After claiming three victories and one draw in the Championship – which were four consecutive undefeated games, Steve Cooper’s Swansea confidently welcomed Huddersfield on their hometown stadium. Their purpose is no more than winning another three points and add one more victory to their undefeated streak despite the departure of Joe Rodon – the centre-back who made his move to Tottenham Hotspur on the last day of the transfer window. On the other side, Huddersfield is very much inconsistent after selling Karlan Grant to West Bromwich Albion: before the fifth fixture, they had lost their first two games and just had one victory in the third match. Nevertheless, the visitors astonished all of the spectators with a tight win on Liberty Stadium.
In this tactical analysis, we introduce you to the tactics that helped Corberan claim his first away win in this season, also this analysis points out the way Cooper and his players tried and fought to retain one point in Wales.
Steve Cooper continued using the formation of 3-4-1-2 for his team. He had Freddie Woodman as goalkeeper; the back three contained Ben Cabango who played in the middle, Marc Guehi on the left, and Kyle Naughton on the right. As usual, Connor Roberts and Jake Bidwell were the pair of wing-backs. Captain Matt Grimes played alongside Korey Smith and create the midfield duo for Swansea, while Viktor Gyökeres stood higher and played right after his two fellow strikers Jamal Lowe and André Ayew.
Corberan brought to Liberty Stadium the 3-5-2 formation with Ben Hamer in the goal, covered by the backfield trio of Richard Stearman, Naby Sarr, and Christopher Schindler; Pipa and Harry Toffolo secured Huddersfield’s flanks as wing-backs. The visitor’s midfield trio was formed by Jonathan Hogg who stood lowest, Juninho Bacuno on the right, and Carel Eiting on the left. Corberan’s pair of strikers was Isaac Mbenza and Josh Koroma.
Swansea with a back three and two wing-backs was very confident with possessing the ball and building their play up; however, by marking Swansea’s midfielders tightly and pressing Cooper’s centre-backs, Huddersfield was a bit successful in preventing Swansea from playing out from the back.
Nevertheless, this was not the first time Swansea’s players have to play under pressure in the build-up phase. Ayew is the man who can relieve his fellow defenders from being pressed by dropping deep and receive the ball. His good quality in controlling and dribbling the ball also helped him to open other ways to process the ball forward.
Guehi pushing high is another modality for Swansea to process the ball. Thanks to Swansea’s front three’s fluidity, they forced the visitors to stay deep or move wide, which incidentally created a huge space in front of the 18-yard box, and Guehi could easily move and occupy it, he even could make a shot.
Swansea’s possession in the first half also thanks to their good high pressing line which forced Huddersfield to play long. Cooper’s centre-backs would challenge the ball using their decent aerial challenging ability and the duty of claiming the second ball would come to Smith and Grimes.
Huddersfield’s mistake and the changes that helped them reclaim the advantage
Huddersfield faced many difficulties in deploying their strategy because of Swansea’s pressing system. However, this also came from Hamer’s decision-making; the English goalkeeper decided to play long many times when he had better options. The long balls which came from his feet had low quality and sometimes he kicked the ball directly to Swansea’s midfielders.
Corberan recognised his players were struggling in processing the ball with a back three, so the Spaniard immediately directed his players to change to a back four with two midfielders dropping low. Therefore, Schindler and Sarr could combine with Hogg and Eiting to form a quadrilateral which allowed them to outnumber Swansea’s pressing triangle, to pass and build the play up more smoothly.
Simultaneously, Bacuna was told to play more central with more freedom between the lines. This helped the Curaçao player to have an impressive second half, in which he supported his colleagues by disorganising Cooper’s defending system, pulling Swansea defenders out wide, creating spaces, and linking his team’s play up.
Pipa was very noticeable as well. His presence troubled Guehi in marking him; the Chelsea loanee was very confused about following Pipa or not. Instead of staying wide near the touchline, Pipa usually moved into the right half-space and hunt the gaps. He played an almost free role. Whenever Guehi chose to follow Pipa, space appeared for Mbenza to run into.
This is Swansea’s first defeat in the season, and it happened right in their own stadium. Swansea’s teamwork and the link between players still worked well, but the way Cooper’s strikers converted their chances was really bad; Lowe must know this well after throwing two good chances away. On the other hand, the visitors adapted well to the game; Corberan made two vital changes that brought back advantages for Huddersfield and they deserved this victory. Swansea must keep fighting harder if they still want a promoting ticket to the Premier League next season.