Why another Swans mauling is far less likely for Chelsea
After an unnervingly quiet summer window for both Swansea and Chelsea, this match is more tactically comprehensible than most of the weekend’s fixtures. Initially, this would appear to favour a Chelsea side that thrashed Swansea twice last season, but in truth the signing of Jack Cork – arriving in January after both fixtures had been played – has repaired the weaknesses that Jose Mourinho so ruthlessly exploited.
Swansea’s most vulnerable traits last campaign were an absence of strength in central defence and occasional flimsiness in the defensive midfield zone. They won fewer aerial duels (14.4 per match) than any other club, while 38 Premier League defenders won more headers than either Ashley Williams or Federico Fernandez. Meanwhile, Garry Monk’s frequent rotation of central midfielders highlighted the prevalence of their defensive issues in this area, with Ki Sung-yueng and Jonjo Shelvey both averaging fewer than two tackles/interceptions per game.
In no match were these weaknesses more brutally exposed than against Chelsea, who beat Monk’s team 4-2 and 5-0 in September and January respectively. The thuggish Diego Costa shrugged off defenders with ease (netting five times), while Cesc Fabregas’s ghosting movement and Chelsea’s drifting wingers tore through the centre of the pitch.
As these Stats Zone screens indicate, Fabregas ran riot in the final third, where Swansea’s midfielders lack bite.
Clearly aware of their weak points, Mourinho’s use of inverted wingers exacerbated Swansea’s problem.
Williams and Fernandez certainly deserve blame for their part in the Costa-led demolition, but a stronger showing in defensive midfield would have stunted Fabregas’s controlling influence and cut out the passing lines to Chelsea’s Brazil-born striker.
As the sole defensive midfielder, Tom Carroll’s work wasn't enough to prevent passes reaching Costa (despite winning 6 tackles - those crosses - not enough was done in deeper areas).
However, seven months on from the last humiliation, Swansea perhaps now possess the player to patch up their flaws. Monk’s workaholic attitude and intelligent tactical training are well documented, but his re-invention of Cork is perhaps his greatest achievement to date.
Cork has excelled under the tutelage of Monk, developing most prominently in defensive positioning. Across his previous four Premier League seasons, Cork had averaged 1.4 interceptions per game; in the 2014/15 season, this rose to 2.9 (fourth-highest in the division for a midfielder).
Coupled with his 2.3 tackles per game and his pass rate (56 per match at 86% accuracy), the ex-Saint is Swansea’s most proficient defensive player and greatest distributor of the ball. His most notable contribution was in the 1-0 victory over Arsenal in May.
Note the amount of defensive actions Cork made in a deep, central position, limiting Olivier Giroud’s impact (3 shots, 1 on target).
By tracking Fabregas and intercepting the intricate, centrally located build-up play of Chelsea’s attacking trio, Cork could be the key to preventing another humiliating day for Swansea.