Swansea City are an exciting team brimming with young talent, and centre-back Joe Rodon has enjoyed a fantastic season under the leadership of former England Under 17 head coach Steve Cooper. Born in the Swansea village of Llangyfelach, the 22-year-old has become one of the first names on the Swans’ team sheet.
As a former season ticket holder who joined the club’s academy at the age of eight, Rodon is living the dream. His performances for the Jacks have led to him being linked with the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City, and he’s recently become a regular starter for Wales.
It’s been a rapid rise to prominence for someone who only made his Swansea debut in August 2018. This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of Rodon’s performances in the Championship this season.
Style of play and role
Rodon has clocked up 1,912 minutes of league football this term, spanned across 21 matches. Those numbers would have been higher if he didn’t suffer an ankle injury back in October. The problem required surgery and kept him out of action for three months.
Standing at 6ft 4ins, the Welshman has an imposing physical presence that makes it hard for opposing strikers to win headers against him. He is blessed with good defensive instincts, he’s able to read where the opponent is going to play the ball and make interceptions by stretching out his long legs and recovering possession for his team. But perhaps the most eye-catching aspect of his game is his ball-playing ability. He always shows for the ball and shows composure to pick a pass when he’s under pressure. This will all stand him in great stead if he goes on to play in the Premier League.
Steve Cooper usually deploys a 4-2-3-1 formation. The personnel within those tactics may change, but the system rarely does. The Swans have started with this formation in 29 of their 37 games so far this season. Rodon is right-footed, but he’s mainly played as the left-sided central defender this season as the Jacks don’t have any left-footed centre backs. The graphic below is the 22-year-old’s heatmap for this season.
As you can see, Rodon isn’t afraid to get on the ball higher up the pitch towards the midfield area. The graphic below is the average position of each player from Swansea’s 0-0 draw with West Bromwich Albion.
Rodon spends quite a lot of time shuttling out to the left-hand side. He’s never far away from Swansea’s left-back Jake Bidwell and is always available to be the out ball for him if the left flank is too congested. Then he can look at switching the focus of the attack by passing the ball to his central defensive partner.
Ball playing ability
Rodon was playing for City’s academy when the likes of Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup managed the first team. He grew up watching a Swansea side who upset the odds to reach and survive in the Premier League, and they did this by playing bold, possession-based football. The Jacks may have strayed away from that “Swansea identity” in the last few years, but Rodon has been key to the way Graham Potter and now Steve Cooper have tried to re-implement the passing style that has become synonymous with Swansea. The Jacks average 51.6% possession per game, and they average 12.32 passes per defensive action against; the fourth highest in the division.
A lot of Swansea’s attacks start from the back, and the eagerness of Rodon to get on the ball facilitates this. Below is an image of him and defensive partner Marc Guehi in their 0-0 draw against Queens Park Rangers. It shows their willingness to start an attacking move by dropping into their own goal area when goalkeeper Freddie Woodman has the ball.
QPR’s players know that Rodon is comfortable on the ball, so they decide to press him and Guehi high up the pitch. But by doing this, they’ve left space behind them for Woodman to evade the first pressing line and play the ball into midfield. This shows how the central defenders are involved in the start of Swansea’s attacks, without necessarily touching the ball.
But when in possession, Rodon has demonstrated his calmness and ability to pass forwards into full-backs or midfield. The Swans like to play the ball out to the full-backs, and Rodon often looks to play forward passes into the left-back, which has recently been Jake Bidwell.
The graphic above shows the direction of his passes in Swansea’s last five Championship outings. The accuracy of those passes was unusually low, but his passing stats over the full season have been impressive. The Welsh international boasts an overall pass completion rate of 87.04%, which is up there with the highest figure out of central defenders in the Championship. Rodon has also completed 77.3% of his forward passes, of which he attempts an average of 17.42 per 90 minutes.
When he’s got the ball at his feet, the 22-year-old rarely rushes. He shows coolness by sometimes pausing on the ball and waiting for somebody to make the right movement in midfield so he can play a more penetrative pass. The image below shows him doing just that against QPR.
