Swansea's secret weapon will be key to beating Manchester United... again
Swansea manager Garry Monk will most likely instruct his players to match Manchester United's short-passing, possession-based approach on Saturday afternoon, despite ever-growing evidence that suggests his team are more effective on the counter-attack this campaign.
Counter-intuitively, Swansea have conceded the vast majority of possession (average 58%) in two of the three games they have won across the last 11 fixtures, against Aston Villa and Hull.
Deep defending and swift counter-attacks down the wings led to an unlikely style of victory at Hull.
This inability to win when controlling possession is largely the result of wilting confidence in individual players who, becoming more withdrawn as results worsen, find their quality of touch and quickness of thought increasingly impaired. Unsurprisingly teams like Swansea, who look to delicately craft openings in front of goal via a patient approach, are hit hardest by self-esteem issues.
However, the other reason for their success when sat deeper is their counter-attacking credentials, thanks to a combination of explosive pace on the wing and superb defence-splitting passes of Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Sigurdsson is most effective when given the freedom to make longer passes in the final third, while Jefferson Montero – only recently recovered from injury – was superb in Swansea's last match.
When dominating possession, the pace of Nathan Dyer and Jefferson Montero becomes more difficult to utilise, while congested defences make it more difficult for Sigurdsson to thread passes into his forwards.
Fortunately for Swansea fans, a countering style of football may be forced upon them on Saturday, as Man United (who average 59.2% possession) will most likely dominate in this department, as they did in August. That day, Swansea emerged 2-1 victors thanks to a winning goal scored on the break.
Despite bragging 60% possession and dominating throughout, Swansea's quick distribution to their wingers unravelled Manchester United and ruined Louis van Gaal's debut.
Swansea will take encouragement from the aimlessness of United's attacks, with performances continuing to look stale and lifeless – especially out wide. It will surprise no one that they sit ninth in the table for take-ons (9.7 per match), with Angel Di Maria the only United player amongst the top 30 dribblers in the division.
If they can soak up the blunt-edged Manchester United pressure, and focus their counter-attacks through Montero (5 dribbles, 4 key passes vs West Bromwich Albion) and the returning Sigurdsson, then Swansea stand every chance of claiming an unlikely victory at the Liberty Stadium.