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Talking Tactics

Llorente poses aerial threat to Chelsea

Adrian Clarke 10 Sep 2016
Fernando Llorente. Swansea

Adrian Clarke on the tactics Blues must beware of from Swansea in today's match

Swansea City had the measure of Chelsea last season, claiming four points from a possible six against the defending champions.

Can they upset the odds again? Or will Antonio Conte maintain his 100% start to the season?

Ahead of Sunday's encounter in South Wales, Adrian Clarke analyses the key factors that could define the match.

Streamlined combinations

Chelsea are moving the ball with far more speed and purpose under Conte. 

Passing through the lines, and from side to side, with urgency and conviction, they are not affording opponents as much time as they would like to get defensive bodies back in numbers.

Long-range distribution has played a part in that process. Making early switch passes to catch their opposite numbers cold, Eden Hazard (five per match) and Oscar (4.7) have more than doubled the long passes they attempt since Conte arrived.

This change of style and a quicker tempo has opened up extra space for the on-song Hazard and Willian to run at full-backs in 1 v 1 situations. This has been a feature of their opening three fixtures.

Urged to keep their width, Hazard and Willian have received the ball in advanced areas with greater regularity.

At home to West Ham United for example, the pair enjoyed 12 touches apiece inside the final 18 yards, and Hazard managed 15 at Watford.

Observe in the image below how often they pushed Burnley back at Stamford Bridge in the club's last outing. Seeing this much of the ball so high up the pitch has helped both men excel.

Eden Hazard's touch map against Burnley (left) and that of Willian reveal their threat in advanced areas on the flanks

From back to front there is a fluent efficiency about the way Conte's Chelsea shift the ball. Building partnerships all over the pitch, it is interesting to note that four of the Premier League's top nine pass combinations in 2016/17 belong to Blues' team-mates.

The Hazard/Costa combination is an especially productive one. In every contest the Belgian has played more passes to his striker than anyone else, and the Spaniard has reciprocated by returning the favour.

As soon as either man collects the ball, they seek the other out. This natural link-up play is something Swansea must try and nullify at the Liberty Stadium.

Top Premier League pass combinations

Player 1 Player 2 Club P1 to P2 passes
Azpilicueta Hazard CHE 53
Cahill Terry CHE 49
Terry Azpilicueta CHE 46
Elmohamady Livermore HUL 46
Milner Coutinho LIV 42
Naughton Barrow SWA 41
Hojbjerg Tadic SOU 40
Francis Smith BOU 39
Hazard Costa CHE 38

While there has been plenty to admire from the west Londoners, the form of last season's club player of the year, Willian, and a rejuvenated Hazard will have pleased supporters the most.

Brimming with confidence, and playing in a side who are adopting a style that suits their strengths, both attack-minded talents have been exceptional.

Chelsea chart-toppers

Category Player Number PL ranking
Chances created per match Willian 4 1st
Pass accuracy (starters only) Willian 95.6% 1st
Successful dribbles per match Hazard 5.7 1st
Shots on target Hazard 7 1st

Tide of Swansea crosses

Swansea have only scored twice this season, but both goals stemmed from excellent crosses into the penalty area. That is no coincidence. Ever since they began 2016/17 they have focused hard on improving their supply line from wide.

Leicester City v Swansea City
Fernando Llorente will look to profit from the glut of crosses being supplied by Modou Barrow and Jefferson Montero

The arrival of 6ft 5in striker Fernando Llorente, in all likelihood, prompted the change in emphasis.

Last season Swansea were ranked 14th for accurate crosses that did not stem from a corner, but after three fixtures this season they comfortably lead the way.

Accurate crosses (not including corners)

PL rank Team Crosses
1st Swansea 23
2nd Crystal Palace 16
3rd West Brom 15

Providing the bulk of this service are Modou Barrow and Jefferson Montero. Whipping 32 centres into the box between them (ranked fourth and sixth respectively in total crosses) the wingers form a key part of Francesco Guidolin's strategy.

Barrow, 23, has sparkled in patches, repaying his head coach’s faith to use him from the start, while Montero, 27, has flung 15 crosses into the penalty area in three exciting substitute appearances.

Whenever either winger gets on to the ball, their aim is to be positive and fizz a cross into the six-yard box.

Chelsea will know all about the Montero’s threat. Home and away the Ecuadorean tormented them last season, giving Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta an especially torrid time. His dribbling will need to be contained.

While Llorente has yet to open his account, the former Spain forward has been knocking on the door. Nobody has directed more headers on goal in the division.

As long as the quality service is maintained it will not be long before he gets off the mark.

Most headers on goal

PL rank Player Headers
1st Fernando Llorente (SWA) 7
2nd Salomon Rondon (WBA) 6
3rd Scott Dann (CRY)/Curtis Davies (HUL) 4

Low marks for Swansea marking

Every time Chelsea are awarded a corner on Sunday, home fans will shift uncomfortably in their seats.

Defending corner-kicks has been a longstanding problem for the Swans. They have conceded twice from dead-ball situations in just three matches.

Marking man-to-man inside the area, simple movement has created unnecessary confusion (with defenders getting in each other’s way) and both Hull City’s Shaun Maloney and Leicester City’s Wes Morgan profited when dispatching second-ball knockdowns.

GettyImages-Morgan goal leicester.jpg
Leicester's Wes Morgan wheels away after scoring from a corner against Swansea

Jordi Amat and Federico Fernandez are yet to convince when it comes to marking at set-plays, but the Swansea centre-backs are not solely to blame. As the table below suggests, Swansea’s difficulties existed long before the departure of Ashley Williams.

Guilty of getting too tight to opponents on occasion and focusing harder on the physical tussle than on the flight of the cross, they have dropped numerous points through needless concessions.

It is important that Guidolin fixes this issue, which could be addressed by a change to zonal marking.

Corners conceded in 2015/16

Team Goals conceded
Swansea 15
Everton 12
Liverpool 10

Most worryingly for the hosts, Chelsea have looked particularly dangerous from corners in the opening weeks.

No one has delivered more accurate corners than Willian (six) and it has been fascinating to see the Blues experiment with fresh training-ground routines too. Against Burnley, Gary Cahill and Hazard (twice) almost scored from inventive short corners that caught their rivals off guard.

The prospects of a Chelsea set-piece goal in this encounter feel higher than normal.

Final thoughts

Conte’s ferocious appetite for success has rubbed off on his new charges already. Looking fitter and hungrier, the players’ body language has been transformed and, as a consequence, their football has been significantly sharper.

Swansea lost their first home match of the campaign to Hull in disappointing fashion, but should not be written off.

The Welshmen went toe-to-toe with Chelsea in both 2015/16 meetings, and playing on the front foot suited them. Across the two encounters they outshot Chelsea 29-19.

Rather than looking to soak up pressure and survive, Swansea’s best chance of success is to take the fight to the Londoners again. It will test a rearguard that wobbled frequently last term.

Guidolin’s side should also strive to keep the ball away from the in-form Hazard, Willian and Costa. Right now, they are playing too well to be contained for sustained periods.

I suspect the wingers on both sides have a big part to play in this encounter and that should make for an entertaining watch.

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