Tiki-taka and the Swansea Jack

In the summer of 1911, Vetch-Field was a waste land on which cows fed. Swansea city’s landscape was apathetic towards the lack of a professional football team due to the dominance of rugby union. A year on, began the ascent of Swansea City AFC under its current guise with the first ever Welsh derby on September 7th. The first fixture in the coming Premier league season marks more than a 100 years of a fierce rivalry. While Cardiff City were the established Southern League side during Swansea’s formative years, the Swans have turned the tables this time around with their first foray into Europe after a span of 22 years, most of it in lower echelons of the Football league.

Although Swansea have had some famous names adorn their traditional white strip such as Alan Curtis and John Toshack, the most eminent of them all will grace the dugout and not kick a ball. Michael Laudrup took over Swansea City at the start of the 2012-2013 season after considerable progress through the lower divisions under the tenures of Mssrs. Martinez, Sousa and Rodgers. After winning promotion to the Premier League 2 seasons before , Brendan Rodgers molded them into a determined Premier League team playing in what I can unashamedly describe as a less cultured version of the Barcelona style of play. Even if signs of progress were plentiful under Rodgers, last season may well be described as the culmination of an efficient playing system buttressing an intricate cosmopolitan scouting network.

While question marks remained as to whether there was more to Swansea than a decorated manager and an attractive brand of football, a respectable ninth place finish in the Premier League along with an unexpectedly impressive League Cup win indicates more substance. Looking closely at the tactical evolution in Swansea’s play, Rodgers utilized a hybrid 4-3-3 which morphed into a more attacking 3-4-3 with the full backs pushing forward. On average, Rodgers’ Swansea averaged around 58% possession belying a mid-table finish and some early cup exits. Comparatively, Laudrup’s Swansea averaged around 55% possession, allowing the opposition more of the ball and played in a similar formation. While Swansea’s overall goals scored tally was only 3 more than the previous season, it does not take into account the eventual petering out of their season after their Cup win. But more importantly they had scored 6 more goals than their previous season after 25 games. In terms of playing style, Laudrup has taken Swansea to the next level, evidently indicated in their decisiveness in the final third.

On the account of their philosophy, having Laudrup not only meant evolution in their playing style but revolution in their scouting network. The standard price comparison for many a Premier League commentator is Michu. Brought in from Rayo Vallecano for £2million, a mere pittance by modern standards, Michu scored a season high 22 goals for Swansea. While Michu’s success can be gauged just by his goal tally, some other successful buys of the Laudrup era require deeper analysis. Chico, a center half purchased from Genoa was arguably Laudrup’s best buy. He averaged a pass completion % of 89.3 and an aerial dual win rate of 2.5 in contrast to 78.2% and 2.4 for Phil Jagielka, statistically the Premier League’s next best central defender. In addition to these two were other successful transfers in Jonathan De Guzman, Pablo Hernandez and Ki Sung-Yeung. The intricacies of Laudrup’s scouting can be demonstrated by the failures of two players who left the Liberty stadium for greener pastures. While Scott Sinclair suffered the ignominy of playing less than half their league games for Manchester City, Danny Graham has departed for Hull City after drawing a blank in his 11 games for Sunderland. On the other hand Laudrup seems to have reinvigorated Jonjo Shelvey after his spell on the fringes of Liverpool. Seemingly a talented player, his growth had stalled at Liverpool due to a lack of playing time.This emphasizes that a manager and his scouting network must not only recruit the best players for his system but also aid players with tactical understanding and giving them space to express themselves.

Finally and most importantly, Laudrup seems to have instilled the abiding Welsh quality of resilience in his Swansea players. Starkly evident was their perseverance in two tough League Cup fixtures at Arsenal and Chelsea where Swansea deservedly came through en route to a famous day at Wembley. Among all the optimism for Swansea’s tiki-taka and their enduring spirit, there were warning signs in how their form deteriorated after their Cup win. With considerably more fixtures this year in terms of the Europa League and more awareness of their strengths and weaknesses among fellow Premier League teams, Swansea must be wary of a similar scenario. But with the additions of Bony, Shelvey, Pozuelo, Canas and under the stewardship of their widely heralded manager, a stirring season for the swans might be on the cards.