In previous Swansea slumps, I was completely confident they would get out of them. With this current slump (3 wins in 15 games) and the second worst form in the league (only Aston Villa are worse), I don’t have the same belief.
So what’s changed? In previous slumps, the team were playing very well but they just weren’t able to turn those performances into precious three points. This time, the performances are the weakest the Welsh club has produced since their promotion to the Premier League in 2011.
There are so many holes in the Swansea team that it’s going to take a massive change — either a new striker or new manager — to try to stay up this season. Hopefully it’s a new striker (or two) instead of sacking Garry Monk.
To put the blame on the manager is unfair. For the most part, Monk has set up his team to succeed, but it’s been the players who have failed to live up to the expectations that are dragging the manager down.
Changing the manager won’t have a dramatic impact. Sure, there’d be the typical new manager bounce but it wouldn’t last long. The problems in the squad are deeper rooted, but I still contend that most of them are due to selling Wilfried Bony and not replacing him with a top striker.
Swansea should stick with Monk until the January transfer window but only if Monk can keep the self-belief that he and his players will be able to compete for points until depth can be added. Even though the window is just a few short weeks away, it feels like an eternity right now the way that Swansea are playing. I don’t believe that Monk is “in over his head.” But he needs all the help he can get from the coaching staff and players to lift this team up to the potential that they can play at.
That’s the most frustrating part for me. The footballers can play better. They’re punching below their level. They’re not playing with confidence and their lack of concentration has been criminal at times. I don’t believe that’s the fault of Monk. The players need to shoulder the blame.
Whether Monk stays or goes, here are Swansea’s 10 biggest problems that the club need to fix pronto:
1. Lack of shots on goal.
Swansea are not creating enough shots on goal to win matches. Against Norwich and Liverpool, they created zero shots on goal. Against Leicester, it was just two. No matter what the possession stats are (53%) or how well they’re passing the ball (83% accuracy), the metrics are meaningless if the Swans can’t generate enough shots on goal.
2. There have been very few standout performances.
The lack of fortitude shown by the current squad of Swansea players is alarming. It’s almost as if they’re in a dreamland where they’re just going through the motions. With few exceptions, the players aren’t stepping up. As such, the performances from all of the players are dragging the team down. Worryingly, it’s not just poor performances from one or two players.
3. The team is lacking a leader.
While Swansea defender Ashley Williams is captain, he’s been having an off-season by his standards. He has his hands full dealing with sorting out the back four, but all across the pitch for Swansea, there’s a lack of players standing up and taking charge. The only exception is Leon Britton, whose performance against Leicester was the only bright spot. The diminutive midfielder was fighting for the ball and trying to create something out of nothing. If only the other players on this Swansea side could play with the same passion.
4. Poor selection decisions.
The only mistake that Monk has made this season is his squad selection. Maybe he’s seeing different things in training that are resulting in these decisions, but it’s bewildering that he continues to select Wayne Routledge over Jefferson Montero, and Kyle Bartley over Federico Fernandez. Routledge means well but he continues to disappoint with his poor crossing, inability to beat defenders and his poor shooting accuracy.
Elsewhere on the pitch, Gylfi Sigurdsson needs to be dropped again. He’s been reduced to such a bit part that he’s only useful taking free kicks. He had developed such a fantastic understanding with Bony when he was at the club, but there isn’t any interplay between him and Gomis. Instead of Sigurdsson, Monk should put Jonjo Shelvey in the hole.
I love Britton and Ki Sung Yueng, but having both of the players on the pitch at the same time is a liability for the Swans. Both of them are fantastic midfielders but they’re susceptible to mistakes (losing possession or a misplaced pass) in such a dangerous area of the pitch (immediately in front of the Swansea back four). A better pairing would be Britton and Jack Cork, or Ki and Cork.
5. Gomis is a negative influence on the team right now.
Bafetimbi Gomis is the main problem for the Swans. His lack of movement off the ball, poor first touch and his inability to stay on his feet all translate into a lack of power and precision up front for Swansea. And with the Swans playing a formation with one striker up front, the system needs to have a striker that is creating chances and capitalizing on opportunities to score. With an ineffective striker, the whole system falls apart.
