Swansea season roundup: central defence

Posted by Max Hicks

Michael Regan/Getty ImagesAsh Williams and Chico Flores celebrate after Swansea's League Cup triumph in February.

In the second part of my Swansea squad roundup, I'll look at central defence. After a rocky start, new Swan Chico Flores and acting captain Ash Williams went on to form a formidable duo, arguably among the best in the Premier League. Past the two starters, squad depth was thin; veteran Garry Monk deputised for Flores's various injuries, whilst youngster Kyle Bartley had to make do with a bare minimum of appearances.

Current transfer talk has Williams valued at 10 million pounds, with Arsenal and Liverpool said to be interested. The Liverpool connection makes plenty of sense; Liverpool need to replace retired legend Jamie Carragher, and Williams has never made a secret of his fondness for working under Reds boss and former Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers.

Whether Williams leaves or not, his valuation and association with big-six sides says a lot about the kind of season he's had. To roll out a cliche, the centre back is very much the rock at the heart of the Swansea defence. His positional discipline and consistency make him the perfect counterpart to his more adventurous partner Chico, and the combination of the two players contrasting styles has given Swansea a dynamic, strong central unit.

The side actually conceded the same number of goals this season as last, when on-loan Spurs defender Stephen Caulker partnered Williams. However, this season's central pairing played without as much protection from the rest of the side, as Michael Laudrup encouraged his version of the Swans to play more aggressively in attack.

Standout stat: 53 blocked shots. Williams led the Premier League in this category. Second was Fulham's Brede Hangeland (42). Williams's willingness to put his body on the line to protect his goal is one of the reasons Swansea ended the season with a topten defensive record.

As good as Williams was, he was almost eclipsed by his new partner. Chico is certainly the attention-grabber of the two. The top-knotted Spaniard's marauding runs forward, enthusiastic tackling and tangible passion for the game have already made the Swans' number four a cult hero in South Wales.

The former Genoa man might be a touch injury-prone and also demonstrated a lack of discipline early on. However, his discipline problems were rectified, so now keeping him healthy is most important, as the Swans defence is so much better when Chico plays. Perhaps that will be easier once Laudrup brings in adequate cover over the summer and can begin to rotate, although finding another inexpensive centre back of similar calibre might be difficult.

Standout stat: 0 errors leading to a shot or a goal. For all his apparent exuberance, Flores is a surprisingly safe pair of hands (or feet) in the Swans defence. The only other Swansea defender to play an error-free season was Dwight Tiendalli, and Tiendalli played less than half Flores' minutes.

When Chico was out of the squad (usually due to injury), Monk was typically called on to deputise. Perhaps Laudrup preferred Monk's experience over the comparatively callow Bartley, or perhaps Laudrup was simply trying to give the Swans stalwart as much playing time as possible in what might prove to have been his final season.

Monk did well enough in relief, using his positional savvy to compensate for his lack of pace, and was about the only Swansea player to come away from the 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool with any dignity. However, Monk's game is necessarily one-dimensional at this stage of his career. With Monk in ahead of Chico, the Swans defence regressed from borderline elite to merely competent at best. Finding a third centre back who can match Williams and Flores will be a summer priority for Laudrup, although the under-used Bartley showed plenty of promise in limited starts.

Standout stat: Monk's 91 percent passing accuracy. Best among Swansea defenders, second only to Ki Sung-Yueng (93) across all positions and tied with Leon Britton, Monk's passing is an under-valued aspect of the defender's game. If he does move into a coaching role with the club this summer as anticipated, he has plenty he can pass on.

Next time, I'll be looking at the Swans full-backs.

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