Pedersen (three starts). Tymon is another new signing having joined from Championship rivals Stoke for £2 million. Tymon has already made the trip to Portman Road once this season but didn’t make it onto the pitch as he was an unused sub in Town’s 2-0 victory. over the Potters.
He’s familiar to the hybrid wing-back role having played there for Stoke and it is arguable his best position allowing him to get forward whilst also covering some of his defensive frailties.
Pedersen is also a new signing having joined on a free transfer over the summer from FC Koln. The 29-year-old Dane is familiar with the Championship, however, having made 161 appearances and scored nine goals in a spell at Birmingham between 2018 and 2022.
He only made six Bundesliga appearances last season and will be hoping that a spell in Wales is what he needs to get regular football again.
Pedersen had a shocker on his debut against Welsh rivals Cardiff losing 10 duels and being dribbled past five times on the left side of a back three, but looked more comfortable against Sheffield Wednesday and Watford in his natural left-back position. He’s unlikely to start against Town with the more attacking Tymon currently proving hard to displace.
Another option in that position is Nathan Tjoe-A-On, who signed from Dutch side Excelsior in the summer for around £300,000. The 6ft 3in tall left-back made 29 appearances in the Eredivise last season and was seen as the potential replacement to Ryan Manning when he left to join Southampton, but as of yet he hasn’t played any minutes for the Swans, making six squads as an unused sub so far.
Swansea’s current centre-back pairing is Bashir Humphreys and Harry Darling, who form a natural right and left-footed pairing in the middle.
Twenty-four-year-old Darling joined Swansea in July 2022 having impressed at MK Dons in League One (scoring 10 goals in 72 starts). He’s already notched up 49 appearances and five goals for the Swans.
In possession, he is the man Swansea turn to to get the ball moving with his 689 passes the highest of all Swans defenders and the 24th highest in the league in total.
Alongside him is the left-footed Humphreys. The 20-year-old is experiencing his second taste of senior football on loan from Chelsea having spent last season at SC Paderborn 07 in Germany.
He’s quickly become a key member of the team, starting the last seven games in a row, providing left-sided balance in either a two or a three at the back. He’s even managed to get on the scoresheet this season, netting the winner against Norwich with a crisp left-footed volley following a post-corner scramble in the box.
The switch to a back four will have been partially down to the injury to Ben Cabango. The 23-year-old Welshman had been playing on the right side of a back three before suffering a hamstring injury at the beginning of October.
He returned to the squad and got 13 minutes off the bench in the last game against Sunderland, so will be back in contention for this one.
The Swansea academy graduate is part of a young backline but has made 158 appearances for the club as well as winning seven caps for Wales, so he isn’t short of experience and has been a key member of the Swansea squad for over four seasons now.
The youthfulness of that defence continues with 21-year-old Nathan Wood. Wood joined from Middlesbrough in July 2022 and made 40 appearances last season. He started the first eight games of this one as well, scoring against West Brom before suffering a back injury that has kept him out since and he looks to be a long-term absentee and is unlikely to be fit for this one.
There is an elder statesman in the Swansea City squad and that is 34-year-old Kyle Naughton. He’s now in his ninth season with the Swans having signed for them in 2014 when they were in the Premier League.
He’s made 176 Premier League appearances and 250 in the Championship and has stuck with the Swans since their relegation and been a key feature of the team up until this season where he looks to have been phased out into more of an experienced head/ coaching role with only one appearance so far this season.
The midfield linchpin of the Swansea side is undoubtedly Matt Grimes. His influence in Swansea’s passing game last season was immense and he completed 4,133 passes last season which was head an shoulders above anyone else in the division. Swans teammate Ben Cabango was the closest with 3,142.
This season he currently sits in fourth for that metric behind Janick Vestergaard, Harry Winks and Pascal Struijk. However he has a lot more key passes than any of those three players with 21.
Part of this will be down to Swansea’s formation when they play a back three with Grimes sitting behind a pair of central midfielders in a quarterback-style position, providing the outlet to the defenders and then picking the passes to get Swansea moving.
