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Mar 3, 2014

Monk's inexperience rears head in Swans' draw

When Garry Monk was installed as Michael Laudrup's successor as Swans manager a month ago, it was because chairman Huw Jenkins wanted a return to "the Swansea way" of doing things. Although in principle Jenkins' motive was a noble safeguard against what he considered to be an "erosion" of standards under Laudrup, there are still one or two things Monk should have learned from the Dane.

Sunday's disappointing 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace was very much the cliched "game of two halves". However, had Monk treated the two halves as separate games at the time, he might have led his Swans to three points instead of one.

- Report: Swansea 1-1 Crystal Palace

Apologists are quick to point out that the Swans players were tired, and while fatigue is a reason for the draw, it is not an excuse. Swansea have played in four competitions with one of the league's smallest squads -- and the players are tired? What else is new?

Taking the stance that fatigue is somehow sacrosanct among the ills that can befall a football team and to see tiredness as the ultimate unquestionable crutch with which to justify underwhelming results is as passive as it is naive. Football players are going to get tired. Managing a tired squad is about mitigating that fatigue through tactics.

The fatigue-driven breakdown after the 70 minute mark which saw Napoli scrape a win against Swansea last Thursday was one thing -- it is hard to institute a tactical overhaul in real-time, and for the sake of 15 or 20 minutes, it is reasonable to hope the team might have held on.

Sunday's game was different. Monk knew he had a tired squad. It was surprising that his side played so well at a reasonably high tempo throughout the first half, and a huge bonus that the Swans opened the scoring, since it's harder to chase goals with tired legs.

Come the second half, Monk's Swans continued to try to play "the Swansea way" -- pass and move -- but with no legs. The Swans players stopped moving for one another, with the result that short passes grew longer and lazier, presenting easy pickings for Palace's fresher players to force constant turnovers and keep the pressure on.

This was the time when a tactical switch could have spared the players, and taken all the points. I'm not suggesting that Swansea ought to have parked the bus against Palace, but an easy switch to a 4-1-4-1, with an emphasis on a lower tempo game and zonal marking would have allowed the Swans to rest while forcing Palace to play through them -- a challenge which, with all due respect, Palace likely wouldn't have had the technical ability to match, especially since the side's best technician -- Tom Ince -- was withdrawn at the half.

The fact Tony Pulis made that change at half-time should have given Monk pause for thought -- if Pulis had cooked up a strategy to counter Swansea, then Monk needed to react. He didn't.

By continuing to play the one way despite the fact the players were too tired to play that way effectively, Monk allowed Palace to exploit the fatigue in his squad. Even then, Palace needed a bogus penalty to score. The Swans only needed a small adjustment to contain the game, but their high defensive line was caught out when Yannick Bolasie fired a simple long ball over the top which made fools of both Swansea centre-backs and Michael Vorm, resulting in a red card, a nonsense penalty, and a goal.

Monk's only apparent changes came via substitutions, and actually weakened Swansea's hold on the game. I'm still not convinced Monk has the knack for exploiting the bench. Remember Stoke, a winnable game where Monk withdrew Pablo Hernandez and Nathan Dyer, Swansea's most influential players in that match, and had to settle for a 1-1 draw?

Laudrup might not have gotten everything right, but he was a first class talent evaluator -- just look at his signings. In Laudrup's eyes, Leroy Lita wasn't good enough for the Swansea squad -- the striker was third string when Danny Graham and Luke Moore were in the team.

That's not to say Lita has no ability, just that he's clearly a poor fit in Swansea -- Marouane Chamakh's resurgence under Pulis is proof that every player just needs the right situation to thrive. So what does Monk see that Laudrup -- and even Brendan Rodgers -- didn't? I'd have rather seen Marvin Emnes or even Alvaro Vasquez.

The Swansea way is a fine way, but Laudrup's tactical evolution -- when anyone still cared -- showed that every team needs more than one approach. I have been pleasantly surprised by Monk so far, but on Sunday, his naivety showed. He is still earning his coaching badges -- maybe the lesson in defending a one goal lead with a knackered squad comes later in the course.