Swans Scoring By Numbers

Posted by Max Hicks

Whilst Ben Davies prepares to step into Neil Taylor's shoes for both club and country, the Premier League fixture list takes a week off, which gives me time to play around with some numbers.

Over the Swans first games of the new season, one thing has seemed apparent; that Michael Laudrup has made good on his word and introduced a strong dose of attacking purpose to this possession-heavy team.

Under Brendan Rodgers, the easy criticism ran along the lines that 'possession is all well and good but it's what you do with it that counts', and various other words to similar effect. And of course that's true. And it's also true that Rodgers' Swans did spend an awful lot of time passing the ball between defenders and 'keeper. So much so, you could almost credit Rodgers with having slyly re-introduced via re-interpretation the old rule where your 'keeper was allowed to pick up a back-pass to waste time.

At the other end of the field, the Swans' attack wasn't especially dangerous; 14 other teams, including relegated Bolton and Blackburn, scored more. Now, the purpose of pointing out these particularities of last season's Swans is not to pick holes. There is no denying the Swans inaugural Premier League season was a great success. However, going into season two, top of the tactical to do list had to be improving the attack, and only three games in, Michael Laudrup seems to have done just that. It shouldn't be any wonder, given Laudrup's heritage.

One of the problems the Swans had under Rodgers was that the nearer the team got to the opponents' goal, the greater the chance passing moves would break down. This is inevitable to a degree, but being able to make those killer passes and final balls is what separates great teams from merely good ones.

Under Rodgers, the difference in successful passing rates in each area of the field was fairly steep - from 91% success in the Swans own half to a suspect 71% in the final third.

Now let's compare Laudrup's Swans:

 



The difference may seem slight, but games are won and lost by the smallest of margins. Laudrup's Swans boast more successful passing all round (from 95% to 80%), but the important detail is how there is almost no change between passing success in the opponents' half and in the final third. In the most dangerous part of the pitch, Laudrup's Swans keep their cool and still complete passes at an 80% clip, a vast improvement on last season's 71%.

One of the reasons for this improvement is the play of the wingers (Routledge and Dyer), who now come into the centre of the park, allowing the full-backs to advance further down the flanks than before. This gives the Swans one or two extra targets in dangerous areas. No wonder more passes are hitting their mark; there are more marks to hit.

The point of threading passes in the final third is of course to generate goal scoring opportunities. Rodgers' Swans struggled for goals, but the winter window addition of Gylfi Sigurdsson changed everything. I pointed out in a previous article that part of the reason for the Icelander's success was that he liked to shoot, and he shot a lot, actually clocking up more shots in half a season than striker Danny Graham's total for the full season (71 to 70). Of course, just shooting a lot is not really a good strategy unless you possess a dangerous shot (see Dobbie, Stephen).

This season's happy shooter looks set to be Michu, who certainly does have a dangerous shot, playing in the same position as did Sigurdsson. Four goals in three games is testimony to the Swans new found cutting edge :



This time, we can see how Laudrup's tactical tweaks and improved passing have resulted in more shots (and consequently, more goals). What's more, the biggest improvement is in shots on target, clearly the most important category.

Either the Swans have been working a few extra shooting drills into practice, or the chances the side are creating are providing better shooting opportunities. Ten goals in three games suggests the latter (though the former might also be true). These are quality chances, and not simply shooting for the sake of it. Of course, the entire improvement might just be because Nathan Dyer finally learned to keep the ball down.

I'll have a look at a few other statistical comparisons as the season goes on.

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