His heatmap shows he drops back as deep as his own box and has a swathe of red across his own half and into the oppositions down either side. He’s also managed to get on the scoresheet three times this season (two league, one cup) and provided three assists (two league, one cup)
Since the switch to a 4-2-3-1 it’s been just the one midfielder alongside Grimes and more often than not that has been Charlie Patino.
The Arsenal youngster joined on loan this summer following a successful loan spell at Blackpool last year where he was one of the stand out players despite the Tangerines suffering relegation.
He’s been even better this year and has almost matched his goal involvements from last year (two goals and four assists) with a goal and four assists so far.
The 20-year-old wonderkid (FM fans will know how good he gets) won’t be taking to the pitch at Portman Road, however, as he picked up two yellow cards against Sunderland, which will see him serves a one-game suspension for this one.
His replacement in the side is likely to be Jay Fulton, who has started seven of the 14 games so far, either instead of or alongside Patino with Grimes in behind them.
Fulton has been at Swansea since 2014 and has made 226 appearances for the Swans in that time. He has the versatility to play deep, in a central role or even as a more advanced midfielder.
Patino’s suspension will also open up a chance for more minutes off the bench for Liam Walsh, with the other central midfielder in the squad, Joe Allen, looking to be out until Christmas time having had surgery on his groin.
The experienced midfielder nicknamed the Welsh Pirlo is a classy operator who has 75 caps for Wales but hasn’t featured much for Swansea since signing on a free from Stoke in July 2022. This season he started two Carabao Cup games and made three sub appearances in the league before going under the knife.
Twenty-six-year-old Walsh has only made 17 appearances for the Swans despite joining in 2021 from Bristol City. He spent some of that 21/22 season out on loan for Hull but only made three appearances for the Tigers before a ruptured Achilles tendon kept him out of most of last season.
He’s made three cameos off of the bench this season against Plymouth, Leicester and Watford and will be hoping for more minutes in this one.
Another former Bristol City player who is enjoying a run in the team is 31-year-old Scotsman Jamie Paterson. Paterson has come in and slotted into the number 10 role since the switch in formation and has three assists in his last eight games.
He’s an experienced Championship campaigner and has 48 goals and 49 assists in 317 Championship appearances across spells with Nottingham Forest, Huddersfield, Bristol City, Debry and Swansea. He’s also crucial to Swansea press, having made the second most tackles of all of the forwards in the league and won 47 duels.
His replacement from the bench for the majority of this season has been Oliver Cooper. Cooper has come through the academy at the Welsh club and had his breakthrough season last year with five goals and two assists in 41 appearances. He has one goal so far this season. Coming off the bench against Plymouth to score an absolute rocket from outside the box.
In the 4-2-3-1 formation Swansea tend to play with inverted wingers on either side. On the left is Jamal Lowe who was picked up in the fire sale at Wigan in 2020.
Lowe scored 14 goals in 46 appearances for Swansea that season before being sold on to Bournemouth. His spell at Bournemouth in the Championship was equally as productive with seven goals in 34 but he found game time hard to come by in the Premier League and is back at Swansea on loan following a spell at QPR last season.
South Wales is clearly a place where the 29-year-old enjoys his football and he has four goal involvements (three goals and one assist) in 10 games so far. Like Paterson he also brings work-rate and pressing as well as end product with a rate of 1.59 tackles per game also putting him in the top third of forwards.
On the other side is the left-footed Welshman Liam Cullen. Cullen is another Swansea graduate and his good form this season saw him make his Wales debut against Gibraltar in October.
He started his career as a striker but was successfully converted to a right winger at the back end of last season, playing that position for the last five games of the season and has continued to feature there so far this term. He has two goals and two assists so far this season bringing his tally to 15 goals for Swansea in 87 appearances.
Depth in those wing areas is provided by Josh Ginnelly and Cameron Congreve. Ginnelly started the season in impressive form with a goal in the Carabao Cup against Northampton and one in the league against QPR before rupturing his Achilles tendon against Sheffield Wednesday, an injury which will now keep him out for the season. He was a new signing having joined on a free from Hearts in the summer and his pace will be a big miss for the Swans.
