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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 Ryan Giggs played in a withdrawn attacking role, making the formation essentially a 4-2-3-1.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.

VIDEO: Post-match melee breaks out between Spurs and Chelsea

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Tensions boiled over on the touchline after Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham as players had to be separated while heading down the tunnel.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester City coverage ]

A testy match that saw referee Mark Clattenburg issue 12 yellow cards, the battle continued after the final whistle as a melee erupted in front of the benches.

It is unclear as to what caused the disruption, but it was not the first skirmish of the night. Earlier in the match, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino found himself on the pitch in the middle of a shoving match between players.

[ VIDEO: Leicester pubs erupt as Foxes clinch Premier League title ]

Seen in the video above, Spurs’ backup goalkeeper Michel Vorm seemed to be in the middle of things with who else but Diego Costa. Harry Kane and John Terry tried to quiet things down, but to little avail.

There are only two matches left in the Premier League season, but the FA will certainly be reviewing video of this incident and sanctions could come down on players or the clubs.

Emotional Ranieri thanks former club Chelsea; set for incredible return

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LONDON — Am emotional Claudio Ranieri called Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink after their 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur on Monday which sealed the title for Leicester City.

Ranieri, 64, was manager of Chelsea from 2000-4 and was a fan favorite at Stamford Bridge despite never winning a trophy. He was replaced by Jose Mourinho in 2004 but has remained in the hearts of Chelsea’s fans ever since.

[ MORE: Latest Leicester news after PL win ]  

On Monday that was clear.

The amiable Italian is a charming individual, a grandfather figure to most, and one Chelsea fan held up a sign which simply said: “Do it for Ranieri” and Chelsea fans sung his name and “Leicester, Champions!” as they reveled in Tottenham’s demise at the final whistle.

They won the league for Ranieri, as Chelsea rallied from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Eden Hazard‘s stunning late goal sealing the title for Leicester.

Chelsea’s old boss flew back to Italy on Monday to spend time with his 96-year-old mother and on his return to Leicester and England he will lauded as a hero. His team will go down in history and so will he. Calls continue for him to be knighted by the Queen of England. It is highly likely he will be. He deserved it after masterminding the greatest Cinderella story in sporting history.

[ VIDEO: Fans react in Leicester to winning the PL ]

Here’s what Hiddink had to say on his phone call with Ranieri.

“I got a call from Claudio Ranieri and he thanked us, especially for the second half,” Hiddink revealed. “I congratulated him on being champion. His voice was trembling.”

Ranieri is an emotional man who has been welling up after recent wins and as the momentum continued. The tears will be flowing in the coming days and weeks as what he and his team have achieved starts to sink in.

In his first season as Leicester manager he has turned a 5000-1 shot and heavy favorite for relegation into the champions of the Premier League. Ranieri was the bookies’ favorite to get be the first PL manager to be fired at the start of the season.

Now he’s the manager who delivered the PL trophy in the most remarkable fashion imaginable. With, of course, a little help from his old club.

Want to know what makes this even better? Ranieri returns to his old club Chelsea on the final day and the Foxes will receive a guard of honor from last seasons champions, Chelsea.

Chelsea let him go in 2004 as owner Roman Arbamovich didn’t believe he could win the west London club the title.

Yeah, about that…

From League One to PL champion: Andy King has seen it all

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Andy King of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion at The King Power Stadium on March 1, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Andy King has been through it all, and now he’s a Premier League champion.

With more than 300 appearances for Leicester, King never could have imagined being champions of England when he was playing with the Foxes in the third division just a few years ago.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester City coverage ]

King joined Leicester City’s academy as a 15-year-old, climbing the ladder from League One to the top of the Premier League.

Speaking to the BBC after clinching the title, an emotional King reflected on this achievement.

I thought I’d seen everything with this club, but I never thought I’d see this. It’s difficult to put into words. The players deserve it, the gaffer and the staff deserve it, and the fans deserve it. It’s been an unbelievable season.

The story of where this team has come from to get to this point has been all over the world recently and I think the lads deserve great credit for the way they’ve taken it in their stride, stayed focused and kept delivering results – especially with a great side like Spurs chasing us so hard. We’ve been so consistent and just determined not to let the opportunity pass us by. We deserve this.

King has only managed seven league starts this season, stuck behind standout performers N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater. However, he has been an important player off the bench and a veteran presence in the dressing room, despite still being just 27-years-old.

King is the first player to win the League One, Championship, and Premier League titles all with the same club.

How Twitter reacted to Leicester City winning the Premier League title

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The party has started in the East Midlands as Leicester City are officially your 2015-16 Barclays Premier League Champions.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester City coverage ]

As the final whistle blew at Stamford Bridge to signal Leicester’s title, Twitter lit up with celebrations and congratulations from all over the world.

After 30 years in management, this is Claudio Ranieri‘s first top-flight title. While Ranieri celebrated in England, his former clubs from throughout Europe sent their congratulations to the manager and his team.

Roberto Mancini knows a thing or two about winning a Premier League title…

Even other Premier League clubs showed their respect for Leicester and their historic season.