The first match of the 2017-18 Premier League season has finished; it saw us earn a valuable away point against Southampton. Most fans would have been delighted to know that the boys would earn a point before kickoff. An away point at St. Mary's is nothing to sniff at. However, I was left disappointed and worried at the performance which led to not even a single shot on target for the Swans. For this article, I will only be doing data analysis for the teams' tactical battle throughout the match. In subsequent articles I will be tackling specific units' performances (i.e., midfield, defence, etc.). First I'll take a look at some of the basic match statistics before we dive more in depth.
We struggled to ever really gain a foothold in this match. Southampton dominated us in all the basic match statistics. They beat us in total shots (29 to 4), shots on target (2 to 0), passing accuracy (83% to 77%), possession (60% to 40%), and total passes (554 to 377). What immediately stood out to me (and what I very much expected) was the disparity in final third passing. Southampton dominated us here, with them having 253 final third passes to our measly 75. For every final third pass we had, Southampton had over 3. This is further illustrated in the Action Zones graphic below:
Only 15% of the match was played in Southampton's defensive third. For a 90 minute match, that's only 13 and a half minutes that Southampton needed to defend. Comparatively, over 35 minutes of that match would have been spent in our defensive third, only 10 minutes shy of an entire half. These differences are even more apparent in the Average Player Positions graphic below with Southampton in orange (left) and Swansea in blue (right).
Southampton had 8 players whose average position was stationed in our defensive half of the pitch, while Swansea only had two players, the two strikers, whose average position was in Southampton's half. We were backed into a corner for nearly 90 minutes and looked like we wouldn't have scored in 900 minutes let alone 90.
I've heard some say that as Southampton only managed 2 shots on target from their 29 total shots, we can take confidence in a solid defensive performance. I do not personally subscribe to this opinion. Out of their 29 shots, we blocked 11; they had 18 unblocked shots. While both of their shots on target were from speculative shots from distance, we still allowed 10 unblocked shots from inside the box. Below are two graphics: the first is their distribution of unblocked shots. The second is a more worrying graphic, the 3 shots that we allowed Southampton to take inside our own 6 yard box.
I hold the view that the clean sheet was down to poor Southampton finishing and more than a little bit of luck. Their shot accuracy ratio was an absolutely awful 6.9%. Even their unblocked shot accuracy ratio was only 11.1% was is still awful. With the amount of shots they had inside our box, and those 3 inside our 6 yard box, Southampton should have put at least one away. I don't think we'll keep many clean sheets with similar performances in the future. As such, we can count ourselves lucky and thankful for an away point, but I hope we see improved performances or I fear we'll struggle, even allowing for a Sigurdsson replacement.
How did this happen? Southampton is a team that I would consider "in our league" even if I think they have a little more quality than we do. How did this become such a one-sided affair? Let's take a look at some stylistic metrics between the two teams.
I have two stylistic metrics that I like to use to analyse teams. The first is a passing speed metric. Besides looking at raw total passes, I like to adjust for possession to see how many passes each team would have if they were in possession for a full 90 minutes. The second is a pressing metric. The idea for this one is to measure how often each team would have tried to regain possession if each team were defending for 90 minutes.
For the passing speed metric, I will take total passes (non-crossing) and multiply by the reciprocal of each team's possession to get the values we are looking for.
Southampton: 518 total passes; 60% possession
Passing Metric: 518/.6 = 863.33
Swansea: 365 total passes; 40% possession
Passing Metric: 365/.4 = 912.50
For comparison, Swansea's average Passing Speed metric last year was 878.88 while the average for the entire Premier League was 874.29 last year. This seems to suggest that we moved the ball about a little bit quicker than Southampton did. Now let's take a look at the pressing metrics. For this metric I will take total attempted tackles, interceptions, and fouls (attempts to win possession), multiplied by the reciprocal of the opponent's possession.
Southampton: 16 tackles; 12 interceptions; 10 fouls; 60% possession
Pressing Metric: 38/.4 = 95.00
Swansea: 17 tackles; 8 interceptions; 13 fouls; 40% possession
Pressing Metric: 38/.6 = 63.33
Again, for comparison, Swansea's Pressing metric last year was 76.02 while the league average was 85.08. We rarely attempted to press and when we did, there was a lack of coordination in the press as the team would not hunt in packs for the ball. Southampton, on the other hand, applied a very effective high press for nearly 90 minutes that we had absolutely no answer to.
I believe this partially explains the passing speed metric values as well. Southampton's high press won them possession in our defensive half of the pitch on 9 separate occasions which was 37.5% of time they won the ball. They were able to win possession relatively high up the pitch and recycle possession in our half and patiently probe to attempt to unlock our defence. For us, we only won possession in Southampton's half 4 times which was only 21.1% of the time. The vast majority of the time we would win the ball in our half and very quickly look to release pressure. We would often look to do this by clearances or long passes. We had 38 clearances against Southampton, the 4th highest on the league for the first matchday. We also attempted 72 long balls, the 5th highest in the league. Unfortunately, we lost the majority of our longball attempts. We had 35 successful longballs out of those 72, which is a 48.6% longball accuracy rate. More often than not, it seems when we won possession we would boot a clearance or string together a quick, short string of passes before trying a longball up top only for Southampton to win the loose balls and continue wave after wave of pressure.
To finish this up then, I'll start by saying that I am indeed pleased that we earned an away point at a ground we historically haven't done that well at. However, make no mistake, Southampton totally dominated us and there was really only ever one team that ended up playing. We had no offensive capability at all and most of the match was played in our own half. Defensively, it was great to get a clean sheet but as I've said, I think we were lucky to escape with one given the sheer number of unblocked shots inside our own box. If we continue to play in this regard I fear we'll struggle again. Let's hope the Sigurdsson situation gets sorted quickly so he can get back to starting with us, or we get his replacement in quickly.
In the coming days I will be writing some articles more geared towards my thoughts and observations about specific sections of our team and individual players. Stay tuned.