Talking Tactics | Birmingham City v Swansea City
Having followed up their derby thumping of Cardiff last week with a 2-1 win over promotion hopefuls West Brom, Swansea City are looking to end the week on a high as they make the trip to goal-shy Birmingham. Ahead of the game, WhoScored.com previews the action, including what to expect from Birmingham, a look at the vital battle and a key stat to gear up for the clash.
What to expect from Birmingham
As has become the custom for a number of Championship teams this season, Birmingham set up in a three-man backline, but the decision to use the system isn't having the desired result. Indeed, the Blues have conceded just 16 times this season, the same as fourth-placed Coventry, but they sit just four points clear of the drop zone going into the welcome of Swansea.
After an impressive start to life in the Midlands, Lee Bowyer is currently struggling at the St Andrew's helm. A lack of goals is the issue for Bowyer, despite his Blues side boasting a statistically-calculated WhoScored.com strength of 'creating scoring chances'. A return of 8.7 key passes per game, a respectable 10th in the Championship, shows that Birmingham have no problem with creating the opportunities.
The issue, rather, is an inability to put the ball in the back of the net. Birmingham's profligacy has seen them develop a WhoScored.com weakness of 'finishing scoring chances' and a conversion rate of just 6.3 per cent, the third lowest in the division, adds weight to this major hindrance to their game. Birmingham's top scorer is Scott Hogan, with just three goals to his name, but no other team-mate has scored more than once in the league this season.
With 2.5 key passes per game, wing-back Jeremie Bela is Birmingham's most creative player this season, but the Frenchman looks set to miss this game. It's been 542 minutes since Birmingham last scored a league goal, that a late consolation penalty by Troy Deeney in a 4-1 home loss to Fulham in mid-September.
The inability to maximise home advantage has been a key reason for the sub-par start to the campaign with only a handful of teams earning fewer points than Birmingham (five) on home turf this season. On top of that, no team has scored fewer home goals than Bowyer's side (three), so exploiting their inability to score with any regularity is key this afternoon.
Steven Benda initially started the season as Swansea's first choice between the sticks, but since the start of the September, Ben Hamer has leapfrogged the youngster in the pecking order for Russell Martin's side. It has proven an inspired personnel change by Martin, with Hamer keeping five clean sheets in his eight outings; only a handful of goalkeepers, all on six, have kept more.
On top of that, of shotstoppers to have made five or more appearances this season, Hamer's save success rate of 77.4 per cent is the fourth best in the Championship. The 33-year-old may not have been a headline-grabbing capture at the turn of the year, but he is now hogging the limelight for all the right reasons and supporters will be hoping he can add to his clean sheet record at Birmingham's expense this weekend.
While Lukas Jutkiewicz has struggled in front of goal this term, scoring just once in 13 outings and failing to score on home turf this term, the towering frontman is a striker who can maximise his height to the benefit of Birmingham when needed. Of the two goals Birmingham have netted in their last three home meetings with Swansea, Jutkiewicz has scored one, and he'll certainly be out to break his home duck this weekend.
In drawing a blank at Huddersfield in midweek, Birmingham have now failed to score in six successive league matches. That unwanted record is the joint-longest run in the Championship this season, matching the streak Hull set across August and September earlier this season. Birmingham supporters are hoping they can at least celebrate a goal when Swansea make the trip to the Midlands today.