Swansea's defensive decline under Laudrup

Posted by Max Hicks

At the last international break, I compared the Swans attacking stats under Michael Laudrup (so far) and Brendan Rodgers (last season) to see how things have changed under the new manager. It's another international break, so now seems like a fine time to explore the other end of the park in the same way. Here's a defensive comparison between last season's relative vintage and this season's nasty plonk. Yes, it's that ugly.

First, a caveat. Many observers have been quick to write off the Swans' woes with no appreciation of the defensive flux the side have had to endure thanks to some pretty serious injuries. Laudrup's Swans have been noticeably undermined by the loss of full back Neil Taylor, whilst other injuries to Garry Monk and Kyle Bartley have meant midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng has had to cover at centre back.

An early three-match suspension for newcomer Chico has compromised the Swans' chance to field a regular back four, and only Ash Williams and Angel Rangel remain among the starters from last season - and even Williams has been playing hurt.

With all that in mind, it ought to come as no surprise whatsoever that the Swans have struggled to keep the goals out so far this season (Taylor and Chico started the first two games, both clean sheets). However, just how much Laudrup's men have struggled is somewhat eye-opening.

The first figure we're concerned with here is goals against per game, as strong an indicator of a side's defensive ability as any:

We can see how the 1.34 mark the Swans achieved under Rodgers has crept up to 1.57 this season. Nothing too dramatic and, in fact, pretty good considering the aforementioned circumstances. However, there is something to be said about the way a goal is conceded. This season's defence has looked panic-stricken and disorganised fairly often, a fact brutally outlined by our next category - errors leading to a goal:

Rodgers' defence played a solid and reliable game all season long, committing only three such errors in total. Laudrup's decimated defence have already made five mistakes in the first seven games, a figure that projects to a staggering 27.1 errors per season. Last season's woeful Wolves side, who shipped 82 goals over the course of the season, only committed ten such errors, finished last and were relegated.

Of course, that huge figure is simply a projection based on present form, and accurately reflects the Swans' current defensive plight, with all those injuries. Things have to improve and they will, even in simple ways, like the same back four playing together for a continued stretch of games - a luxury Laudrup has been largely deprived of so far.

One feature of Swans games this season (along with never-given blatant penalty shouts) are goal-line clearances. It seems like almost every game has had one, and that's not too far from the truth:

This season's Swans have actually made four goal-line clearances already (though I'm sure I've counted five...), which projects to 21 for the season - that's 21 potential goals the likes of Leon Britton and Ash Williams have to keep out. Obviously, that's again unrealistic, and once again, this stat shows the real story behind the Swans early-season struggles: defence, specifically an injury-depleted, suspension-suffering, makeshift defence.

With Chico back among the starters, Ben Davies settling in, Bartley due back before Christmas and fully fit back-up players on the bench, it shouldn't be too long before the Swansea defence settles into some kind of rhythm, at which point those figures should start to look a bit more appropriate for a team with the fantastic Michel Vorm in goal. When that happens, and with the attack also firing again, the Swans will be arguably better than ever.

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