As the home side in this English Football League Championship fixture, Swansea City had the opportunity to jump a point above Fulham and into 3rd place in the table. Fulham also had the chance to jump into 3rd, but a result in their favour would see them pull five points clear of Swansea and edge closer to the front two. During this tactical analysis, we’ll review Scott Parker’s tactics as his Fulham side dominated possession of the ball for large portions of the game yet struggled to break down an organized Swansea.
Both teams entered this fixture relatively unchanged as they mirrored each other in a 4-2-3-1 lineup. Swansea made three changes from their previous fixture against Huddersfield Town while Fulham made just one change from last weeks’ 3-0 win over Derby. Joshua Onomah came into the starting lineup for Fulham, replacing Bobby Reid in the number 10 role.
With not even a minute on the clock, Fulham showed how they intended to play the game as the ball was passed around the back and they progressed the ball in a low risk and possession orientated manner. Goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic in the 22nd and 43rd minutes allowed Fulham to break ahead, having had large spells of possession in the game. The first goal of the day was a great representation of the football that Fulham wanted to play, with 16 passes being connected before Mitrovic headed home.
As Swansea tried to get back in the game, they began applying more pressure on the ball and managed to create some challenges for Fulham. Building into midfield became a struggle for Fulham as they had limited options for forward passes. In addition, Swansea generated some success of their own down left-hand side through Kristoffer Peterson. In this analysis, we’ll break down how it all happened.
Central midfielders supporting the build-out
Although shaped in an attacking 4-2-3-1, Swansea showed some tactical flexibility when defending which was typically done in a mid-block. In defending from the front with either one or two players in the first line of confrontation, this resulted in their shape fluctuating between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2. George Byers was typically the player who would push up to support Sam Surridge but regardless of the defensive organization that Swansea employed, they didn’t offer too much of a challenge for Fulham. As Scott Parker’s side passed the ball out of the back, they created overloads and were able to build out past the first line of confrontation easily.
The image above shows Swansea pressing in a flat front two. With Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney dropping in to support, Fulham were able to create a 4v2 overload and find a way out of the press.
The next image shows Johansen again dropping into the backline to collect the ball, helping Fulham to break the first line of pressure as Swansea defend from the front with only one player. Note that Denis Odoi is in a very flat position, relative to the backline.
Support in advanced areas
While Fulham clearly stressed the importance of having a numerical advantage in the build-out phase, this presented some challenges for them higher up the field as they attacked with limited options and support. Due to the deeper positioning of Johansen and Cairney, as well as the limited attacking threat of Odoi from right-back, Fulham at times found themselves with up to seven players level or behind the first line of confrontation. Not only did this mean they attacked with only four players higher up the pitch, but those players would also be limited in support when they were eventually found with forward passes.
The above image shows Fulham building out with multiple players underneath the first line of confrontation meaning they also have limited attacking options further up the pitch. Out of shot, Swansea outnumber Fulham eight against five.
The above image illustrates the clear divide in the Fulham side with six players behind the halfway line and only four players ahead of the ball.
While Fulham showed patience, confidence and quality in building attacks beyond the first line of pressure, the above images illustrate the challenges they had with having limited support ahead of the ball. It can also be seen that Swansea’s midfield has completely flattened out, meaning their midfield block of five was difficult to break down.
At times, Fulham were able to break through the stubborn Swansea block. However, the technical quality to receive the ball facing forwards in advanced areas, as well as the tactical ability to play between and behind lines of opposition pressure, resulted in attacking breakdowns for Fulham.
In the above image, Aboubakar Kamara manages to find an excellent position between the lines but struggles to orientate himself to face forwards. A heavy touch allowed Byers to recover and the opportunity to progress the ball was lost.
Again, a well organized Swansea team prove too much to break down as Fulham find limited options ahead of the ball.
The problem with a two-goal lead
For 65 mins, Fulham seemed to be in control of the game. One dangerously placed free-kick and the score was 2-1. From that point on, the game looked like it had been completely flipped on its head. Momentum had taken a shift and Swansea had their tails up.
It was somewhat expected that a goal would increase the energy of the home side and place increased pressure on Fulham, it also meant that Swansea would have to push more players forward as they chased an equalizing goal. While this did happen in the game, Fulham also changed their approach, dropping into a 5-4-1 formation in a low block to protect the lead. While it’s understandable the Fulham changed tactics in order to protect the lead, there is always the possibility that continuing with the same game plan may have resulted in greater spaces to exploit as Swansea pushed players forward.
The above image shows a notable change in the depth of the Swansea team as they look to protect the lead.
While Scott Parker’s side had to dig in for the final 25 minutes of the game, a 2-1 win on the road will have been everything they hoped for. For 65 minutes of the game, Parker’s side looked comfortable on the ball but I’m sure they will be aware of the fact that clear-cut opportunities to score goals were few and far between.
Unfortunately for the home side, they weren’t able to get back in the game despite having a total of 17 attempts at goal (seven of which being on target and coming late in the game). A positive that Steve Cooper and his side will be able to take from the match is that they were incredibly well organized in their mid-block and limited Fulham to only eight overall attempts in the game, despite having significantly less possession for two-thirds of the game.
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