After back-to-back matches against title rivals Manchester United, Chelsea take a trip to Wales for a match, Saturday, against Swansea City. Despite the fact that the Swans occupy 11th place in the table, the next two matches for the Blues are just as vital, as Shakhtar Donetsk come for a visit on Wednesday in a match that is a must-win if Chelsea hope to escape the Group Stage.
Swansea have been a team with varying degrees of form under Michael Laudrup, who replaced former Chelsea youth team manager Brendan Rogers. They started the season off on a flyer, winning 3 of their first 4, including thumpings of Queens Park Rangers, 5-0, and newly promoted West Ham United, 3-0.
However, since a defeat to Everton at home, the Swans have amassed just 4 points of a possible 12, including defeats to Stoke City and Manchester City and a draw to Reading. They made amends on Wednesday, playing quite well and sending the Capital One Cup holders Liverpool crashing out of the competition.
This match shouldn’t be taken for granted because Swansea have continued to play the passing style of football that was initially started by Roberto Martinez and continued by Brendan Rogers. The appointment of the Barcelona legend shows the commitment to playing that style of football, and it will be something that Roberto Di Matteo will have to be on the lookout for.
This will be a good chance for Di Matteo to experiment with how to organise the defence.
Swansea actually have many of the same strengths, as a side, as we do and play very much with the same philosophy. They generally line up in variations of 4-3-3, whether it be a straight 4-3-3 with a holding midfielder or 4-2-3-1 with a man behind the striker. Of late, Laudrup has preferred the former, given that it does provide more solidity defensively, especially when you have the talent in the wide areas that he has.
The biggest test for us will be the fact that Swansea have 5 attacking players: Jonathan de Guzman, Nathan Dyer, Wayne Routledge, Pablo, and Michu, that all like to come between the lines and play. The interesting point about that is that it’s the exact area that Chelsea tend to have a problem. Most teams in England outside of the top 6 tend to play along the lines, giving teams who don’t a slight tactical advantage. But the teams that have hurt Chelsea are the ones that have been able to get in between the midfield and defence and take advantage of numbers in that area.
For starters, the best way of combating that is something that was corrected slightly in midweek, but I’d like to see it from the start with our first 11. Against United last Sunday, part of the reason that United found so much joy on the counter was the positioning of John Obi Mikel. When David Luiz and Gary Cahill fanned out to play out from the back, Mikel was generally about 20 yards in advance of them. If you’re trying to solidify the back, that can’t happen because your opponent is always going to be a threat if they get behind Mikel.
In the midweek match, Oriol Romeu, in the Mikel role, stayed a bit deeper but isn’t quite the same player. But it did work to a point. This match will be another good test because Swansea will get men in there and will give you problems. Ask Manchester City.
Beware of Michu.
Michu might go down as the buy of the season. For £2 million, Swansea picked him up from Rayo Vallecano, and he’s only delivered them 7 goals in a 11 matches. The interesting thing about Michu is that he reminds me an awful lot of Francesco Totti in his style of play.
He’s not particularly good at running at defenders, winning the ball back from an opponent, but he has a way of ghosting into spaces, playing passes, and getting into positions for the second ball where he’s unmarked. It’s quite fascinating because he’s not really a languid player, but as a focal striker, he’s responsible for a lot of the build up play and link play, then he gets in position to score. It’s hard because his wide men are so good that when he comes deep, you can’t just follow him, or they get behind you.
Watch out for the English wingers.
Perhaps the two biggest benefactors of the arrivals of Michu and Michael Laudrup have been Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge. This season, both are quietly having one of the best starts to a campaign in both assists and goals, with Dyer having 3 goals and 2 assists in all competitions and Routledge having 2 goals and 5 assists.
They’ve also benefitted from increased playing time due to the departure of Scott Sinclair to Manchester City. But in this system, they’re vital because they provide the danger when Michu comes deep. It’s something that United were able do effectively against us on Sunday; pulling the main striker deep, playing wide to winger, and getting the ball back into the box.
Don’t think that Swansea haven’t noticed that.
The one big question mark is the goalkeeping situation at Swansea.
The fact that no one had a clue who Gerhard Tremmel was when he trotted onto the pitch after Michael Vorm’s injury last week against City speaks volumes as to how good of a keeper Vorm has been for the Swans.
Vorm is a big miss because he was the rock at the back of defence and a very good keeper. The fact that nobody really knows what to expect from Tremmel is a worry, especially since Ashley Williams and Chico haven’t necessarily been all that convincing at times at center back.
The big concern is will the Blues be looking beyond this match.
That’s the biggest question, especially given the injury news. Juan Mata and David Luiz will both miss out with injury, though neither seems to be terribly serious. Given that a large number of the squad played at least 75 minutes against United and played last Sunday against United, you would worry that a let-down could happen, especially with the Champions League fixture on the horizon.
That being said, dropping points to Swansea would not be the opportune moment to do so. United face Arsenal, but given the two clubs’ current forms, you must expect that United get a win against an Arsenal side that are lacking goals. With just a 1-point gap, a draw or a loss will bring up the inevitable questions of, is this the normal Chelsea winter collapse? Let’s hope that the squad can pull through.