Southampton set to test Swansea City's set-piece difficulties
Swansea haven't beaten Southampton at home in Premier League play, and while Francesco Guidolin will be hoping to achieve that feat on Saturday, he might have to settle for a third draw in a row. Swansea threw leads away in each of their last two games by conceding from set-pieces, and the focus this Saturday will be on stopping that trend against a side who rank fifth in set-piece goals scored.
Southampton have scored 12 goals in 25 games from dead ball situations this season. That's good for a goal every other game -- about the same impact Wilfried Bony once made on the scoring charts for Swansea. Only three of Saints set piece strikes have come from penalties or directly from free kicks, marking Ronald Koeman's side as one which knows how to make the most of corners and crossed free kicks.
It will be interesting to see how Guidolin tackles Swansea's set-piece weakness. On the evidence of his three games in charge so far, it seems he shares former Swans boss Brendan Rodgers' unwillingness to put men on the posts at corners, an idea that has more in common with zonal marking schemes than man-to-man coverage.
In last Saturday's 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace, an individual error from Federico Fernandez in what looked like a man-marking assignment led to the equalising goal. At least in a man-marking scheme, there can be no doubt as to where the blame lies and Guidloin recently spoke about how he prefers to give his players an "honest assessment of their efforts."
The manager also spoke of the need for players to be "clever, intelligent and focused on marking," while downplaying the importance of physically imposing players, further suggesting that Swansea will become a committed man-marking unit (at least during set pieces) during Guidolin's reign.
The figures demonstrate the extent of Swansea's set-piece weakness. The side actually give away fewer corners and free kicks than most other Premier League teams. They are joint fourth for fewest fouls per game with 10.6, and seventh for fewest corners conceded per game with 4.92, and yet still continue to sabotage themselves by conceding from these situations.
The silver lining here is that the Swans primary weakness is something that is easy to fix on the training field, rather than the kind of insidious internal rot which seemed to run throughout the side during the final weeks of Garry Monk's tenure.
With Alberto Paloschi yet to score but looking very likely to start doing so soon, and both Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andre Ayew in fine form, the Swans other weakness -- scoring -- should also soon be a thing of the past. How quickly all these parts come together will be key for Swansea's survival, and while the finished article likely won't be on show Saturday, Southampton shouldn't have it easy.
The Saints have won four of their last five games but have only managed two goals in their last three, while Swansea, despite averaging barely a goal a game this season, have scored in every match they've played this calendar year. Saturday's contest is likely to be low scoring, but as long as Swansea don't concede from a set-piece, any result will feel like progress.
Max is ESPN FC's Swansea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @maxwellhicks