League Two: Swindon’s High Press Proving Effective in the Race for Promotion

FA Cup 2019/20: Swindon vs Cheltenham – tactical analysis tactics
Swindon countering the Cheltenham attack by committing a fullback to neutralise the wide attack.

Swindon boss Richie Wellens has always insisted that the Robins should be playing at the higher level, and the former Manchester United midfielder looks set to deliver on his promise of promotion this season. The 39-year old has guided his side to the summit of League Two by implementing a formidable high press, and although this approach was met with some initial scepticism, it’s proven exceptionally effective in the fourth tier so far.

There are many advantages to the high press, and the system has helped the club amass 11 clean sheets in their opening 34 League Two matches this season. It has worked particularly effective against opponents who favour the long-ball approach with an out-of-form Grimsby finding themselves unable to create any meaningful efforts on goal against the Robins at the beginning of December. They’ve also managed to keep Mansfield, Crawley, Northampton and Port Vale off the score-sheet this year.

By suffocating the opponents and hunting in packs, Swindon have been able to relieve the pressure on their defence and have routinely forced the opposition into giving away possession. They’ve conceded the fewest shots on goal this season, allowing just 321 efforts in their opening 34 encounters, with goalkeeper Steven Benda conceding just 22 goals in as many appearances.

Wellens admits that the high press is his side’s most important feature, and he has rarely deviated from this approach since arriving at the club in November 2018. He’s won 31 of his first 63 league games in charge, and his side are currently 5/6 favourites in the League Two football betting markets to secure promotion this season.

Swindon rarely allow the opposition to create chances, and with the fitness levels of the players having noticeably improved over the last 18 months, the current squad are clearly willing and able to press the opposition high up the pitch for a full 90 minutes. This approach also allows them to create multiple chances per game with strikers Eoin Doyle and Jerry Yates being the main beneficiaries of this system. As of February 23rd, the pair have netted 36 goals between them, and both players opted to return to the club following the expiration of their loan deals in January 2020.

The number of teams deploying the high press has exponentially increased over the last couple of years with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool becoming unofficial poster boys of this system. Players must be comfortable in possession of the ball, and it is imperative that fitness levels remain high throughout the course of the season. The major downside of this approach is that longer periods of recovery are often required and the majority of Swindon’s defeats this season could be potentially attributed to a quick turnaround, with players unable to replicate the same energy levels just three days apart.

4-2-3-1 is a formation that has typically been associated with the high press; however, Swindon have tended to fluctuate between this, a 4-3-3 and a far more conventional 4-4-2. Wellens has also briefly reverted to a 4-5-1 to help his side overcome a particularly tricky set of fixtures during the festive period.

It is essential that the high press is executed to perfection, and Wellens has had to ensure that his side are all moving in the same direction. He’s solely recruited players who fit this system, and although League Two can be unforgiving at times, he’s been able to guide his side to the summit and turn them into genuine promotion candidates. The former Blackpool and Doncaster midfielder has given Swindon Town a clear identity and their long-suffering fans are clearly enjoying every second of it.