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Mar 23, 2014

Defensive errors doom Swans at Everton


A beaten Swansea City maintained their four point safety margin from the relegation places on Saturday, but only because every team beneath them in the table also lost. The 3-2 away defeat to Everton -- a side Swansea have never beaten -- probably wasn't a fixture the Swans would have earmarked to break a four game winless streak, but they might yet have done just that. - Report: Everton 3-2 Swansea Swansea overcame an early penalty to equalise in a dominant first half display, but threw the game away despite out-shooting their opponents 21-9. At no point did Everton seem the clearly superior side, and neither was the cliche of "clinical finishing" the difference; Tim Howard was in fine form in the Everton goal, while all three of Everton's goals were basically tap-ins (and a penalty is a tap-in when Leighton Baines is taking it). Swansea's shortfall was once again primarily defensive. In nearly every other area, the Welsh side excelled: more possession, better pass completion, more shots, fewer fouls, and better chances, but a hat trick of gaffes from Chico made life easy for Everton. It was Chico's clumsy challenge which gave Everton a penalty; his mad rush forwards which created the defensive disorganisation that Romelu Lukaku needed to net on the counter, and it was Chico who was the nearest man to an otherwise unmarked Ross Barkely for Everton's third (from a set-piece which Chico conceded, although he had done well to block a cross). Chico is an easy target for criticism because he is a high-profile player who has a knack for attracting attention, but the blame shouldn't be solely laid at his door. Barkley's set-piece goal aside, Swansea manager Garry Monk's starting line-up actually had as much to do with the Swans' failure as anything the Spaniard did or didn't do. It is easy to understand that Monk's reason for starting Jose Canas next to Leon Britton was to provide greater defensive cover in what was meant to be a tough away game. Three soft goals against seems to prove that idea -- and that pairing -- just doesn't work. Canas and Britton are both holding midfielders who will spend the majority of the game sitting deep, and to play both means going without the true box-to-box midfielder which is required in the 4-2-3-1 formation to provide extra attacking support up the middle. Lately, Jonathan de Guzman has started to make that role his own, but with a healthy and always combative Jonjo Shelvey also available for selection, Monk's choice to start the two holders was too negative. Everton have not been the force lately they were at the start of the season -- just last week, even Cardiff were unlucky to come away with a draw -- so Monk's caution perhaps sold his side short. The Swans missed De Guzman's supporting runs, and with no meaningful thrust up the center of the park, Swansea had to rely on a perfect pass from Wayne Routledge and a perfect first touch from Angel Rangel on their respective flanks to create their only goal from open play. Britton has the skills to contribute in attack, but not the legs to get back. Canas probably has the legs but not the skills. It seems like Chico was just as aware of the lack of drive up the middle, ill-advisedly taking the duty on himself out of frustration if nothing else, before a turnover from Pablo led to the Everton break and a second goal against. I'm starting to think Chico might make a decent box-to-box mid himself, and at least playing him in front of the back four would mitigate some of his more costly extravagances. Hey, it worked (briefly) for David Luiz. Monk again made some dubious substitutions, withdrawing an effective Wilfried Bony (presumably to save him for Arsenal) and replacing him with Michu, who has never been comfortable playing as striker, even less so while still lacking match fitness. De Guzman did eventually replace Canas, but too late to offer very much. With near enough a healthy squad now, Monk has to consider starting Shelvey deep, with Michu in the hole and Bony up front; three of Swansea's most physical, most competitive and most influential players as the team's spine, with Ash Williams the rock at the base of it. Britton and Canas are decent ball-hawks, but neither is robust enough in the tackle for a relegation fight. Playing one at a time is enough; playing both compromises Swansea's attack and presents no real physical challenge for the opponent. At least one thing is working. Swansea scored another set-piece goal against Everton, making four from six league games under Monk. Swansea had scored five from 24 league games this season before Monk's appointment, and had his side only defended their set-pieces as well on Saturday, their newfound dead-ball efficacy might have earned at least a point.