Michu has been Swansea City's talisman since coming over from Spain for just £2m - Richard Heathcote
A scouting report of Michael Laudrup's Swansea City side ahead of Sunday's match with Manchester United. Just as they were last season under Brendan Rodgers, the Swans are still a possession-based side, albeit a bit more direct now under their new Danish manager.
Swansea City made their Premier League debut during the 2011-12 season and they immediately endeared themselves to neutrals for their easy-on-the-eye possession-based style under Brendan Rodgers. The Welsh side took a brave and rare approach for one that had just been promoted and they ended up being rewarded with an impressive 11th in the table finish. Their slick passing helped them gain control in games and their 58.0% average possession was good for 3rd highest in the league. By keeping the ball, the Swans limited the opposition's attacking threat (they conceded a respectable 1.34 goals per game in league last season). If there was a main criticism, though, of Rodgers' side, it was that they weren't penetrative enough and this was perhaps evident by their meager 1.16 goals scored per game.
Rodgers has since made a move to Liverpool and his replacement, Michael Laudrup, still takes a possession-based approach (55.3% average possession | 5th in the league), but his Swansea are a bit more direct now. The Welsh side still try to play out the back but under their new manager, they tend to work the ball quicker into attack and the tempo has generally increased. They're now scoring more goals (1.53 goals scored per game) while they're conceding about the same amount as last season (1.29 goals conceded per game).
Laudrup has also shown himself to be a bit more pragmatic than Rodgers. Whereas the latter rarely ever veered away from his patient build-up approach and energetic pressing, the former is willing to recede his lines a bit and defend in deeper positions when he deems it necessary. In matches against Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur this season, the Swans stood off the ball and they didn't close down until the ball reached the half-way line.
More often than not though, Laudrup does have his side press high up the pitch and in a similar manner to which Rodgers had Swansea drilled. If they don't stand off of Manchester United on Sunday, look for the home side at Liberty Stadium to have their lead striker and most advanced central-midfielder close down the center-backs while the wingers will look to seal the gaps that allow outlets to the full-backs. In unison, Swansea will push their central-midfielders and back four up high as well in order to compact the available playing space between the lines. It's very possible that United could see a mix of pressing at some stages of the match -- with the vociferous home crowd behind them -- while Laudrup's side could stand off at times as well when rest is needed.
In Swansea's 4-2-3-1ish system, Michu is the key man in attack. The Spaniard is currently the joint leading scorer in the league with Robin van Persie and he's capable of playing either as the league striker or in behind one. When he plays in support of Danny Graham, he's not much of a creator as his relatively low 1.2 chances created per game perhaps hints at. He does, though, time his late-arriving runs into the box well and he's a terrific finisher. When Michu plays up front as a No.9, he does well with his back to goal and he also creates space in behind for midfield runners when he drops deep for the ball. He's also pretty solid in aerial duels as well.
In the wide areas, the trio of Nathan Dyer (11 starts), Wayne Routledge (14 starts), and Pablo Hernandez (9 starts) all seem to take turns in the winger roles. The former two, though, seemed to have been preferred as of late. Dyer has tremendous pace, he's fairly direct, and he does well to win fouls in the attacking third (1.9 fouls won per game). Routledge comes infield more often than the other two as he tends to roam the space between the lines. Hernandez is tricky, direct, and he looks to come inside in order to shoot more than the other two. None are really out-and-out wingers that look to beat their marker to the outside and instead, they look to combine with the other attackers in more central areas.
In midfield, Leon Britton sits deepest and he generally recycles the ball by playing short, safe passes. He's not much of a ball-winner but his positioning is intelligent when Swansea are out of possession. Ki Sung-yueng also sits deep and he is responsible in possession as well. The South Korean, though, has a wider range of passing and he looks to play more ambitious balls than Britton by playing long diagonal balls out wide or balls over the top for either Graham or Michu to run onto. In a positional sense, Ki plays in a similiar region on the pitch as Joe Allen did last season for the Swans. However, the former likely does well to epitomize the more direct approach this season in comparison to last by his willingness to play longer passes. Jonathan de Guzman, if Michu is in a No.9 role, plays in the most advanced central-midfield position. He looks to get forward and he often pops up out wide when the wingers come inside.
In the back, Chico is the central-defender that is willing to step out while his partner Ashley Williams tends to play the covering role. Both are decent on the ball and that's obviously key for a side that tries to play out of the back. Neither are particularly strong in the air and this perhaps explains Swansea's vulnerability in defending against set-pieces. They aren't very dangerous scoring from them either. Right-back Angel Rangel is encouraged to get forward and he's very comfortable in possession as well, despite his error on the ball last season at Liberty Stadium leading to the lone goal for United in their 1-0 victory. At left-back, Ben Davies tends to be more conservative with his positioning and in his willingness to get forward.