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Mar 16, 2014

Deja vu all over again for Swans


It seems quite likely that West Brom manager Pepe Mel might have headed into the visitors' dressing room at halftime on Saturday in two minds about whether to attempt a rousing team-talk, or whether to call the house movers and tell them not to bother. Before he could do either, he apparently found Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis's notes from the last match at the Liberty in the waste paper basket and along with them, his salvation. The similarities between Saturday's 2-1 defeat to West Brom and the previous game's 1-1 draw against Pulis's Crystal Palace were hard to ignore, and harder still to tolerate. Both matches were "game(s) of two halves"; Swansea dominant in the first, over-run in the second, twice throwing away leads. - Report: Swansea 1-2 West Brom There was an awful sense of inevitability about this result as soon as the halftime whistle went. Swansea had good chances to extend their lead, but having failed to make the game safe when the going was good, there was a nagging feeling that the Swans might yet trip up. Sadly, history repeated itself, returning with interest. After the Palace game, Swans apologists were keen to lean on fatigue as the ever-convenient excuse. With two weeks break for most of the squad since, there is no such excuse this time. Worse still, this game should have provided the platform for Michu's triumphant return from injury. Unfortunately, there was to be no story-book winner from the Swans' returning star. In truth, the Spaniard's impact on the game was minimal. His introduction on the hour galvanized the fans, but not so much his team-mates, who continued to falter under constant pressure from the Albion players. It is disconcerting to see how easily these Swans can be manipulated into making mistakes. Page one, paragraph one of the manual on how to counter passing sides is predicated on one singular concept: constant pressing. It's an obvious strategy, and one which lately Swansea simply have no answer for. In his post-match interview, Swansea boss Garry Monk admitted his side started the second half poorly, lamenting the sloppy passing which constantly nixed any attempt to retain possession or build attacks. That's a fair if somewhat superficial assessment, but Monk will know as well as anyone the reason why Swansea's passing was so poor: West Brom wouldn't give any Swansea player more than half a heartbeat to do anything useful with the ball. Against Palace, Swansea were unlucky to concede a wrongly-awarded penalty despite Palace continuously bullying the ball into the Swans' third, and might have yet held on for the win. Despite Albion's struggles this season, they are a better side than Palace, and a similar show of second half treachery from Swansea was inevitably punished by a superior opponent. Maybe Mel's second-half game plan was always going to limit the Swans' attacking effectiveness, but where was Swansea's resolve to return the favour? Perhaps Swansea's reputation as a possession football side masks an ugly truth -- that for all their ability with the ball (when given time and space), Swansea are sometimes pretty poor without it. Both Albion's goals came from players that were given time to shoot. Despite being a proven attacking threat, Stephane Sessegnon was somehow completely unmarked for his strike, with spare white shirts standing around watching him take it. Youssouf Mulumbu, seldom a threat to score, was nevertheless allowed to dribble freely to within shooting range and grab a rare goal without even being challenged. Saturday's first half proves that Swansea can still turn on the style when their tails are up, but the second half again showed that they have no answer when the chips are down. From here on out, the chips are always going to be down. A better tonic than temporarily stirring team-talks and empty rhetoric about 'desire' and 'fight' would be a better defensive approach. Managing a side with an attacking DNA, Monk could do worse than borrow a few ideas from Arrigo Sacchi's shadow-play (at AC Milan, the Italian would conduct training drills without a ball, pointing randomly instead to an invisible ball and expecting his players to fall into the correct defensive positions in response). If Swansea were half as good without the ball as they are with it, avoiding relegation would be a matter of course. As things stand, the prospect still looms, a black cloud which the Swans' flamboyance alone cannot shift. While this side are allowing opponents to bully them and to take free shots on goal, then excuses about injuries or fatigue are irrelevant. This side are hurting themselves. The silver lining is that the power to stop the bleeding lies with Swansea, but it is a question of tactical adjustment and application as much as attitude. The quicker Monk can slap a band aid on and address those defensive issues, the better.