Thursday, 5 February 2015

While Plan A still needs work, at least we've got a Plan B

The Swans' recent display against Southampton showed we've developed an alternate style, far from the possession-based team we've become accustomed to

For as long as I can remember, almost any occasion where the Swans were overcome by their opposition resulted in cries of "we need a plan b" and "you can't always play your way out of trouble". 

While this was often harsh, there have been many occasions where having another option would most definitely have been beneficial and Garry Monk has been keen to stress that this is something he's been working on. Monk's interview with The Telegraph back in November is quite interesting reading given our performance at St Mary's last weekend:

"Other managers have amazing belief in their way of playing and I believe in that passing game as well, it's a brilliant way to do it, but I've also had the experience of being on the pitch with that blind faith. 
"I've played in the teams over the years and we've played some great football, and we'll always play passing football, but we have to have something we can rely on when that doesn't work or when we're not at our best. 
"I thought about it a lot through the summer and we've started to put it in place. Different tactical stuff, especially defensively which I thought we needed."
This is something which applies to both our tactics in general and also about managing periods of a match. We've often found ourselves in advantageous positions without being able to capitalise fully, and again this is something which Monk stated he has been trying to address:

"I've spoken to the players a lot about game management, which is many things. As a possession team, we can try to keep the ball to take the pressure off us for five minutes. It might be a certain period that we don't try and attack, we just get the ball and try to get a rest. Or there are other situations where we try to get forward a bit quicker and be more dangerous with our possession. 
"People talk about stats and the Everton game was our lowest possession rate in the Premier League (33 per cent). But it wasn't our plan to dominate possession in that particular game. I went up there last season with the team twice and we played a great game, it was open, two teams playing great football, but we lost the games. We needed to be a bit more versatile and concede some possession." 

As with the Everton game we surrendered possession at St Mary's, and why not? Southampton have been a revelation this season and they were at home - couple that with the amount of first team players missing and I honestly think that if we'd have tried to match them in the possession stakes we'd have come unstuck. 

By relying on our defensive unit and acknowledging that we had to make the most of any opportunities we were able to frustrate Koeman's side, denying them clear-cut chances and clearing the danger time and time again. I don't subscribe to the view that we were lucky - Saints can perhaps consider themselves unlucky that they didn't get a more favourable bounce at any point - as their lack of goalscoring opportunities was a direct result of the tactics we utilised.

There are numerous ways to play football, and we had/have plenty of options for a Plan B. For me though, this one makes sense. We've got four good centre-backs, a good set of midfielders, and fast wingers. Does playing on the counter-attack make sense to anyone else?

What is important, and what I have no doubt Monk is aware of, is that we need to be careful not to dilute our "Plan A" as I feel happened towards the end of Laudrup's tenure. Our only system became blunt, and without a backup plan we were left in need of a change at management level. 

Since Monk was appointed boss he's made no bones about wanting to drill the defensive side of the game into the side, and with the second most clean sheets registered (Fabianski has nine, one behind Fraser Forster) in the league it's hard to argue it isn't working.

If we can correctly identify which matches dictate the use of either system, this could be a breakthrough moment for us. We need to make sure that, more often than not, we're looking to retain possession and build play slowly, but on the occasions we do operate more defensively the squad will have a growing sense of confidence that - providing they play to instructions - we'll come away with a clean sheet.

Not two bad options to have.