Valérien Ismaël and his team return to south Wales for the second time in just over three weeks on Wednesday evening hoping for a similar result and performance to their last visit. The 4-0 demolition of Cardiff City at the end of last month was arguably the Baggies’ best performance of the season, and a repeat a few miles down the M4 would be most welcome!
In Russell Martin, Swansea City have a manager committed to a passing style of football and it would be a surprise if he chose to abandon those principles, although other head coaches have done exactly that to counter Albion’s pressing style this campaign. If Martin does keep his usual approach, it could play into the Baggies’ hands as they will be able to implement the high pressing style that brought success in the early weeks of the season. The Swansea boss will, of course, trust his players to be able to beat the press but results haven’t exactly been impressive so far, apart from their derby victory over Cardiff on Sunday when Mick McCarthy’s five centre-back tactic was found wanting once again.
That 3-0 victory was only the third time that the Swans have grabbed all three points so far this season and it only lifted them into a still-lowly 17th place. Albion and Swansea have played eight of the same opponents so far this campaign and the Baggies have twice as many points (14) from those fixtures which shows the relative performances of the clubs this season just as much as the league table.
City, of course, reached the play-off final last season but it was a busy summer at the club which left a lot of work to do this season. The close season not only saw the manager, Steve Cooper, leave and a significant turnover of players, but also saw their stadium renamed as the rather naff Swansea.com Stadium.
The player turnover was such that, of the 14 players who took part in their play-off defeat to Brentford at Wembley in May, only five were in the squad that beat Cardiff on Sunday. Most notably their “high profile” departures of André Ayew and Jamal Lowe had been responsible for half of their league goals last season (30 combined) with two other players who left the club, Connor Roberts and Conor Hourihane, had scored a further 10 between them. It is perhaps unsurprising that Swansea’s total of 12 league goals this season is better than only five other clubs in the Championship. However, they have found one striker that seems capable – new signing, 22-year-old Dutchman Joël Piroe, has scored half of their league goals this campaign including one against Cardiff on Sunday and will be one to watch on Wednesday.
Ismaël confirmed on Tuesday that Grady Diangana would not be fit for this match while Alex Mowatt is a doubt as he is still suffering from a bruised toe that has seen him withdrawn from the last two games. Jayson Molumby has impressed as a substitute in both games and I, personally, wouldn’t be too concerned if he was to start in place of Mowatt. It would certainly be a good opportunity to see if he can perform over a full ninety minutes.
The rest of the team should pick itself assuming all are fit, with the one decision for Ismaël being which three of the front four available to choose.
As a clash of styles between principled head coaches, this match has all the hallmarks of being an entertaining spectacle. Swansea have the highest average possession in the division with 65.1% and also the highest pass completion rate of 85.2%. The Baggies, meanwhile, are 9th in the possession table and, unsurprisingly, bottom of the pass completion table with just 60.7%.
Where Albion’s statistics shine are in the decisive areas of the pitch – they have allowed less than eight shots per game on average, the lowest in the league, and only Fulham have averaged more attempts on goal each game, 16.6 to the Baggies’ 15.5. Swansea are 8th best in the shots against table but 21st in terms of their own attempts with 10.1 per match and less than three on target.
Statistics can only tell you so much, but given the game is about scoring goals, those stot stats tally with the relative league positions of the teams. Now we just need to see if it plays out that way on the pitch.
If you thought wins at Cardiff were rare, the other major club in south Wales has proved even harder to beat on their own patch by Albion over the years. Last month’s victory was the Baggies’ eighth at Cardiff while they have been victorious on only four occasions at the home of the Bluebirds’ fiercest rivals.
Having said that, there is no 47-year gap since their last win with Darren Moore’s Albion having come from behind to win 2-1 in November 2018 thanks to goals from Craig Dawson and Ahmed Hegazi. Four years earlier, it was a similar story as goals from Stéphane Sessègnon and a late winner from Youssouf Mulumbu turned around the match after Lamah had given the hosts an early lead. Albion’s first win at what was then called the Liberty Stadium was on their first ever visit to the Swans’ new home in March 2010 – late goals from Graham Dorrans from the spot and Ishmael Miller earned Roberto di Matteo’s team all three points.
That 2010 result is the only time Albion have won by more than one goal in Swansea. They (officially) only won once at the Vetch Field and for that, we have to go back to August 1946 when the hosts were still called Swansea Town. A brace from Davy Walsh and another from Frank Hodgetts gave the visitors a 3-2 win in a tightly fought game when the Swans equalised twice. That was the opening game of the first season of regular football after the Second World War and the fixture was a repeat of the opener from the 1939/40 season – Albion won that game 2-1 but, as the season was abandoned a week later after the outbreak of war, the result was expunged and Harry Jones’ decisive brace was officially forgotten by the statisticians.
Albion’s last visit to Swansea finished goalless but it was memorable as being the last fixture played by either club before the COVID-19 pandemic brought football to a temporary halt, and was the last Baggies match that had fans present until West Ham United visited the Hawthorns in May.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
7 Mar 2020 – League Championship
Swansea City 0
West Brom 0
8 Dec 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 5 (Ajayi, Pereira, Robson-Kanu, Phillips, Edwards)
Swansea City 1 (Surridge)
Last win at Swansea City
28 Nov 2018 – League Championship
Swansea City 1 (McBurnie)
West Brom 2 (Dawson, Hegazi)
Albion’s Record against Swansea City
If you cannot see the tables, click here.