Tuesday, 28 October 2014

When Leon is back, possession will be back

Tactics, and the absence of Leon Britton 

It's been a while since I had the chance to put anything up myself about our beloved Swansea City, but yesterday whilst having a stroll along the front one main thing kept coming back to me. 

Swansea City currently have the joint third-best defence in the league, having conceded ten goals in nine games. The only sides to have conceded less at this juncture are Chelsea (9) and Southampton (5). Personally, this is both something I'm immensely proud of and also that I'm fairly amazed by, given some of the football we've played so far this season. I've thought on numerous occasions that we've looked very vulnerable at the back, but despite some misgivings I've had about Neil Taylor & Angel Rangel's diminishing turn of pace I don't really think it's our defence's fault.

When we've got Leon Britton in the team, he is the rock around which our midfield is built. This allows our midfield three to have a "staggered" look, as Leon would sit deep, Gylfi would be at number ten and one of Ki or Jonjo would serve as the link between the two. Playing with one deep midfielder is only possible for us when that midfielder is Leon, as he is far and away our best option in that position. During his absence, we've seen Ki & Jonjo both sitting deep, with Gylfi alternaerting between his number ten role (in possession) and alongside Wilf (when not in possession). 

This has been working well, but I don't think it gives us the ability to retain possession as we've become used to. Indeed, the proof is in the statistics - so far this season we've averaged just 51% possession, as opposed to 55% last season and 54% the season prior to that. It might not sound much of a swing, but when you've got 55% possession your opponent has the ball 10% less than you, and I think the lack of Leon at the base of our midfield is directly responsible for our more attacking leanings this season. 

What Leon offers the team is so much more than just a base to build off though. He relieves so much pressure from the defence by having an innate ability to take a pass in a tight situation, already knowing where he's going to play a short first-time pass out of trouble. He drops in between defenders, and the main thing I've noticed is how much we lack his natural instincts when the opposition are attacking down the flanks. 

Angel Rangel & Neil Taylor have both looked more exposed this season than I can remember since we arrived in the Premiership, and I feel that without Leon's spotting and snuffing out opposition attacks through drifting out wide to cover, it's left us short at the back on more than one occasion.This isn't a slight on either Jonjo or Ki as I think both have been generally excellent this season, and I think both are improving into players who'll be very important for us, but Leon gives us the option of resting in possession through his positioning and awareness, something which would - at present - give us another option. 

I've got nothing against scoring lots of goals, but if we can retain possession as well as offering a threat in attack (which, let's be honest, we will if Wilf & Gylfi are in the team) we will be very, very hard team to beat. According to the ever reliable Ben Dinnery we're probably looking at a minimum of another three weeks before Leon will be available for selection, and while we have looked more than capable without him, I for one can't wait to have him back. When he's once again prowling around the base of our midfield, you watch our possession statistics jump up. 

As we've (correctly) heard repeated so often in the past: "when we've got the ball, the opposition can't hurt us".