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Football Focus, Swansea-Manchester United: Swansea shows promise in possession, but poor defensive shape

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source:  Two goals in quick succession in the first half turned an even match into a comfortable 4-1 win for Manchester United over Swansea City on Saturday. Before conceding twice, Swansea looked like a fairly capable, possession-based team.

The biggest surprise in player selection was United manager David Moyes’ decision to start only one forward in Robin van Persie, leaving Wayne Rooney on the bench. Ryan Giggs played in a withdrawn attacking role, making the formation essentially a 4-2-3-1.

Wingers Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia took up narrow starting positions, with Welbeck preferring to cut in from the left wing and allowing Patrice Evra to overlap from left back.

Ahead of the center backs, Michael Carrick played more of a traditional holding role, while Tom Cleverley roamed box to box, with a little more freedom to push high. Swansea didn’t really play with a No. 6 (holding) and No. 8 (box-to-box) midfielder; instead, Leon Britton and Jose Alberto Cañas (and Jonjo Shelvey, in the second half) both played No. 8 roles.

Many teams prefer to have two players starting from that deeper role, as it allows for more movement and an element of less predictability — the players involved just have to make sure that one is always in the gap between the center backs.

Swansea defensive shape to blame for two

Even with two players protecting the defense, Swansea conceded two preventable goals. The first directly involved the team’s defensive shape with relation to its deep midfielders’ roles.

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When an attacking player sits in the space between the defensive and midfield lines, the goal is to draw the center backs out of position, which is exactly what Welbeck does. Chico steps up to him, and Ashley Williams is also drawn up. This leaves the outside backs setting the offside line, which should never happen.

Both Angel Rangel and Ben Davies are in proper position, accounting for United’s wide threats, but one center back needs to stay goal-side of van Persie. Shelvey (who in the run of play has temporarily switched positions with a holding player) should preferably step to Welbeck, leaving both center backs to take up their ideal positions (green line).

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On the second goal, van Persie uses change of direction to get behind Williams. Before Evra crosses, Williams is in good position, goal-side and ball-side of the attacker. But watch the video — van Persie’s quick, choppy steps in opposite directions allow him to float onto Williams’ back shoulder.

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The resulting separation is not much — maybe a step — but it’s enough that when Evra floats a ball over Williams, Davies realizes that his central partner will be beaten by the cross. He has to leave Valencia alone and hope he can win the ball in the air. He doesn’t, and it sends the defense scrambling.

Triangles everywhere

Before those two daggers, Swansea showed a lot of promise, trying to keep the ball on the floor and play.

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The idea, à la FC Barcelona, is to create triangles of support all over the field for the player in possession. The pattern of play becomes less predictable the more passing lanes for the player on the ball.

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This is one of its better sequences of ball movement, created by Wayne Routledge tucking in from the left wing and Cañas and Shelvey distributing. Davies gets involved, overlapping from left back, and Rangel on the right is also in an advanced position.

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When Davies loses the ball, it’s not so much a lack of options as awareness. He tries to force the ball forward when his best passing lanes are behind him, either back to Cañas or one of the center backs.

Encouragingly, Swansea never resorted to kicking the ball over the top, even when it went down a couple goals. Swansea attempted 534 passes in the game, according to OPTA, only 41 of which (7.7 percent) were long. The home side attempted 161 passes in the attacking third of the field, compared to United’s 123. Of United’s 471 total passes, 53 (11.3 percent) went long.

Second-half adjustments: New forwards in the mix

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Swansea stayed in a 4-3-3 in the second half, but Wilfried Bony took over the target role. Michu dropped and took over the playmaking role, and his partnership with Bony looked promising. Shelvey moved to a holding position, which suits his skill set more. For his part, Shelvey is a good distributor, but he isn’t as apt moving forward as Michu.

The second-half Swansea look is closer to its ideal lineup, and Bony could turn out to be one of the signings of the year. He and Michu interchanged well, and with Nathan Dyer cutting in dangerously on the right, it gave the team a more dynamic attack.

When Rooney came off the bench around the hour mark, United moved to 4-4-2 with him and van Persie running up top. Carrick and Cleverley flattened out their line, and the wingers pulled wider.

Welbeck’s starting position changed noticeably. Even though he still cut inside, he began his runs wider and also had the option of running the flank. Evra stayed home more, and Rooney and van Persie had space to operate in the middle of the field.

Breaking through the ceiling

Coaches often talk about players’ “ceilings,” or potential. That same terminology could be applied to teams. While United looked to be a bit closer to its top form on Saturday, Swansea has a lot of room for growth.

When Bony came on, it changed the dynamic of Swansea’s attack. Michu is too dynamic of a player to not have him in the middle of the field (he checked back often from the striker spot anyway), and Shelvey is not dynamic enough for that spot.

Although United won this game comfortably, Swansea will likely improve more as the season progresses than its opponent, relative to the start of the season. Swansea’s ceiling isn’t as high as United’s because of the gap in individual talent, but fans have plenty of reason to be optimistic.

Did you miss the game? Watch it all unfold here.

Conte revels in Chelsea intensity in controlling win at Hull City

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The intensity from Chelsea’s players in their 2-0 victory at Hull City was a sight for Antonio Conte‘s sore eyes.

Actually, that might be understating it.

“I like it when the team plays in this way,” Conte said after the win. “I like it so much.”