Congreve is a 19-year-old, who has been asked to step up and take the place on the bench in Ginnelly’s absence. He’s made 18 appearances so far for Swansea and is still raw, so this will be a learning experience for him more than anything. He has so far been unable to make it off the bench this season with Duff preferring to play his starters for the full 90.
Following the loss of Piroe, Swansea turned to Blackpool marksman Jerry Yates to plug the gap. Yates scored 14 goals in 41 appearances for the Tangerines last season and has continued that form into this one with four goals in 15 so far.
His first goal on his debut was a simple finish having found space in the box to tap home a low cross. His second, against Coventry, he found space in the box and this time looped a near post header over the keeper.
The third, scored against Sheffield Wednesday, was reminiscent of a Conor Chaplin finish as he found that pocket of space on the edge of the area to side-foot in past the keeper.
And his last was a tap in from all of a yard following a deep far post header coming back across the goal.
Unlike Piroe who was an all action running threat Yates is more of a poacher, popping up in the right place at the right time to finish things.
Also signing this summer was 22-year-old Ukrainian Mykola Kukharevych, who arrived for a fee of around £2 million from Troyes. He spent last season on loan at Hibernian scoring five goals in 15 appearances.
It was a big fee for a relatively unknown player. He hasn’t played much senior football and isn’t a Ukrainian international yet but the Swansea scouts must have seen something about him that they liked.
At 6ft 2in tall he possesses height and was slowly finding his feet in English football with a headed goal against Millwall before suffering a knee injury that looks set to keep him out until December.
Coming off the back of a hit-and-miss performance, this team selection is another one that is hard to call. I’ve potentially gone for some rogue choices but so did McKenna against Rotherham with Axel Tuanzebe coming in.
Vaclav Hladky will continue in goal. Despite Harry Clarke's excellent performance against Rotherham, I think with Brandon Williams fit enough for the bench on Tuesday he will start this one.
Luke Woolfenden is likely to come back in and I have a feeling that George Edmundson could also come in next to him. Leif Davis is likely to start on the left as he’s indispensable there.
I thought Jack Taylor might start against Rotherham but he remained on the bench coming on to scored what looked like the winner. He’s surely pushing for a Saturday start alongside Sam Morsy.
The front three is hard to pick. For me Omari Hutchinson comes back in on the right, with Chaplin through the middle and Marcus Harness on the left with Nathan Broadhead hopefully fit enough to make an impact off of the bench.
With neither George Hirst or Freddie Ladapo impressing in recent months is it finally time for Dane Scarlett to be given a start as the number nine? He gets my vote for this one.
For Swansea, having had a week's worth of rest, I can see consistency again being the key again. The means Rushworth in goal and a back four of Ashby, Darling, Humphreys and Tymon.
Fulton looks set to replace Patino alongside Grimes in the middle. All of the front players are in form so that likely means Cullen, Paterson and Lowe in behind Yates.
This will be quite a switch-up from the last two games that Ipswich have faced with Swansea playing a much more easy on the eye style-wise than Rotherham and that should suit the Blues better.
Gone will be the long balls (Swansea rank 20th in the league for that metric), they’ll be replaced by short crisp passing and possession-based football, which is then a bit more direct when they reach the final third.
They’re also an attacking threat with the fifth-highest goals and third-highest assists in the league.
The midfield battle will be an area to watch and it’s likely that Grimes will be marked closely at all times to stop him influencing the game too much.
As a team who like to keep the ball, Town’s press will also need to be effective and could be their route to chances. Swansea’s younger, less wiley defenders are likely to take risks playing out from the back that Town could capitalise on.
Whatever the scoreline, I think this will be a more enjoyable game to watch than the last two and it looks to have all of the makings of another score fest at Portman Road.
I don’t know how often Town can keep coming out on top of those but why not one more before the international break? I’m going to go 4-2 to Town. (Having talked all this up it’ll probably be a 0-0)
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