Opposition Profile: Swansea City
A comprehensive view of Swansea City's situation so you can be in the know.
(I do not claim any of the images as my own: all image sources are named and images are hyperlinked to the website that they were found. All research and sources used can be found at the end of the article)
The upcoming fixture sees the clash of two promotion hopefuls who have failed to reach the heights of their expectations so far. Swansea is currently in a more advantageous position as they sit just 3 places behind the vaunted top 6. Middlesbrough, on the other hand, come into this game sat in 12th. While this appears to be a marked difference between the two sides only one point separates the pair meaning that this game could become a 6 pointer for both sides. If Middlesbrough win then they will jump above Swansea at the very least and, potentially, within touching distance of the playoffs. If Swansea win then not only do they keep Middlesbrough at bay, opening up a larger gap between the two sides, but it could help to push them into one of the final top 6 spots in the near future.
Swansea come into this game with a mixed bag of form. The side may have won three of their last seven games and drawn an additional match against Blackpool but they have also taken a 4-0 drumming against Bournemouth and their most recent match, against Reading, became an open and exciting ding-dong battle in which they ultimately fell to defeat. Swansea will want to pick themselves up after that loss and turn their attention to the challenge at hand. A win against Middlesbrough could restart some of their strong recent form.
On the other hand, Middlesbrough come into this game on relatively respectable form. Following Chris Wilder’s arrival, Middlesbrough have managed to add a win, a draw and a defeat onto the form card. While the defeat, at home to Preston North End, came off the back of an impressive performance for 75 minutes of the game indicating that the result was not a fair representation of how the game unfolded. Middlesbrough enter this weeks game on the back of their first win under Chris Wilder and the former Sheffield United manager will be hoping to add to that win with another three points today.
Ownership: Consortium Ownership (Steve Kaplan, Jason Levien and Landon Donavan)
There has been a growing interest in football from across the pond. A number of successful American businessmen have looked towards the European game for potential investment. The Kroenke’s and the Glazer’s are prime examples of this process in practice with both of these rich families turning to the pinnacle of the English game to invest their considerable wealth. However, such investment trickled down from the top of the game to the lower echelons of the English game in search of a valuable investment. This is the case with Swansea City’s current ownership. While the club is owned by a consortium a considerable majority of the figures with a stake holding in the club come from USA. The primary figures in this consortium, Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan, are considerable American businessmen while fellow consortium figure head Landon Donavan was once a well-respected and renowned figure in the game. In the former USA international Swansea have a man who understands the game and holds considerable roots in the American game which can augment the clubs development in the future.
The clubs American connections, most notably with DC United, a club which is also part owned by Kaplan and Levien, could prove to have a positive impact on the pitch too with the club agreeing a number of short term loans for a number of American talents. While these temporary moves were a failure, building these relationships may ultimately prove valuable to the club as the MLS is a developing league and, before long, the league will produce a number of seriously talented individuals and these players may well find a home in Swansea.
Despite the positives associated with the current ownership of Swansea City, they have not been without criticism. Swansea City fans have critiqued the ownerships limited investment following their relegation from the premier league with the club turning inwards rather than outwards to find answers to on-the-pitch issues. This has served them well generally but it can be argued that added investment would have been enough for the club to have returned to the Premier League. Additionally, the ownerships desire to balance the books has meant that the club has had to let go of a number of very important individuals over recent seasons in essence weakening the side despite a continuous desire to get promoted.
Ultimately, Swansea’s current ownership structure sits in between the best and worst owners in the Championship. They are certainly competent enough to lead the side back to the Premier League. However, one of the majority owners have pulled away from the day to day running of the club making these possibilities more difficult. All the same, the club has a solid basis in its ownership to continue to compete for a spot in the Premier League in the near future.
Manager: Russell Martin
After a less than ideal start to the season, Russell Martin has comfortably settled into his role at Swansea. It was little surprise that there would be an adjustment period. Former manager Steve Cooper was integral to the clubs relative success during a relatively turbulent period following their relegation and, equally, built the squad in his own image. His ability to form a competitive side was also founded on his ability to persuade some of England’s most talented young players to join the club. His ability to do so was largely founded on the rapport he built with such players during his time in the England setup. In uprooting Cooper from the Swansea City set up, the club had to adjust to the losses that went beyond his capability as a coach (something they arguably succeeded at in recruiting Russell Martin).
The Scottish manager has got his feet under the table at Swansea and he has now made an impression on the squad and the sides playing style.
Martin has managed to patch the issue left by Cooper’s recruitment drive by bringing players into the club that have something to prove. Loaned players such as Michael Obafemi and Ethan Laird have built up reputations about their potential in recent seasons but their development has since stagnated proving that they need somewhere to consistently play to highlight their ability before unwittingly falling down the footballing pyramid in entering the mid-stages of their career. Meanwhile, Oliver Ntcham and Jamie Paterson arrived at the club as free agents but in a similar position as their fellow loan arrivals. Ntcham, regarded as one of the strongest midfielders in the Championship, had fallen to the fringes of Celtic’s side in recent seasons and he failed to re-secure his reputation when on loan to Marseille. This led to Ntcham arriving at the club with something to prove. Meanwhile, Paterson has established himself as a talent at Championship level but he has struggled with injuries in recent seasons causing a number of clubs to pass up on signing him including upcoming opponents Middlesbrough.
