Tiki-taka the way forward for Rodgers’ Swans
It is slightly fitting that the previous post on this site was about Andre Villas-Boas, Jose Mourinho’s former protegé, with this post centring around another of Mourinho’s apprentices at Chelsea. Brendan Rodgers, like Villas-Boas (as mentioned in the last post), has seemed reluctant to entertain the idea of setting up like his one-time boss at Chelsea, preferring a continental tiki-taka style of football to Mourinho’s pragmatism.
Rodgers has come in for much praise for the free-flowing, attacking brand of football he’s had Swansea playing, especially seeing as they’re punching above their weight for a promoted team – indeed, one that only came up through the play-offs. After an uncertain start to the season in front of goal, Scott Sinclair and co. found their feet, and the Swans managed comfortable wins over the likes of Fulham, Aston Villa and Stoke, not to mention a draw with Liverpool at Anfield.
Instead of the defensive 4-5-1 which many promoted teams favour, Rodgers plays an open 4-3-3, with the emphasis on his three midfielders Joe Allen, Mark Gower and Leon Britton. Gower holds, while Britton and Allen roam around, exchanging passes freely. In fact, you could compare them to Barcelona’s midfield trio; Gower being Busquets, while Britton and Allen are Swansea’s Xavi and Iniesta.
The lively Sinclair and Nathan Dyer usually flank Danny Graham, a summer purchase from Watford, and ensure that Swansea retain width and guile. But Britton and Allen are the main men – they should both be commended for their appreciation of space and their excellent passing. Both have pass accuracies over 90%, and are the main reason behind Swansea topping the table for passes completed in the Premier League.
Despite this openness on the ball Swansea have managed to concede the joint-least amount of goals at home, maintaining a solidity to go with their fluidity. Rodgers deserves credit for sticking to his guns in the Premier League, and it appears that integrity is paying off. Swansea are a breath of fresh air compared to teams that just try to survive by packing men behind the ball. The adventurous style of Rodgers’ side is a joy to watch, and they’ve shown that it can be done to good effect when having just been promoted.
Hopefully this refreshing Swansea side will show future promoted sides that passing football is the way forward, as opposed to Stoke’s hoofball – also effective to an extent but not often entertaining. They will face a tough test against Arsenal though – this season, the Swans have arguably been Arsenal Lite, and when the student comes up against the master it’s usually the latter that comes out on top.
In the reverse fixture at the Emirates, the remarkable Michel Vorm made a rare error to gift Andrey Arshavin a goal – although it was a tidy finish from a difficult angle – but Danny Graham missed a glaring chance in the dying embers of the game and the Gunners were a bit fortunate to come away with all three points. In fairness it was quite a new-look Arsenal; Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta made their debuts, and Emmanuel Frimpong was still being integrated into the midfield.
It seems likely that matchwinner Arshavin will start at the Liberty Stadium. He showed signs of improvement against Leeds, and Arsene Wenger agreed that he needs consistent games to play at his full capacity. With Gervinho at the African Cup of Nations, Arsenal have little choice but to give Arshavin more game-time, so we may see improvement from Arshavin in the coming couple of months. Seeing as Swansea play an open game, it might be a match in which he thrives.
A player who has been in fine form lately is Mikel Arteta, who, like Swansea’s midfield dynamos, is trained in the art of tiki-taka. His time at Barcelona as a youth player saw him develop a superb reading of the game and his passing against Leeds was almost faultless. This impeccable passing is currently a big part of Arsenal’s game, and he’ll hope to put Swansea’s expansive passing in the shadows with his masterful poise and vision.