Match Analysis: Watford 1-2 Swansea City
Detailed tactical match analysis as new Swansea City boss Carlos Carvalhal gets off to the perfect start with a late comeback 2-1 win at Watford.
The Portuguese joined the likes of Michael Laudrup, Garry Monk and Francesco Guidolin as former Swansea managers to have got a Premier League win on their debut, while Paul Clement watched from the stands as we beat Crystal Palace on the day he signed a contract back in January 2017.
The "new manager bounce" was something we`ve been in desperate need of for a couple of months or so as things have been getting worse and worse - particularly after a woeful home defeat against Brighton back in early November. Until Clement`s sacking, we lost another five games and we needed some new ideas and a new manager to try and implement a more positive approach to games - as well as boost the players` low confidence.
Not much could be expected from a new head coach who had barely two days to work with his new players prior to Saturday`s game at Vicarage Road. Following a long, five-hour drive that started at 4am from Sheffield, Carvalhal was quick to get to work and into training. While he could have been simply watching on from the stands at Watford and back at the Liberty for the visit of Spurs on Tuesday, Carvalhal was adamant that he had to get fully involved as soon as possible.
While there were some welcome changes to Swansea`s performance, they didn`t outweigh the weaknesses that we`ve become so used to this season. Of course, the lack of attacking creativity was so evident again, but basic errors - mainly losing possession constantly during the first half allowed Watford to counter attack into space that was left behind, by a a flat 4-4-2 system that encouraged it`s wide midfielders to move inside.
Carvalhal kept everyone guessing with his first starting line-up as our new boss. He picked no less than four central midfielders, with Sanches and Clucas out wide, either side of Mesa and Carroll in the middle.
The system to begin with is shown above. Jordan Ayew was dropping deep to try and retrieve the ball and make things happen. Sanches had a free role, often coming inside off the left flank, but this left Olsson lacking support down the left. This also meant that when we lost possession in the middle of the field, we lacked defensive cover in wide areas. Clucas was also doing the same on the right. Carroll also pushed forward a little, although not as much as he was under Paul Clement, leaving Mesa deep as cover in front of the back four.
Watford strike early
In typical Swansea City fashion, something we`ve become to almost expect away from home these days, is an early goal conceded. Federico Fernandez was outmuscled near the half way line, giving Watford a chance to push forward into space.
As space opens up for Watford, Naughton gets caught out, and loses his marker as the ball is played through down the host`s left side. They`re in behind us and a shot at an acute angle is saved initially by Fabianski, but he can`t direct it away to safety as its headed in easily by the unmarked Carrillo.
Carvalhal`s welcomed changes
Despite old habits proving to die hard, being sloppy in possession and lacking attacking creativity, there was at least some things that were good to see - some forward intent, brief spells of good passing and looking to play more of the ball through the middle in the attacking third.
Firstly, we weren`t as defensively-minded as we were under Clement. Players were given more freedom to push further forward, and encouraged to be more energetic with their pressing inside the opposition`s half.
Though there were times that this did leave us exposed, but Watford never had the quality to punish us despite finding space on the counter attack.
Attacking through the middle
One of my biggest frustrations when Clement was still here was his attacking tactics where he`d instruct his midfielders to move into wide positions to support the full backs. The ball would - nine times out of 10 - be moved out wide, and the full backs would then look to send in crosses into the box. It just proved to be ineffective most of the time. There was no creativity, no variance to our play, it was just the same thing every time - making us very predictable and easy to defend against.
However, Carvalhal encouraged the ball to be played through the middle and into feet. This was a struggle in the first half, but in the second half, he made some positive substitutions and we committed more players forward.
Below, Sanches makes an excellent pass through for Ayew. It`s these sort of through passes that we`ve been lacking this season as we`ve always struggled to get in behind opposition defences.
Below, in the later stages of the ball, Sanches again looks to play the ball into feet through the centre, where the Swans have 4 players within close proximity of each other. This was rare to see under Clement, where our midfielders were often too far apart to link-up any sort of attacking play.
Early attacking changes
Carvalhal made a much-needed substitution at the start of the second half, bringing on some pace in Luciano Narsingh, while Mesa was rather unlucky to be the player to go off in his place.
He stuck to a 4-4-2 and it wasn`t until we made later substitutions that the game finally started to come to life for the Swans.
We ended the game with an attacking shape a bit like this:
McBurnie came on for the injured Abraham just before the hour mark, and he was already quick to get involved and link up the play. Abraham struggled to do the hold-up work, as the youngster McBurnie proved more useful in doing some of the dirty work - particularly after our second to help run the clock down. He was dropping deep and moving out wide to try and make things happen, while Ayew was now acting as the main striker up top.
And like Carvalhal said after the game, Olsson was acting like a left winger, with Clucas coming across to cover that side defensively. Sanches continued to move inside off his left flank to offer attacking support through the middle channel, and Narsingh provided some much needed pace down the right. So the balance was there with pace down both sides, and the Swans had to be quick and energetic to get back into shape when possession was lost.
Carvalhal said: "We had two attackers, two wingers, (Renato) Sanches in the middle and (Martin) Olsson playing as another left-winger.
The Swans started to commit players forward and there was clearly more encouragement to try things going forward, rather than always going for the safety-first, risk free option. A good example of this was Dyer running down the left, encouraging McBurnie to make a run too. You`d just expect Dyer to normally cut back inside and pass inside or backwards.
The Swans covered 5.7 more miles in this game compared to Paul Clement`s last game in charge - away at Everton. Jordan Ayew - scorer of our equaliser revealed afterwards that Carvalhal told the players at half time to do the basics, run more and be aggressive.
"The manager had to remind us to do the basics - run, run, run and be aggressive - and we won because of it,"
"He was vocal because we were not winning enough duels, we were not aggressive enough.
"He told us to win our duels first and then play our football. In the second half that`s what we did and we got what he wanted."
It has to be said, that the goals weren`t really down to Carvalhal as such. In honesty, our chances of scoring up until the 85th minute looked no greater than in any other game this season. Our only real chance on goal was Ayew`s long range shot early on that hit the crossbar. The only other chance I can remember was Mesa`s long range shot that flew well wide of the target.
But somehow, we managed to create that one chance we needed to get the scores level, and it came within a minute of a clear one-on-one that Gray missed, as his effort was brilliantly saved by Fabianski.
All three subs were involved in getting us back into the game and winning it. McBurnie helped to get ball over to the right flank. Naughton helped the ball on to Narsingh, whose cross was headed back across by McBurnie for Ayew to score from close range.
The second goal and winner saw Dyer and Narsingh involved. Sanches sent in a superb free-kick cross from the right at pace - right into the danger area but there was nobody in a Swansea shirt attacking it. It summed his performance up really. In the first half he overhit a free-kick by about 10 yards that went out of play, and then in the second half he was playing some good attacking passes and crosses.
The ball came back out for Dyer to strike, his effort was only parried by Gomez, and Narsingh was anticipating a rebound, reacting quickest to slot the ball into the corner with his left foot - cue massive celebrations in the away dugout! Not to mention amongst our fans behind that goal!
The performance was far from convincing and it was the very definition of smash and grab. But somehow we were able to make something happen in the final five minutes. That extra bit of energy, effort and desire, and belief you could say as Carvalhal deserves some credit for encouraging more positive football amongst his players.