Swansea City vs. Tottenham Hotspur: 6 Things We Learned in Premier League Clash
Goals from Jan Vertonghen and Gareth Bale proved enough as Tottenham held on after Michu had reduced the deficit for the Welsh club. Results elsewhere meant Spurs moved back into third place in the table.
With seven games left for both Swansea and Tottenham, both teams face differing but potentially very interesting conclusions to their respective campaigns. Read on for a few thoughts on Saturday's action at the Liberty Stadium.
Spurs Are Better Off Keeping Things Flexible
Gareth Bale's recent deployment as a centralized attacker has been something of a double-edged sword. The role has meant him seeing more action (or at least a different kind) than he might playing left wing, but Tottenham have also sometimes missed the presence he gives and the balance he provides out wide.
Bale made his most significant impact against Swansea centrally, twice combining excellently with Vertonghen to set up and then score in two wonderful goals. During the second half it become clear the Welshman's involvement was receding, though. Credit to Villas-Boas—he changed it up.
Lewis Holtby came on to occupy Swansea's more central players and Bale moved to the flank, finding a little more space to operate. It particularly paid off late in the game when the latter came in off that side to make a crucial shot-stopping block to deny Nathan Dyer.
Villas-Boas (like many coaches) sometimes falls into the trap of sticking with a plan, even when the game might be turning against his team, hoping things turn around. Sometimes he would be better served remembering he does have the tools to be flexible in his tactics.
Spurs have options to change things up when circumstances dictate a different approach. The versatility of players like Bale and Holtby gives Villas-Boas that luxury.
With games against FC Basel and Everton coming up next week, Villas-Boas has to be sensible in how he uses his squad. Not overworking it while still fielding the strongest possible side—a little flexibility won't go amiss.
Being Proactive Works for Villas-Boas
On a similar note to the previous page, the Swansea game showed the merits of a more proactive in-game approach from Villas-Boas.
The recent loss to Liverpool was particularly frustrating as had Tottenham changed things up earlier, they may have stopped the Reds' gathering, ultimately costly, momentum—though there was little the Spurs manager could have done about the mistakes that led to the opposition's goals.
There is, of course, no guarantee substitutions will work. Against Inter Milan, Villas-Boas was quicker with his changes and his team arguably played worse.
Generally, though, being proactive can have a positive effect.
Swansea may have scored after Jermain Defoe replaced Emmanuel Adebayor, but that was hardly the fault of the striker. Defoe was far livelier than his fellow forward, and Spurs would likely have fared worse without him giving them a more energetic outlet upfront.
Similarly, Holtby's arrival for Gylfi Sigurdsson gave the team extra tenacity in midfield, with the German helping to upset Swansea's flow.
It is ultimately down to the players, but sometimes managers are better served by showing initiative and actually managing.
Swansea Still Need a "Plan B" to Replace Danny Graham
Michu was once again a lively and dangerous presence leading the line for Swansea. Tottenham generally negated his threat on the ground, but the Spaniard caused them several problems aerially as they granted him too much space.
It cost Spurs a goal when, in an otherwise commanding performance, Michael Dawson gave Swansea's topscorer an ill-advised yard to get the run and jump on him. It took Michu's tally for the season to 20 in all competitions.
Swansea have not been lacking for goals elsewhere. However, since Danny Graham joined Sunderland in January, they have been wanting for a "plan B" going forward.
Michael Laudrup's team is hardly one-dimensional, and the likes of Jonathan de Guzman and Nathan Dyer (among others) make genuine contributions going forward. Graham's departure has left them without a genuine penalty-box presence, either one who can work in conjunction with Michu or in place of him—and in both cases, offering something a little different.
Though not a major issue for now, it is an area Laudrup must look to address in the summer. If Michu was to suffer more than short-term injury, the Swans may find themselves in a spot of bother.
Winning the League Cup Is as Much a Curse as a Blessing
Swansea fans will still be basking in the glory of their club's first winning of a major trophy last month. The 5-0 Capital One Cup final thrashing of Bradford City at Wembley was a joyous day for a team and club that has come so far, especially over the last decade.
Since that day, it is hard to get away from the conclusion that Swansea are suffering a slight hangover from the celebrations. Three losses in their four matches since then speaks of a team that has taken its eyes off the ball somewhat.
In theory, winning a trophy with a good three months of a campaign left to play would seem like the ideal way of giving a team a boost for the run-in. The evidence would suggest otherwise, at least in the case of teams for which a cup success is not the norm.
Last season, Liverpool won just four of their last 13 league games following their securing of the trophy (though they did go on a run to the FA Cup final). The year prior to that, Birmingham City were relegated after their Wembley win. Back in 2008, Spurs would register just three victories in 12 games after a thrilling win in the final over rivals Chelsea.
The only exception in the last half-a-decade has been Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson's side finished the season strongly after their League Cup success in 2009 and 2010. The Red Devils won the league title in the former and only lost to eventual champions Chelsea in the latter.
This Game Was a Valubale Exercise for Tottenham
It would not have felt like it for them without the three points, but for Tottenham this game was a valuable exercise ahead of their upcoming league fixtures.
Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City all pose differing threats to what Spurs came up against in Wales. But Swansea are a sufficiently good footballing side that they certainly served as good preparation for the challenges that will be posed in the weeks ahead.
Saturday's game was an important one for the North Londoners, but as a possible top-four place gets closer, the ante is going to get upped considerably. In this regard, it may prove fortunate that Spurs' players and coaches alike let loose with their frustrations in a tense and scrappy second half.
Coming up against their rivals for Champions League qualification, the last thing they will want to do is lose their cool (the same goes for their Europa League quarterfinal too) in what will be highly pressured occasions.
Fitness coach Jose Mario Rocha was particularly incensed after an incident on the sidelines with the Swansea equivalents. For him and, particularly, his club-mates to have gotten some of this tension out of their system now, may pay off later on.
Fans Are Growing Too Sensitive to Tackling
A more general observation it may be, but Saturday's meeting between Swansea and Tottenham was a good example of one of English football's growing annoyances.
The increase in player theatrics has led to more football fans reacting with an almost-equally over-the-top incredulity nearly every time one of their players has a sliding tackle made on them (or a more overtly physical-looking bit of contact).
Swansea and Tottenham were commendably allowed to get stuck in by referee Anthony Taylor. When the tackles got a little too ugly later on in the game, he blew his whistle, but prior to then he let the game flow well.
Except it seems, in the view of the Swansea fans. So often when one of their players was met with a sliding tackle, they would howl with discontent at the perceived injustice. Michu was notably involved in several of these incidents, though the Liberty Stadium crowd overlooked the fact these were often blatant simulations on his part.
Tottenham fans can be just as bad. The White Hart Lane faithful have been known just as much to voice their disapproval at similarly slight or imaginary challenges on their star-man Bale.
Fans, players, referees, journalists, coaches—all alike would benefit from toughening up and excepting this is a contact sport, and tackling is part of that.