On Sunday, Swansea City visits Stamford Bridge to face a Chelsea side with incredible urgency to win this match. This is the first meeting between the two sides since the ball-boy kicking incident at the Liberty Stadium, but it’s also a big match for the Blues who saw Tottenham drop points at Wigan on Sunday and could see Arsenal drop points as they face Manchester United.
Chelsea are still in good form and fresh off a good win in Basle against a side that struggled. However, the Blues put in a professional performance and the 2-1 scoreline may have slightly flattered the hosts as Chelsea largely dominated and should have scored more. They will need that form as the battle for the third and fourth positions and Champions League qualification heats up between three London sides.
Chelsea will be bolstered by the possible return of Gary Cahill after a knee problem ruled him out for the last six weeks and will more than likely see Demba Ba returned to the starting 11 given that Fernando Torres has started the last three matches.
Swansea, on the other hand, have struggled since their triumph against Bradford in the Capital One Cup final. Victory assured the Swans of playing European football next season and with their position in the mid-table rather secure, they’ve been a bit slack in the motivation department. It shows, as they’ve won just one match since that victory at Wembley, and it should be a good chance for Chelsea to consolidate their challenge for third.
Everything depends on just how motivated the Swansea players really are.
If it wasn’t for reuniting with the other team involved in the ball-boy scandal, this match would be the epitome of a dead rubber for Swansea. At the moment, they’re sitting nice and pretty in ninth place in the table, and they’ve secured European football by winning the Capital One Cup. One could forgive them for being a little complacent since they’ve largely exceeded all expectations under Michael Laudrup this season.
However, their lack of motivation seems to be rampant because a team that outplayed us largely over two legs on their way to the Capital One Cup final has now failed to beat their last five opponents in the league, including losses to West Brom, Norwich, and Southampton. Clearly, the team is in a poor patch of form, and they can’t be blamed for looking towards the offseason given that their aims have been met for the next. I think a lot of this match comes down to how much their players can really get up for this match, because when they are at their best, they’ve shown themselves capable of beating us.
Can the Blues keep the momentum going despite the number of games played?
Despite having just played their 62nd match of the season and the fact that their rivals for the top four in Tottenham and Arsenal have played considerably fewer games and don’t have continental cup competitions in midweek, Chelsea have seemingly found a nice balance to keep the squad looking somewhat refreshed. Against Basle, it was Eden Hazard’s time to shine while Juan Mata got a much-needed rest before being summoned from the bench for a late appearance. With so many matches, it’s natural to assume the squad would be tiring, but it does appear that they have found a second wind. The real positive is that these number of games has aided in the gelling of the main four playing behind the striker – Oscar, Hazard, Mata, and Moses – and a genuine chemistry is beginning to form.
For a side in transition as Chelsea are, the number of matches may actually help to get the newer players acquainted with one another, and in matches against Basle and against Liverpool, you saw that to great effect. The side may start the match slow, but they’re still very dangerous when they need to step up into a higher gear and play.
Have teams finally worked out the Michu conundrum?
Everything Swansea does in attack is funneled through and around Michu. That’s no secret. It’s something everyone knew from the first 10 matches of the season, and it still holds just as true today as it was back then. The big difference is that two things have happened in the last five matches. The first thing is that Michu has just scored twice in five games. The second thing is that secondary scoring from the wings, which they were getting early in the season, has dried up.
To the first point, Michu is going to get his goals. He’s a fantastic finisher that knows how to initiate a move and then get back in the correct position to be on the end of the move he started and has the composure to finish. The 2 goals in 5 games is telling because he’s either not getting the service from wide or he’s not getting into positions to get those goals, meaning that either the player is lacking form or teams are defending him better.
Point two pretty much explains part of why point one is happening. Earlier in the season, Michu was often played up front on his own but played a role that’s not dissimilar to what Barcelona try and do with Lionel Messi positionally. Michu’s job was to come deep to play the ball and try to draw one of the two center backs out of position for one of his wingers to shoot through that gap for a chance. If the gap doesn’t appear, his job is to play it out wide, then try and turn the defenders to get a bit of space for the inevitable cross or a ball through the line. That explains why Nathan Dyer, Wayne Routledge, Pablo Hernandez, and Jonathan De Guzman were able to contribute a combined 22 goals this season.
However, in recent weeks, teams that have needed a point against Swansea have started to sit a bit deeper on them and not be drawn out by the two center backs. In addition, since there has been no scoring or largely assists coming from the wing, it’s limited Michu’s overall effectiveness. Thus, part of the problem is that Laudrup’s counter has been to bring Michu behind Luke Moore and play him in a more withdrawn role, which I think has limited the overall effectiveness and his impact on the game.
Should Laudrup do this again, we should look to try to push forward and force Michu to have to defend as the man in behind the striker. If he doesn’t, then we know that we have the numbers in midfield.
Swansea’s back four are starting to let them down.
The one main weakness that often times was covered by Swansea’s ability to pass the ball and keep possession was the lack of pace and agility of their back four. None of their defenders is particularly rangy, and as we’ve seen of late, they’ve been particularly poor when teams put them on the back foot and force them to have to move around a lot. In the case of Tottenham, Gareth Bale’s pace threatened them and put them on the back foot. In the case of Norwich, they failed to properly clear set pieces and second balls back in after the initial set piece. Against Arsenal, they failed to maintain their concentration for 90 minutes and allowed Arsenal to peck away until they found a hole.
All in all, Swansea’s defence has managed to find every way imaginable to concede goals over this five-match stretch, and it’s something that I think we can exploit as well, especially with the pace and creativity of Mata and Hazard, though I don’t think the latter starts.
We could very well have two giant gifts on our plate that necessitate a win.
With Arsenal being the late kickoff on Sunday against United, we won’t know the results there, but it’s hard to imagine that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side would give anything less than their best in that match, especially given the history with one Arsene Wenger. There is a chance that if Arsenal lose that match, a Chelsea victory would see us in third place, two points clear of Arsenal with a game in hand, and most importantly, three points clear of Tottenham who is that game in hand.
Wigan did us a nice favor, though we could have done with a victory for Wigan instead of a draw. Nonetheless, a draw for Tottenham is two points dropped and with a match at Stamford Bridge to play, a victory tomorrow could very well give us a nice cushion, given that we have the toughest run in of the three as far as opponents left to play.