Sunday, 16 November 2014

The rebirth of Gylfi Sigurdsson

Icelandic playmaker has reveled in the tactical consistency afforded him this season. Which should be no surprise...

Gylfi Sigurdsson celebrates his equaliser against Arsenal with Jefferson Montero

Once upon a time the Swans had just been promoted to the Premiership, and after a sticky start Danny Graham had started firing goals in on a regular basis. He was always unlikely to be considered a long-term option though, and in January once the transfer window had opened Gylfi Sigurdsson was signed on loan from Hoffenheim for the remainder of the season, to assist Graham in the aim of firing the Swans to safety. 

He went on to impress massively for the Swans - his range of passing and eye for goal were (and still probably are) markedly better than anyone else in our midfield, but that was the Gylfi of then. What of the Gylfi of now? After an ill-fated spell at Spurs - one of a growing number of footballing horror stories which show that you are, in terms of your career at least, not necessarily best served by going to a "big club" for a massive paycheque - he's once again blossoming at the Swans, but this time around he's a much, much more complete player.

When I think back to Gylfi under Brendan Rodgers I think of a player either pinging a longish pass into space, or striding onto the ball on the edge of the area before dispatching a cultured finish goalwards. While that hasn't entirely changed when you compare this with his performances so far this season, his game is so, so different, and the main change is just how good he now is at pressing the opposition defence.

Anyone who's seen the Swans play with Gylfi at attacking midfield this season will surely have noticed the Icelander's work-rate. He covers so much ground I'm amazed he can find the energy to do anything else - never mind find the time to score twice and lay on another seven goals - and the way the team shape shifts as we defend really is testament to his tactical prowess. 

Traditionally you have someone at the back organising team shape and keeping everyone in line, and we do indeed have that player in Ashley Williams. What we also have now though is someone doing that further up the pitch, so that when we're attempting to retrieve the ball it's done with the same cohesion and purpose as when we're trying to stifle an opposition attack. If you're playing a pressing game and one person doesn't press the right space the whole system can be undone in one fell swoop, but with Gylfi leading the charge we've looked seriously good in terms of regaining the ball. With the second best defence in the league, the stats back that up. 

Jon Trew pointed out a while ago (link) that depending on where we are defending the team could either be described as a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1, and over the course of the season we're seeing this system being refined week on week. Key to it's success is Sigurdsson, as with him leading the defensive press it becomes obvious to the other players a) where they need to be pressing for maximum effect and b) that if they don't press as hard as Gylfi they're going to look like they're not working hard enough. Both of which aren't bad things.

This is all without really talking about his prowess in attack. As mentioned he's got two goals and seven assists, and would you bet against him getting more? The free-kick against Arsenal was just further evidence of his quality, and a really pleasing aspect to the goal was that you had the feeling it was coming. Gylfi's performances have been of such a high quality that it was only a matter of time before he stuffed one in from twenty-five yards, and I for one am glad he chose to do it against the Gunners. I'll bet Tom Carroll was too.

With over half the season still to play the sky is the limit for Sigurdsson. On top of his amazing domestic form he's also in scintillating form for Iceland - he really can do no wrong at the moment - and what's refreshing to see is that it's clearly a success borne of hard work and belief in a system. With the Bony/Sigurdsson partnership still finding it's feet I think it's reasonable to expect their goal returns to improve, and if that happens then who knows what we could achieve this season.