EPL Gameweek 13: Swansea 5-4 Crystal Palace

Premier League logoA match between bottom of the table and a team on a five-game losing streak is probably best introduced as a basement battle. That phrase is probably better associated with Fight Club, which like the defending in this game, no one should talk about. Unfortunately, The Mumbler has to and couldn’t let one of the Premier League’s more dramatic and baffling games pass by without some sort of explanation beyond the fact that Alan Pardew was involved.

Line-ups
Swansea’s manager, Bob Bradley, stuck with the same starting 11 that was denied a good win at Everton last week thanks to Seamus Coleman’s late equaliser.

One noticeable inclusion on the bench was Spanish target man, Fernando Llorente, who didn’t even make the bench at Goodison Park.

Pardew, meanwhile, replaced Andros Townsend with Connor Wickham following the striker’s goal during the home defeat to Man City.

line-ups

Set-pieces
The standout flaw of both teams in this game was the defending from set-pieces. As a result, only the opening two goals were of any decent quality with the following seven best described as scrappy.

It was of no surprise that goals were scored via set-pieces given Crystal Palace’s ineptitude. Only three games ago did Pardew claim the manner of Liverpool’s two goals from first-half corners was “not like us”. It was even more frustrating for the silver-haired manager having gone into that game looking to exploit their opponents at the other end from set-plays through Christian Benteke’s aerial prowess.

Against Man City, Yaya Toure scored an 83rd minute winner when a Kevin De Bruyne corner was inexplicably allowed to reach the middle of the goal, four-yards out, without ever being more than two-feet off the ground.

At the Liberty Stadium, four of Swansea’s goals came via a set-piece, which took Crystal Palace’s season total to 13, top of the unwanted table and two ahead of Hull in second.

Evidently, incompetently defending dead balls is contagious as Swansea brought their tally to nine for the campaign – joint-third with Stoke and Watford – following the three they conceded on Saturday.

Crystal Palace’s obvious weakness on set-plays and zero clean sheets this season makes it puzzling as to why Bradley didn’t start with Llorente or at least an out-and-out striker. As gifted and influential as Gylfi Sigurdsson is, he doesn’t provide the aerial threat that saw the former Bilbao and Juventus forward develop a reputation as one of the best target men in the game a few seasons ago.

It was therefore no coincidence that as soon as Llorente replaced Wayne Routledge in the 66th minute, Swansea scored from a corner – their 10th and final corner of the game. Llorente’s first touch being a header that drew a poor excuse of a clearance from Yohan Cabaye on the far-post, allowing Leroy Fer to tap-in.

Christian Beneteke was singled out by Match of the Day’s Phil Neville (ext. link?) for numerous lapses of concentration and responsibility when defending.

times-of-goalsConcentration
The three occasions where two goals were scored in two-minutes (twice for Swansea and once for Crystal Palace) raises doubts over the players’ mentality.

Whilst both teams proved to have the spirit and resilience to bounce back from going behind, neither showed they could control the game and hold on to the lead. The only reason Swansea won was because they didn’t have time to give up their lead such was the last 20 minutes.

Passing
The game lacked quality in general and not just defensively. No other Premier League match over the weekend had fewer completed passes whilst Swansea’s and Palace’s combined attempted long balls ranked fourth out of the 10 matches.

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The days of Swansea playing possession based football appear to be replaced by a more direct approach in favour of percentages. This is perfectly understandable following the most recent two managers they’ve had in Wales not as in-keeping with the Swansea philosophy as Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers, Michael Laudrup and Garry Monk. The Swans ranked 13th for completed passes this weekend, 31 below the league average.

passes-team-ranklong-balls-team-rank

Crystal Palace are less interested in retaining possession as they look to quickly get balls to their front two of Benteke and Wickham. It’s this approach that convinced so many that Beneteke would have more joy at Selhurst Park – despite not yet scoring there – than he did last season with Liverpool.

This approach was confirmed by Palace’s keeper, Wayne Hennessey, ending the game as his side’s joint-second highest ranking player for attacking third passes, and fifth overall.

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Hennessey regularly went long in search of Benteke whereas Fabianski often went short.

Substitutes
Three of the six substitutions had the desired effect while one got caught up amongst the chaos.

Bradley’s first was Llorente who was awarded man of the match. The American’s second substitution was Angel Rangel for Modou Barrow on the 80th minute, five minutes after James Tomkins had bundled a goal in to reduce Swansea’s lead to 3-2. A full-back for a winger was the defensive move aimed to tighten things up but just four-minutes later, Palace had turned the game on its head.

The introduction of Jefferson Montero for Kyle Naughton – a reverse of Bradley’s second change – after Palace took the lead proved successful. The Colombian winger provided the cross which Llorente would eventually equalise from as the home side pinned their opponents back in the remaining minutes.

Pardew, meanwhile, was forced to replace the injured Wickham with Townsend in the 52nd minute but he too enjoyed an instant response from his third and final change. Bakary Sako came on for James McArthur at 3-2 and was immediately involved in the build-up to Jack Cork’s own goal.

Having taken the lead in the 84th minute, Pardew would have probably liked to have brought on Damien Delaney to deal with the inevitable aerial bombardment. But that was taken away from him by Wickham’s injury and his decision to swap Martin Kelly for the more attacking full-back, Ezekiel Fryers, with just over 20 minutes remaining.

swnasea-shots

Swansea attempted the same number of shots in the last half an hour (with more success) as they did in just over the first hour.

palace-shots

Like Swansea, Palace also attempted the same number of shots in the last half an hour as they did in just over the first hour.

Summary
Despite coming out victorious and getting closer to the teams above them, Swansea and Bradley will need to address their defensive deficiencies and consider reverting to a 4-2-3-1. Llorente would be the focal point of attack and Sigurdsson tucked in behind as the playmaker. The likes of Routledge, Barrow, Montero and Nathan Dyer can provide the width while Fer – who has already equalled his previous Premier League scoring record of six – and Cork can provide a decent central midfield pairing.

Crystal Palace’s form goes from bad to worse with six losses on the bounce and their comical defending showing no signs of ending anytime soon. It’s no wonder they’re the worst league team in the country for 2016 and the pressure is building on the manager who appears to be running out of time to arrest what is becoming commonly known as the Pardew-slide, and no, that’s not one of his dance moves.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 13):
Burnley 1-2 Man City
Hull 1-1 West Brom
Leicester 2-2 Middlesbrough
Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland
Swansea 5-4 Crystal Palace
Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham
Watford 0-1 Stoke
Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth
Man Utd 1-1 West Ham
Southampton 1-0 Everton