Swansea way too passive at Chelsea

Posted by Max Hicks

To those who didn't watch the game, Swansea's 1-0 loss away to Chelsea on Boxing Day will look positively credible. On paper, it is a reasonable result; the expected loss, but by the slimmest possible margin. Those who did watch the game might find themselves -- as I am -- still dumbstruck by Swansea's inexplicable shot-shy tactics, particularly in the later stages.

West Ham's Sam Allardyce has been criticised this season for playing without a striker. For all intents and purposes, Swansea are lately doing the same. At least Allardyce's system features six midfielders; Swansea's lone striker might as well not be on the field half the time.

That's not to say the Swans strikers are bad, only that they're receiving no service. They're not even being given 50/50 balls to fight over. Michael Laudrup's decision to start Alvaro Vasquez was understandable -- he'd rather start Wilfried Bony in the more winnable match against Aston Villa on Saturday -- but even when Bony replaced Vazquez from the bench late in the game to provide his team-mates with a larger target, Swans midfielders could not or would not find him.

Instead, the Swansea attacking game plan broke down into a series of isolated and pointless short-passing drills. In one instance, Pablo Hernandez skilfully beat his man in the corner, but rather than use the space he had created to send a ball into the box, he merely slid it all of three yards to Alejandro Pozuelo, who, owing to proximity, was instantly shut down by the same man Pablo had just beaten.

Under pressure, Pozuelo slipped the ball another five yards to Angel Rangel, whose return pass (as though one were necessary) was cut out by one of the numerous blue shirts who'd had the last 20 seconds to enclose and cut off the Swansea players. All the while, Vazquez got to stand around catching cold in the Chelsea box while Peter Cech and John Terry talked about how they were going to spend the easiest paycheck either of them has earned this season.

This was one isolated moment, but was characteristic of Swansea's attacking approach for the entire game. Late on, with Chelsea clearly concerned at their inability to add the insurance goal and looking vulnerable to the equaliser they expected to come, all Swansea could do was tap the ball around on the periphery.

Twelve million pounds spent on a man (Bony) who could out-muscle a Minotaur, and a side supposedly renowned for its passing football can't send a single ball into the box. Not even with an away point on the table and a big six-side seemingly bracing themselves for the gut-punch of the late equalizer.

Come full-time on Thursday, Swansea had manufactured something like 100 more passes than Chelsea, but less than half the number of shots. It seems to go without saying which of the two might be more instrumental in actually winning football matches. Superior possession does not compensate the fact that Chelsea looked dangerous and were dangerous, whereas Swansea looked -- and were very much -- impotent.

Lost in the frustration of Swansea's futile attack was a fantastic display of defending, so at least something is working at the moment. Ash Williams was virtually a one-man back four, which figuratively gave Swansea a back seven, and was the chief reason Chelsea couldn't find a second, or a third.

And yes, a solitary one goal defeat away to Chelsea is still impressive in its own way. But watching the game, seeing the nature of the defeat, smelling Chelsea's nerves, never better demonstrated than in Branislav Ivanovic's panicky late clearances, Swansea should be kicking themselves for not throwing everything at the Chelsea goal, even if only for the last 10 minutes.

New players might be on their way in January, but what Swansea need more is a subtle shift in mentality, not necessarily personnel. Fewer passes, more dribbles, a little more off-the-ball movement, and above all more shots could transform this side for the better. Eden Hazard pretty much showed Swansea exactly how to play football on Thursday. I'm hoping the lesson will have rubbed off.

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