Part one : Defence
Before we jump into the figures, I'd like to say two things: first, every team's defence starts with the goalkeeper. Second, Swansea's goalkeeper for all but one league fixture this season has been the inimitable and untouchable Michel Vorm, who, despite a handful of borderline ordinary performances towards the end of the season has been exceptional.
The adage runs that a good goalkeeper is worth ten to 15 points in the standings. If even the conservative side of that statement is true, then the Swans might be ten points worse off without Vorm; 37 instead of 47 and dangerously close to the razors edge of the relegation zone. I appreciate things are never that black and white, but Vorm has been a very significant part of the Swans success this year.
With so little positional competition, there seemed little point in involving him in this discussion. 14 clean sheets says it all, and may have won Vorm some starting consideration for Euro 2012. So, thank you Michel Vorm for being the best goalkeeper to ever wear a Swans shirt. Now let's take a look at the players in front of him.
When I say this blog is going to be about defence, what I mean is that I will be looking at key defensive categories, not simply players listed as 'defenders' - it's a team game, after all. Whilst it stands to reason that the Swans defenders ought to dominate these categories, one or two other players might crop up, too (Joe Allen, I'm looking at you). I'll be looking at the team's top three statistical performers per category, and only include players who have been heavily involved. So whilst Kemy Agustien was successful with 91% of his tackles, he only made eleven all season since he spent so much time sidelined with injury. So I'll be looking to include players with 20 or more instances of an action. Starting with...
Obviously, tackling is a team-wide skill (which skills aren't?), but since the point of a tackle is to win back possession from the other side, it counts as a defensive skill for the purpose of this article. Top of the class is that man Joey Allen, the little engine that could (and frequently does) in the heart of the Swans midfield. It also shouldn't be any surprise that Swansea's two starting full-backs fill out the top three. After all, Brain Clough had it that full backs were mostly there to chase the ball down and win it, which these figures would prove. Of course, these are just the numbers of tackles made; it is successful tackles that matter, and those results are slightly different:
Tackles Won (%, 20+ attempts)
It's a close run thing, but Ash Williams beats out two of the players from the first list to top the successful tackle chart. Being a centre back, Williams has to pick his moments more carefully lest he put a foot wrong and give Michel Vorm a chance to live up to his 'penalty killer' nickname. He only attempted 57 tackles, which is a good measure less than the likes of Allen and Co., but his success rate at least shows that when he commits to a tackle, he usually wins it. Williams shines in our next list, too :
Far and away the most likely player to just put a foot through it and get the ball away, Williams eclipses defensive partner Caulker by not far off twice the number of clearances. That's to take nothing away from Caulker; after Stevie C, there is a drop off to Rangel in third and beyond the top five (Taylor and Monk in fourth and fifth), were Danny Graham and Leon Britton with just 16. It stands to reason the Swans defenders fill out the top of the list, but Williams is especially good at it, and it's the same story for blocks:
The same personnel, in the same order. After two third place finishes, it's Rangel's time to shine when we look at :
Rangel dominates the interceptions chart, picking off lazy passes and over ambitious crosses all season long (along with a lot of quality passes and perfectly weighted crosses, too). Joe Allen makes another strong show in a defensive category, and has proven this season that although he might be slight of stature, he is a legitimate box-to-box midfielder. The willingness of Swansea's players to make a pitch-wide effort in attack and defence is reflected in the small number of defensive errors (leading to a shot or goal against) the side has committed, as all that extra cover stops the back four from being over-stretched:
Williams, Rangel, Monk 1
I can remember Leon's ill-fated looping header against QPR but I'm not sure I remember a second error, and I'm surprised Opta have opted not to count Joe Allen's poor pass which led to a goal against Man United. Still, it's a good sign for the Swans, and goes some way to explaining the aforementioned 14 clean sheets. Finally, we'll have a look at the most exciting stats - goal-line clearances and last man tackles.
Last Man Tackles
Steven Caulker's superior pace is surely a factor in his representation in both lists, and Rangel again asserts his value to the team as a defensive full back and not the solely attacking full back he is often mistaken for. It's also nice to see Siggy pop up in there, too. There'll be a lot more from him when we look at the midfield next time.