[ MORE: Hull City 0-2 Chelsea ]

The Blues controlled the match at the KC Stadium long before Willian and Diego Costa hit bullets past a helpless David Marshall to seal Chelsea’s 11th, 12th, and 13th points of the young Premier League season.

Conte loved the industry from his club in breaking a three-match losing streak.

From the BBC:

“We are working very hard and I am sure we can improve a lot if we continue to work in this way. I am pleased for all the players because in these situations because we have a clean sheet. In previous games we conceded too many goals. To finish with a clean sheet is very important. We also scored two and the performance is good. We must follow this with work, work, work!”

“We can improve and we must improve a lot and continue to work. After these two defeats it’s not easy to work because two defeats for Chelsea are heavy defeats. But this was a good answer.”

Yeah… he’s pretty intense.

Adrian, Bilic praise Messi-like equalizer from “pure magic” Payet

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet, left, and Middlesbrough’s Marten de Roon challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Middlesbrough at The London Stadium  in London, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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To hear West Ham goalkeeper Adrian describe it, the Irons should start streaming their training sessions so we can see more magic from Dimitri Payet.

West Ham’s talisman rescued a point for his struggling club when he essentially worked six Middlesbrough players and delivered a terrific finish in a 1-1 draw at Olympic Stadium in London.

[ WATCH: Payet’s wondergoal ]

Adrian says they see that a lot.

“Payet is like that in training,” the goalkeeper said. “He scored like a Lionel Messi goal at Barcelona. It is a massive goal to us.”

[ MORE: West Ham 1-1 Middlesbrough ]

The goal truly was massive, as the Irons avoided losing five in-a-row. They are still in the relegation zone, but baby steps.

Here’s WHUFC head coach Slaven Bilic:

“It was an unbelievable goal, it was a pure magic. It was only a shame it wasn’t a winning goal. We needed that moment of class from our best player to lift the whole team up.”

Sunderland: Moyes disappointed with Defoe miss in draw vs Baggies

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: David Moyes, Manager of Sunderland reacts during the Premier League match between Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion at Stadium of Light on October 1, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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One of the few bright spots for Sunderland last season was Jermain Defoe, and he has four goals this season through seven starts.

But the English striker missed a chance that could’ve given the Black Cats a much-needed lead in a match they wound up drawing 1-1 with West Brom at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

[ MORE: Sunderland 1-1 West Brom ]

Sunderland manager David Moyes is frustrated, obviously, with his club gained just two points from their first seven matches.

But pointing in the direction of the man who has four of your six PL goals on the season is a bit… odd, especially when Defoe is being mentioned as a possible England call-up.

From the BBC:

We didn’t get the three points. We didn’t deserve to be 1-0 down. We had a great chance through Jermain Defoe – expected him to score. We’re pleased we got a point out of it.

…”There was bits of play that got us a chance. Jonny Evans made a good block from Jermain Defoe.

“We need Jermain to score more, although he has got us goals.”

Troubling times in the Northeast, where the Black Cats are again off to a downright horrible start to the season. Eventually, one of these is going to break them.

Watford 2-2 Bournemouth: Thriller sees Cherries pegged back

WATFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: Troy Deeney of Watford scores his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Watford and AFC Bournemouth at Vicarage Road on October 1, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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  • Wilson, King twice gave Cherries lead
  • Deeney, Success equalized
  • Wilshere hit post twice, Stanislas hit bar
  • Both teams on eight points

Watford and Bournemouth shared the points at Vicarage Road in a thrilling 2-2 draw on Saturday.

Bournemouth twice took the lead through Callum Wilson and Josh King but Watford equalizes through Troy Deeney and Issac Success. The Cherries went agonizingly close to taking all three points as Jack Wilshere hit the post twice (his second attempt a contender for miss of the season) and Junior Stanislas hit the crossbar.

With the point both teams move to eight points for the season but there’s no doubting Walter Mazzarri will be happier than Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Watford started well with Odion Ighalo going close and Troy Deeney had a shot blocked with the home side looking to get back to winning ways. Bournemouth recovered and went close via Junior Stanislas’ free kick which forced Heurelho Gomes to tip over the bar.

Bournemouth took the lead as Stanislas whipped in a great cross from the right which Wilson nodded home and under Gomes. 1-0 to the Cherries.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Watford went close to equalizing before half time but Artur Boruc saved twice from Nordin Amrabat from close range and then Wilson cut inside and teed up Andrew Surman but he fired over from a great position.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Watford were level within five minutes of the restart as Amrabat dribbled in from the right and teed up Deeney to make it 1-1.

Moments later Bournemouth almost went ahead as Jack Wilshere danced through the Watford defense but his low effort hit the post and came out. At the other end Amrabat again provided a great cross which found Deeney but his header was superbly clawed away by Boruc.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Substitute King then came onto the pitch, beat Amrabat and ran at Watford’s defense before seeing his shot from outside the box deflect in. 2-1 to Bournemouth.

The Cherries’ lead didn’t last for long as a free kick from the left flank found Success at the near post and he flicked home into the far corner. 2-2.

Wilshere missed a glorious chance to put Bournemouth ahead as Smith drilled a great cross in from the right and from six yards out he somehow hit the post. Bournemouth continued to push forward and came agonizingly close to grabbing all three points but Stanislas’ curling free kick bounced off the crossbar and out.