Swansea City swooped so close to promotion from the Championship into the Premier League, having snuck into the playoff places on a dramatic final day in the second division.
Although their final swansong came against Brentford in the semi-final, the young Swans can reflect on an extremely promising campaign, spearheaded by their mother bird, Andre Ayew.
The Ghanaian was a consistent performer under Steve Cooper and became vital for their steady surge up the table. Ayew ended 2019/20 as the Welsh clubs leading scorer, assist maker and general leader amongst his junior teammates.
This scout report will assess the impact of Ayew and why he was crucial for Swansea’s breech of the top six. It will also act as a tactical analysis of his role in the side, observing his main importance in attacking situations.
Main threat upfront
Swansea crept into the remaining playoff spot on the last match week thanks to their biggest victory, both in terms of scoreline and outcome of the result. 4-1 winners over Reading was enough to leapfrog Nottingham Forest, simultaneously ending their own hopes of promotion.
However, Cooper’s side were the lowest scorers in the top six, netting the same amount as tenth-placed Derby County and less than 13th placed Queens Park Rangers. They owed 13.64% of their 62 goals to Ayew, who scored 15 times, including in the first leg of the semi-final against Brentford, and assisted a further seven to finish as Swansea’s main attacking threat.
It should come as no surprise that he leads the way in terms of goal contributions, considering he was the third-highest appearance maker, and that he attempted far and away more shots than anyone in a Swansea jersey.
Compared to the other forwards in the squad, he ranks third for shots per 90 minutes, behind Bersant Celina and Barrie McKay. Although, the latter only played on four occasions under Cooper, hence his higher statistic compared to Ayew.
Ayew also falls joint second for percentage of shots on target, which combined with the above data, demonstrates his presence in the final third for Swansea. That, and the fact only Nathan Dyer has had more touches in the box per 90 minutes than Ayew, suggests he is generally the most advanced player as a figurehead for Cooper’s forward-thinking approach.
However, there are several stats that state Ayew is not consistently direct in terms of his possession. Below the graphs show that he ranks far down for passes into the final third per 90 minutes and highly for back passes per 90 minutes, in comparison to Cooper’s other impact players.
Although this may appear negative, it instead reveals Ayew is comfortable at recycling the ball and choosing his moments when to influence the game. Swansea rarely benefited from counter-attacks, nor set pieces, but did from open play, which is where Ayew most came into fruition.
He also deserves credit for the number of aerial duels per 90 minutes he contested, Swansea’s second-best behind centre back Ben Wilmott. Unfortunately, he could not quite produce the same quality for the percentage of aerial duels he won, finishing considerably lower than the other top duellers.
Although Ayew is not afraid to put his head where it hurts, his forte is clearly with his feet, which works extremely well in the mould of Cooper’s high energy football philosophy.
Interchange then moving into space
Cooper could deploy Ayew anywhere across the forward line and thanks to this versatility, he was able to link play in a range of areas, whilst simultaneously utilising the space around him.
In the 3-1 win over QPR, Ayew appears on the left, deep inside his own half. After intercepting a pass, he instantly looks for a slick interchange with Celina that takes three opposing players out of the game. As soon as he’s made his initial flick, Ayew is already driving into space to supply Celina with a goalscoring assist.
In almost identical fashion in the victory away to Middlesbrough, Ayew can be seen on the left in no evident danger to the Boro defenders. Yet, as the ball comes his way, he plays a first time pass to Liverpool loanee Rhian Brewster and immediately gets on his bike to receive the return ball. He then gallops down the flank he usually occupies and delivers a cross into the box, back to the grateful Brewster to score.
This is another feature of how Ayew positively influences the Swansea attacks; his constant need to get the ball into the area for a goalscoring opportunity.
In that epic victory over the Royals, the third was fashioned by the 30-year-olds intelligent movement and desire to get the ball into dangerous areas. After making a selfless run in behind the defence, Ayew is then able to head the ball into the path of the onrushing Liam Cullen, who finished expertly first time on the volley.
Charlton faced similar wrath of the Swansea star man in the 2-1 victory that in fact propelled Cooper’s men momentarily to the top of the Championship. Ayew gave an early warning sign to the hosts, having sprinted into the space between the defence and midfield, he touched the ball onto his favoured left foot but could only drill his shot over the bar.
He was not to be denied a second chance, however. As the Swans pushed for an equaliser, Ayew again drifted towards the left flank largely unnoticed by the Charlton contingent. Now on the edge of the area, he received a short pass from Kyle Naughton that allowed him to drive a low cross that eventually fell to the feet of Yan Dhanda, who squeezed a deflected strike past the stranded Charlton goalkeeper.
These examples not only prove his strength in the final third but also his ability to bring others in and around him as they feed off his confidence going forward.
Clever movement to make opportunities
Ayew has already exhibited his potency in locating space to create a goalscoring opportunity for his comrades but also has the equal compacity to do so in creating a goalscoring opportunity for himself.
Take the Charlton game for example. From the Swansea corner, it is clear Ayew is being tightly man marked by an Addicks defender. Although, as the ball is whipped in, Ayew makes a few swift movements to avoid the attentions of his opponent, allowing himself the chance to stab the ball in from 6-yards unopposed, his first goal in the second division since 2016.
He bagged another winner in parallel fashion away to Luton Town in mid-December, three points that pushed the Swans right amongst the promotion flock once again. Just before Jay Fulton hooked the ball back across goal, Ayew is in close proximity to the Luton player. A slight change of direction in his run, and the defender is left on the floor whilst Ayew can simply tap in virtually on the line.
He repeats this exact action in the away draw at Blackburn; closely marked by the opposition, couple of quick steps either away and he makes himself available for a simple finish.
Not only was he a fox in the box, but Ayew could also prove just as dangerous from a further distance. Having already converted a penalty in the opening half at home to Middlesbrough, he went on the hunt for a second. Having stationed himself in between the left-back and centre-half, and just behind the midfielder’s vision, Mckay slipped a neat pass into Ayew’s path, who happily turned and blasted his shot through the despairing ‘keeper’s fingertips.
Swansea may not have returned to the promised land of the Premier League this year, yet under the guidance of a talented manager in Steve Cooper, and a very exciting squad, they have every chance of repeating the feat next season.
Add that to the experience of Andre Ayew, who shows no signs of slowing down at the business end of the field, and the Welsh club could well be challenging their English counterparts once more at the highest level. This analysis has aimed to indicate why the Ghanaian is still a crucial cog in the Swans cycle, and the tactics of his shrewd movement and drive to create chances would be invaluable for any side pushing for promotion.