Monday, 16 January 2012

Playing without fear

Swansea City’s 3-2 win over Arsenal yesterday was a remarkable achievement, and the players and management have rightly received lots of praise in today’s press. The main analysis has revolved around the fact that Swansea managed to have more possession than Arsenal. A year ago, Arsene Wenger could not have envisaged a newly promoted side having 55% possession against his team, who he has worked so hard to make the Premier League passing kings. Yesterday, not only did Swansea have more possession, but they looked more comfortable on the ball and pressed Arsenal into making errors all afternoon.

Brendan Rodgers took over as Manager of Swansea City in July 2010. In his first season he achieved promotion through the play-offs, and now his side sit 10th in the Premier League. His football philosophy was taken on board by the Swansea fans, who Rodgers regards as “knowledgeable and understanding” and the club has not looked back. No matter the opposition, and regardless of whether they are winning or losing, Swansea continue to pass, press and commit numbers forward. This requires courage, and Rodgers has given his players the belief that they can retain possession and continue to play. Brendan Rodgers said last season that “The model of my coaching life has been based around Barcelona, I have spent time in Spain watching them and they are my big influence.” This kind of progressive thinking is delivering results for the club, and proves that Barcelona’s model can be adopted lower down the football order. Brendan Rodgers has players who are comfortable on the ball, and who trust their teammates with delivering or receiving passes.

Barcelona also faced a newly promoted team yesterday, and like Arsenal, they too came up against a side who had more on their mind than simply parking the bus. Pep Guardiola’s team had played 9 home games this season in La Liga, scoring 39 goals and conceding none. Real Betis won the Segunda Division last season with a +41 goal difference, and in January 2011, they beat Barcelona 3-1 in the Copa del Rey although they still went out 6-3 on aggregate.

Last night Betis travelled to the Camp Nou with the full intention of attacking Barcelona. They started brilliantly and created numerous chances early on. Somehow, despite this great start, Barcelona managed to score two quick goals and Betis found themselves 2-0 down after just 12 minutes. At this point, most other visiting teams usually just give up, and do their best to keep the score down, but not Real Betis. Two goals either side of half time got Betis back level, and the Barcelona team were left stunned. Pep Guardiola was irate on the sideline, and although Barcelona eventually went on to win 4-2, they felt threatened for the first time this season in the league at home.

Real Betis, Swansea City and Norwich City have all come up to their top divisions this season, and all three teams are applying themselves so positively that it is hard not to want them to do well. For so long smaller teams have sacrificed any sense of club identity in order to progress up the ladder, but with managers like Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert creating exciting teams and challenging the status quo, football’s top divisions can only benefit.

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