Why Swansea Succeeded Where Arsenal and Aston Villa Failed Against Bradford City
Swansea City won the Capital One Cup by the largest ever margin on Sunday, battering League Two Bradford City 5-0 in a thoroughly one-sided contest.
Before this momentous day that will live long in the history of the Swans' fanbase, however, the Bantams were tearing up trees in this competition. They beat Premier League sides Wigan Athletic, Arsenal on penalties and then Aston Villa over two legs to secure a date at Wembley.
But it all went horribly wrong for Phil Parkinson's side in London.
"A bridge too far" some say, the "occasion got to them" offer others. While that may be the case, the simple reason for Bradford's demise was that Michael Laudrup didn't let them play to their strengths.
The Bantams are not a technically-gifted side, and Parkinson has built a team that thrives on direct football and specialises in set pieces. That's fine, because they're in the fourth tier of English football and played to their strengths because teams were foolish enough to let them.
Their opening goal against Arsenal was a second ball from a free kick—it was only half-cleared and Gary Thompson stuck it into the roof of the net from the far post.
With something to hold onto on home turf, they were always going to be difficult to budge. Arsenal peppered their goal, and after 28 shots and 67 percent possession, drew level in the 88th minute thanks to Thomas Vermaelen.
Extra-time was heart-in-the-mouth stuff for the home support, with the lottery of penalties sending the underdogs through.
Moving into the semifinal against Aston Villa, Phil Parkinson will have been well aware of the opposition's struggles from corners.
To say Villa have conceded a lot of goals from set pieces doesn't tell the whole story. On average they concede around the same as everybody else, it's the fact that the defence is giving away 15-20 corners every game.
Jason Hanson and co. will have been licking their lips at this prospect, and at Valley Parade a beleaguered and battered Villa side came under the aerial cosh.
Again, it was lower-league-style goals that undid a Premier League defence. After Villa controlled the game for 20 minutes, a second ball from a free kick fortuitously found its way to Nakhi Wells who stroked it in expertly.
The fragile confidence the Midlands side had shattered, and from there two headed goals from set pieces piled on the misery.
In the second leg, another set piece did the damage, so Parkinson will have repeated the same tactics to his players for the final, and why would he change? When it became apparent diminutive midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng was set to play in defence, Parkinson must have allowed himself a secret smile.
Unfortunately for Bradford they never got going, and credit to Michael Laudrup for nullifying his opposition.
In his pre-match interview on Sky Sports 1, Laudrup said he'd watched "a few of their games," but it seems he watched a little more than that and rightly so.
Deploying Ki at the back helped his side retain the ball with ease and settle into a passing groove that Bradford couldn't break up, and the Swans were also well drilled when it came to minimising the amount of set pieces given away.
No one flew into any tackles, and Bradford earned just one corner. In the 86th minute.
Bradford stacked two banks of four deep in their own half and became the Yorkshire wall Arsenal and Aston Villa failed to climb, so it was ironic that the first and telling goal came from a three-pass counterattack that Nathan Dyer finished off.
After the ice was broken, the Bantams had no choice but to come out a little more. Four goals later, and not a single sniff for Bradford as their forwards were still playing so deep (in line with Leon Britton), this game was a formality.
Laudrup bagged Swansea a major trophy and avoided a major upset by one making one subtle change (Ki) and instilling care and discipline to his side.
No fouls give away, no free kicks conceded, no corners awarded, no goals for Bradford.
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