The centre-back has also demonstrated that he has a longer range pass in his locker when necessary. He only attempts an average of 3.77 long passes per 90 minutes, but when he’s shown that he can play cross-field balls when the situation is right.
The image above shows Rodon switching the ball out to Andre Ayew on the left-hand side. QPR made the midfield area very compact, so having the ability to play over that adds much-needed unpredictability to Swansea’s attacks. They could utilise this more often as they struggle to break teams down at home.
Intercepting and reading the game
Rodon has fantastic defensive instincts; his football brain and positional sense are terrific. He’s also good at cutting out passes by watching an opponent’s body shape and predicting where they’re going to play the ball. The youngster averages 6.97 interceptions per 90 minutes, which is the ninth highest out of all central defenders in the league.
Below is an example of his ability to cut out passing moves from their game against West Brom.
Matheus Pereira is carrying the ball forward for the Baggies, and Hal Robson-Kanu is running in behind on the blind side of Rodon. This is a situation where a defender can get caught out, but just before the pass is played, the Swansea man moves slightly to his left side. He’s then able to intercept the attempted pass and come away with the ball.
Rodon sniffs out the danger and moves in front of the big striker, getting a vital foot in to stop a goalscoring opportunity.
The analysis will now move onto his physicality and leadership skills. Standing at 6ft 4ins, Rodon is a domineering physical presence who is good both aerially and in ground duels. He’s involved in an average of 5.22 defensive duels per 90 minutes and has won a respectable 69.37% of them. The former Cheltenham Town loanee has also won 54.69% of his aerial duels this season.
The images below illustrate how Rodon uses his body to win these aerial battles. Up against another physically imposing player in Hugill, Rodon sticks out his arms to create a bit of space between himself and the QPR forward. He’s then able to move forward and attack the ball with more power.
The sheer size of the Swansea man can cause problems for opposition strikers, and he’ll often stretch out those long legs to make goal-saving last-ditch tackles. In the images below from their game against Fulham, Bobby Reid is through on goal but Rodon executes a vital last-ditch tackle to prevent a clear goalscoring opportunity.
A tackle Rodon simply had to get right, and he timed it to perfection.
The Welshman, born in 1997, is part of a generation of footballers who are often criticised for lacking leadership qualities. But despite his young age, Rodon has shown that he’s a good communicator who can help organise the defence. In the image below, you can see him talking to Freddie Woodman when the Swans are defending a corner.
This allows Ayew to mark the front post, and Rodon can then be the spare man and can go out and attack the ball if it’s delivered anywhere near the front post area. Organisational skills are unquantifiable and often go under the radar, but they’re a vital part of any defender’s game.
An area for Rodon to improve if he’s to make it at the top level would be to ensure he stays switched on at all times. There are times when he’ll switch off for one second, and if you do that in the Premier League you’ll often get punished. In the example below, he’s just headed the ball clear and gets caught ball watching.
Instead of looking over his shoulder and getting goalside of Jordan Hugill, Rodon keeps his eyes on the ball and has no idea that the Rangers frontman is running in behind him. The ball gets played through to the West Ham loanee but he couldn’t take advantage. He may have only switched off for a split second, but that can often be the difference between a clean sheet or conceding a goal.
Another area of Rodon’s game that could improve is his attacking threat. In fact, the Welshman has never scored a senior goal. This season, he’s averaged 0.02 expected goals per game. That’s a disappointingly low figure for such a tall player, and he’ll be hoping to work on becoming more of a threat from set-pieces.
Rodon has enjoyed a terrific season and is one of the first names on the teamsheet for his hometown club. He’s a brilliant all-round defender who is blessed with physicality, great positional sense and an ability to read the game well. Some defenders in the past have struggled to make the step up to the Premier League when they’re likely to play in a system where they have to play out from the back.
However, Rodon is used to playing like this at Swansea and he’s developed a comfort in possession which will stand him in good stead if he earns a move to a Premier League outfit this summer.