A tale of two halves

Posted by Max Hicks

The result was predictable even down to the 2-0 scoreline, a replication of last season's fixture, but it could and should have been a different story for the Swans.

If Swansea had played the whole match with the focus they demonstrated in the second half, they might have pushed the Potters to the brink and denied Tony Pulis' men their first win of the season. However, a poor first half from a visibly nervous Swans side gave Stoke plenty of opportunity to take the lead.

So shaky were the Swans that over the first 45 minutes they almost looked like a league one side playing Manchester United at Old Trafford in a cup fixture on a day where every single player had morning diarrhoea. Of the starters, perhaps Ki and Nathan Dyer suffered the least and put in a decent showing, but others such as Pablo and Chico were conspicuous by their ineffectiveness.

Pablo needs a little more time; he looked very good on his debut as a late sub against Villa, but hasn't looked at all comfortable since. This is to be expected; he is being asked to integrate into a side short on confidence and one more loss away from a crisis. It is much easier for new players to bed-in when the team are playing well, as was the case with Chico over the first few games.

Saturday's tilt was Chico's return from a three match suspension, and on the evidence of a game-long sloppy performance, someone needs to tell his mind to get off the sofa and rejoin his body on the pitch. The centre-back endured an error prone ninety minutes, with possibly the worst moment coming early on as Peter Crouch was allowed to score from a corner.

Such was the confusion in defence that it was hard to tell who exactly was meant to be marking Crouch, so it might not have been Chico's fault alone. One thing is for sure -- you might as well boot the ball into your own net as soon as the match starts as leave Peter Crouch unmarked on a set piece. It was unforgivably negligent play given how obvious is was that Crouch was going to be a threat from dead ball situations. The fact it took just over ten minutes for the killer lapse in judgement set the tone for the remainder of the half.

Laudrup must have found the right words at half time, because the second half Swans were much improved. It was noteworthy that after such a poor first half showing, Laudrup made no changes in the interval; for my money, he was tactfully restoring belief in his starting eleven by giving them another chance to impress. Pablo's later substitution for Wayne Routledge was always on the cards, but had Laudrup made the change at the interval, it might have done for the Spaniards confidence as a Swan for good. Instead, the entire team came out strong in the second, Pablo included, and will feel encouraged by their performance going into the next game against Reading.

The biggest problem in the Swans camp at the moment seems to be lack of application. As a whole, the Swans' off the ball work was poor throughout the first half, both with and without possession. Without possession, the side need to do more legwork and tighten up -- checking back, pressing, positioning, marking -- and in possession, the players need to move more for each other.

The heavy pressing tactics employed by Everton were also used by Stoke. The solution is simple; just move the ball more quickly. However, if it is taking players three seconds to show for the ball and the opposition only two seconds to press, there's always going to be a problem. Sharper off the ball movement opens up passing options more quickly and turns defensive pressing into an exhausting chore. In the second half, the Swans made these adjustments and the difference was significant.

Football might have come easy to Michael Laudrup, but few are as gifted. His Swans squad need to remember to work hard and concentrate for the full ninety minutes. More second half Swans, a lot less first half Swans, and everything will be all right.

Positives: Good second half turnaround means the team spirit is strong, and Laudrup is in control of his players. Ki looking the business.

Negatives: Still poor at defending set pieces, though to only concede one from a set piece at Stoke must count for something. More first half slop than a 1970's school dinner. Ben Davies' controversial yellow.

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