Swansea were once regarded as a team that Sunderland should look to take inspiration from. A team that knew what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it. Swansea had a recognisable system in place, meaning that when one manager left, his replacement (who was carefully considered for his tactical similarities) simply carried on the work that had already been done. And it worked for a while. Swansea came up, overtook Sunderland, played great football and signed good players, won a trophy and played in Europe, all in the space of three years.
But then things changed. Everything Swansea stood for vanished almost overnight. Club legend Garry Monk was sacked, and while replacement Francesco Guidolin led them to 12th place last season, he was dismissed in October (on his birthday) after just seven games and replaced by Bob Bradley. Bradley himself is now said to be under pressure after just one win in his first seven games. His side look in real trouble.
If there’s one thing that you could say about Swansea, it’s that they were consistent in their tactical play. From Martinez to Sousa, Rodgers to Laudrup to Monk, Swansea played an exciting, attacking style of football based on incisive passing and clever movement. At times, they really were a joy to watch.
It’s hard to say that about them now. Bradley has seemed unable to decide on a system that best works for Swansea. More recently, he has attempted to play with a 4-3-3, with Gylfi Sigurdsson leading the line as a false nine. In theory, Sigurdsson’s intelligence and movement will draw defenders away from their area and create space for his midfield and wide teammates. But it’s not really working as he would have hoped. While dropping deeper allows Sigurdsson to dictate play and shoot from range, there’s very little beyond him, which negates some of his best qualities - most notably linking play with a physical striker.
Modou Barrow and Jefferson Montero are both direct wingers who look to cut inside and create space for overlapping full backs, while the Swansea midfield is distinctly average. Leroy Fer has got forward to great effect this season, but as a whole, the midfield lacks the control that Swansea have shown in former seasons and is really set up to protect the back four - not that it’s worked well.
Swansea are likely to play directly on Saturday. Their defence is extremely porous - getting the ball as far away from their goal as possible seems to be the best option for them against Sunderland, particularly as the returns of Seb Larsson and Jan Kirchhoff are set to see the Lads be more combative in midfield.
Swansea are pretty handy in set-piece situations. Eight of their 16 goals this season have come this way, with five coming via crosses. Sigurdsson has a superb delivery and has racked up six goals from free kicks in his Premier League career. Amat, van der Hoorn, Fer and Cork will pose threats.
The Swans also make a huge 31 clearances per game and win a decent 17 aerial duels per game. They’re decent in the air.
Leroy Fer has scored 6 goals from midfield so far and leads Swansea in the scoring charts. He’ll look to get forward to support Sigurdsson - Sunderland need to be aware of him.
Swansea can’t stop conceding goals. After giving up nine in their last two games, the Swans now ‘boast’ the league’s worst defensive record with 31 conceded in 14 games. And it’s really no surprise. Swansea allow 16 shots against them per game, the fourth worst record in the league. With 48 saves, Lukasz Fabianski has made the third most this season - he’s being overworked. Surprisingly, Swansea make a decent number of tackles (18.1) and interceptions (14.6) per game, yet this is still not good enough to prevent them from giving away so many goals.
Converting chances has proved to be a problem for Swansea too, scoring 16 goals from 109 created chances. They also shoot just a measly 11 times per game.
The Swans have also been very un-Swansea-like this season. They average just 48% possession and pass with just 77.8% accuracy. It’s a far cry from how Swansea used to operate. Their players seem frightened to dribble too - 7.8 per game is the league’s third worst.
Key Player - Gylfi Sigurdsson
The Icelandic international is far and away Swansea’s most important player. With 29 goals, he is Swansea’s record Premier League scorer, and has notched up four so far this season while adding four assists. Sigurdsson is capable of scoring all types of goals and Swnasea will look to him for a creative spark on Saturday. Sigurdsson is likely to play as a false nine and look to draw Sunderland’s defenders away from their position. Remaining positionally solid and employing Jan Kirchhoff to guard him will negate his significant attacking threat.
How Can Sunderland Beat Them?
Quite simply, attack them. Swansea made a pig’s ear of defending against Palace (only for Palace to mess up even more) and were destroyed at Spurs last time out. The defence is extremely weak and vulnerable - Defoe and Anichebe can cause them some real damage on Saturday. Anichebe’s strength and physical presence can really terrorise Naughton and van der Hoorn on the right of Swansea’s defence, while Defoe’s clever movement and clinical finishing can put them to the sword.
The last four performances from Sunderland have been very encouraging and this is a real opportunity to carry that momentum towards the Christmas period. Swansea will likely view this as a game in which they can pick up some much needed points too, but rebounding from a 5-0 defeat can’t be easy, can it?