Swansea’s Pressing vs Man City Nearly Paid Off
Poor Francesco Guidolin. The Italian manager saved Swansea from relegation last season (with a bit of help from Alan Curtish while he was fighting off serious illness) but he’s in a lot of trouble now. After five games without a win and with rumours that Ryan Giggs is waiting in the wings, his prospects in the Premier League do not look good.
But if last Saturday’s defeat to Manchester City is to be his final game, he can at least console himself with a much improved performance and the possibility that he may have shown the way for everyone else to get something from Pep Guardiola’s side. “I have seen my players grow up,” he said proudly afterwards. He didn’t see them win, of course, but you do have to look on the bright side.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the best way to survive City this season is to go deep, go compact and hope for the best, filling gaps and blocking runs. Sunderland did it and nearly snatched a point. West Ham went further, switching to a back three in the hope that they could keep City at bay. Even Manchester United played it safe, packing the centre of the pitch, their average positions showing a side with just 46.9 metres width as opposed to the stretchy, 20% wider 53.7m they used against Leicester. But Swansea went the other way.
Knowing that City like to use Fernandinho and the centre-backs (best band name ever, btw) as midfield schemers, Guidolin had his players enthusiastically press their opponents all the way up the pitch. City’s aspiring playmakers were hoping to take their time, standing straight-backed on the halfway line like generals orchestrating an artillery barrage.
Instead they were bullied off it. Twice in the opening eight minutes alone, their plans were foiled, Leroy Fer on both occasions getting up and dispossessing them. If it hadn’t have been for the small matter of a magical touch from Sergio Aguero leading to City’s opening goal just thirty seconds later, Guidolin might be in a rather more secure position.
But even when they went a goal down, Swansea kept at it. They were rewarded by a Fernando Llorente goal shortly afterwards and Fer was joined by little Leon Britton and the rest of midfield in his attempts to snuff City out. Eventually, of course, they would relinquish parity, a rash elbow in the penalty area giving Aguero the chance to Panenko his team back in front. Later, when chasing for a point, they gave up so much space that Raheem Sterling was able to add a third.
The drawback with such intense pressing, of course, is that if everyone is running forwards like labradors in the park, they tend to leave large areas of space behind them ready to be exploited. As the game wears on, it becomes harder and harder to keep up the pace. But for all that, Swansea were far better than the scoreline suggested.
It may not be enough. Who could blame the Swansea board from being beguiled by the prospect of Giggs in the dug-out? But if this is the end, Guidolin, an understated, dignified manager, could leave with his head held high. He helped prevent the relegation of Swansea last season. He’s left a decent collection of players. And when it came to a highly pressurised, must win game against the best team in the land, he didn’t blink. He went for it. Better teams than Swansea would do well to take note.
Is a football writer for ESPNFC and the editor of The Set Pieces