Swansea City has established a tradition of playing an attractive style of football. The club typically plays through the thirds with smart short passes, dominating possession and dictating the game. However, Martin has built on this tradition by developing it into a style of total football. In this case, every player in the squad is expected to play a role in the attack and in the defence. Through this development, Swansea focus even more on progressing forward the right way. It is arguable that it is the most attractive side to watch in the Championship. In fact, I would encourage Middlesbrough fans to make the most of any opportunity to watch Swansea in action this season.
One To Watch: Matt Grimes
Each club has one or two individuals that are vital to how a side plays. In Middlesbrough, these players are Matt Crooks and Martin Payero and the different in sides performance in their absence highlights their importance to the sides success moving forwards. In Swansea City’s case, Matt Grimes is integral to the sides ability to play their style of football. The deep-lying playmaker often goes overlooked as he sits between the defence and midfield helping the side to tick along in possession but he will instigate many of their attacking moves when an opening arises.
However, his importance becomes increasingly apparent when looking at his statistical return so far this season. Matt Grimes has maintained an outstanding pass accuracy of 91% so far this season meaning that less than one in ten of his attempted passes don't find their intended target. This puts him in a position where he can be trusted in possession in deep areas of the pitch as it is unlikely that he will cost them possession in dangerous areas of the pitch. Furthermore, his importance to the sides playing style is highlighted in his number of accurate passes. The 26 year old has managed to make a massive 1,844 passes so far this season averaging an astonishing 92 passes per game. To put this into perspective, Middlesbrough's highest average pass per game is 40 which is held by Paddy McNair. While these statistics emphasis his importance in Swansea City's possession based system, his influence on the game goes beyond being an integral fixture in Russell Martin's system.
Firstly, Matt Grimes, despite occupying a deep role in the side, has frequently been a danger at the other end of the pitch. The midfielder has averaged 16 key passes per game opening up goalscoring opportunities in 2/3rds of the games that he has featured in so far this season. Additionally, when the opportunity arises, Grimes doesn't shy away from entering the oppositions half. He will often try to find space when the opposition has become compact in their defensive third opening up the opportunity to shoot. In fact, Grimes has averaged a shot every other game and, while he has yet to score, his expected goals of 0.82 indicate that he remains a threat from these situations.
Under Cooper, Matt Grimes was typically one of a two midfield pairing. The other man in this double pivot, Jay Fulton, was expected to take up the defensive responsibilities of the midfield in order to free up Grimes to do the midfields on the ball work. However, a change in management has led to a change in the midfield pivot with Jay Fulton losing his place in the side for more attack-minded options Flynn Downes and Oliver Ntcham. This means that there is an expectation on Grimes to pick up some of the slack lost by removing Fulton and in the defensive limitations of the current rotation in midfield. While this is not the strongest side of his game, Grimes has managed to adapt to this change in situation relatively well in making 16 tackles to date averaging a 67% success rate while his clearances and interceptions are respectable for a side that aims to dominate possession and, as such, spends less time dealing with the defensive parameters of the game.
If Middlesbrough can stifle the English midfielder with their high-press then Swansea’s style of play may quickly devolve into a more factious style of football which would play into the hands of Middlesbrough at the behest of Swansea.
Hot Prospect: Joel Piroe
The Netherland’s forward arrived to the club in the summer but he has quickly been established as a considerable danger in the Championship. The 22 year old has been likened to fellow countryman Van Persie for his style and technique and, with the potential to develop further he could establish himself as a solid Premier League forward in the coming seasons whether that is with Swansea or following a future transfer remains to be seen.
Piroe is the type of striker who floats, almost elusive in his movement when pulling off the defensive line he can spark into action at a moments notice often catching the oppositions defence off guard and opening up a serious goalscoring opportunity. While he is relatively capable in the air, he is best when opportunities arise in and around his feet. This means that he has assimilated into the squad with relative ease as these are the type of opportunities that the side predominantly creates.
The focal point of Swansea City's attack, Joel Piroe has settled into life at Swansea like a swan to water. The 6ft forward has been in prolific form so far this season as he has managed to find the back of the net 10 times in his last 19 appearances. He has added to his goalscoring exploits with a deft touch to create opportunities for others too adding another 4 assists to his tally. To put this into goal contributions per appearances, in three of every four games that Piroe plays in he will make a direct contribution to a goal. If this doesn't highlight the danger he possesses then a closer look at his statistics will.
Joel Piroe is a clinical finisher. The average shot on target conversion rate in three of the top 5 leagues in Europe is 31%. However, Piroe is currently running at an average of 45% shot on target conversion rate. This 14% mark up on conversion highlights the Netherland's forwards ability to pick his spot when an opportunity arises making it increasingly difficult for the goalkeeper to make a save. Due to this ability, it will come as little surprise that Piroe is also wildly outperforming his expected goals at the moment (the number of goals that would be scored on average from the opportunities that the player had). He has contributed almost double his expected goals this season as he has a return of 5.37.
While this highlights the considerable danger that Piroe provides, he will also get involved in the sides build-up play averaging a very solid 77% pass success rate with his 201 successful passes. He won't search for the ball, as he instead focuses on getting into goalscoring opportunities but if the ball comes his way then he is comfortable and competent enough to deal with it in a positive manner.
Middlesbrough will have to stifle any opportunities that come Piroe’s way if they wish to convert the match into three points.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-1 Swansea
Swansea’s playing style should suit Chris Wilder’s Middlesbrough providing a serious opportunity to add some points to the board. It will be far from an easy win though as Swansea are a talented side. The clash between the two tactical philosophies could provide an exciting and open game. I have predicted a 2-1 win but it could easily evolve into a far more exciting scoreline. This could be a game to look forward to.