6. Performances are too predictable.
When clubs are compiling a dossier on the next opponent in the league, Swansea must be the easiest of all 20 teams to analyze. The system, squad selection and tactics are almost always the same. And when watching the team play and go through the motions, they’re entirely too predictable.
Watching the way that the Swans play, you’re unlikely to be surprised. Under its current system, the only way for Swansea to beat opponents is by passing them to death and finding a player on the edge of the box to knock the ball into the back of the net.
The only difference maker in Swansea’s side is Shelvey. He’s the type of player that will mix things up, sometimes hitting a long ball to the advancing Montero or Ayew to help create a one-on-one against the keeper, or spraying an inch-perfect pass to Gomis. But with Shelvey suspended and then MIA against Leicester, the Swans are missing that dynamic player that will create something out of nothing.
7. Team is lacking speed moving forward.
Against Leicester, Swansea had a couple of counter-attacking opportunities to hit the Foxes hard, but even with 3 on 3, the Swans decided to slow the pace down and play the passing game down the wings instead of going for the jugular.
As one of the biggest critics of Shelvey when he moved from Liverpool to Swansea, Shelvey is exactly the type of player that Swansea is missing right now. He’s the player that can help accelerate Swansea’s breaks, and play the inch-perfect passes to open up defenses and create more chances for Swansea to score.
8. Midfielders aren’t supporting the attacks in numbers.
The always opinionated Premier League co-commentator Garry Birtles hit the nail on the head in the game against Leicester when he constantly pointed out how few Swansea players were in the Leicester’s penalty area when the Swans were attacking. Unfortunately for the Swans, the team has become too midfield centric. Except for Ayew, the midfielders are too complacent and aren’t fighting to get involved in the attacks or to score. Even Ayew, who is Swansea’s leading goalscorer this season, has been practically invisible lately.
9. Confidence is at a low when a goal is conceded.
Swansea are back to their old ways where they concede the first goal in the match, they look dejected and unlikely to bounce back. The exception to this was the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth (which, in hindsight, is a good result given that the Cherries beat Chelsea last Saturday). But overall, Swansea letting in early goals (such as the recent ones below) have really hurt their psyche and confidence.
• vs. Leicester: 5th minute (lost 0-3),
• vs. Bournemouth: 10th minute (tied 2-2),
• vs. Stoke: 4th minute (lost 0-1),
• vs. Southampton: 11th minute (lost 1-3).
Importantly, three of the four of those matches listed above are home games. The Swans are feeling the pressure more at home, which is resulting in costly mistakes.
10. Too many defensive mistakes and poor marking.
Speaking of making mistakes, Swansea’s defense this season has been all over the place. Bartley has made some costly errors of judgment. But it’s the space that should be covered by full backs Kyle Naughton and Neil Taylor that is the most worrying. Too many times this season, teams have broken on the counter and found plenty of room to pass to the left or right where Naughton or Taylor should be covering. Coupled with the lack of confidence in Bartley, Swansea’s defense is being pulled apart way too easily.
In previous seasons, Swansea’s one weakness was their full backs, which is why they added depth by signing Kyle Naughton from Spurs and Franck Tabanou from St. Etienne. But Swansea’s weaknesses has hurt them again. Naughton is excellent as an attacking defender but has weaknesses defending. Vice-versa, Taylor is a solid defender but is not as good as an attacking threat when he moves up the pitch. Neither full back is the complete answer.
Now could be an ideal opportunity to give Tabanou some playing time (he hasn’t started one league game for Swansea), but he’s going to be out for several weeks after tearing a muscle in training. For Swansea, the woes continue.
The only saving grace for Swansea right now is that it looks like Aston Villa are a certainty to go down. Newcastle, despite the win against Liverpool, have been too inconsistent. Norwich could get pulled into the relegation fight very shortly, so it’s quite possible that Swansea will have to fight it out with Sunderland and Newcastle to avoid the third and final relegation position.
But instead of looking at the other clubs in danger, Swansea need to put their Premier League destiny in their own hands. Now is the time for the players and coaches to stay confident and to work hard on fixing the mistakes and creating more chances to score in order to give the club a fighting chance of staying up this season. The players and Monk have a considerable amount of work to do in the busiest time of the season to try to make it to the January transfer window when new recruits can give the club the depth they need to compete. A new striker will be at the top of the list. Let’s just hope that Swansea and Monk can hang on until then.
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