Talking Tactics | Preston North End v Swansea City
Football stats experts WhoScored identify Conor Gallagher as a key man in Swansea City's Championship clash with Preston at Deepdale.
In the race for a play-off finish in the Championship, Swansea's trip to Preston today feels seismic.
The pair are separated by just a single point ahead of the clash at Deepdale and are sat just outside of the top six going into this afternoon's match up.
After a five-match winless run seemingly left their playoff hopes in tatters, Preston's promotion charge is back on track following back-to-back wins over relegation candidates Charlton and Barnsley.
They'll be out to make it three wins from three to kick February off with a bang, but at home to a Swansea side with such a commendable away record, that will, of course, be easier said than done.
The Swans boast the fifth best away record in the Championship this season having earned 21 points on the road, this despite a 2-0 loss at Stoke last weekend.
The Swans boast the superior head-to-head record between the two sides having won four of the last six match ups, but Preston, in turn, have the best home record in the division. Indeed, 32 points won at home is more than any other side, however, successive defeats at Deepdale at the hands of Reading and Middlesbrough recently highlights that the Lilywhites' home isn't exactly a fortress this season and Swansea need to replicate those performances either side of the New Year to come away with all the spoils.
And after his January arrival on loan from Chelsea, Conor Gallagher will be out to add to his fine goal and assist record in England's second tier.
The 19-year-old spent the first half of the season on loan with Charlton before his move to Swansea and, after providing an assist on his debut in the 2-1 home win over Wigan, Gallagher now has six goals and three assists to his name in the Championship.
Such a notable return means he has had a direct hand in more goals (nine) than any other teenager in the Championship this season and Cooper will hope Gallagher can add to that at Preston today.
As well as the arrival of Rhian Brewster from Liverpool, Cooper has at his disposal one of the most exciting attacks in the league as Bersant Celina and Andre Ayew round off the offensive quartet in Swansea's favoured 4-2-3-1 setup.
Boasting a WhoScored.com rating of 6.91 in the Championship this season, Gallagher is maximising his time on loan in the league as he continues his development and a fine showing in the trip to Preston will only add to his glowing reviews this term.
That said, Gallagher will have his work cut out to work his way past the Preston midfield, and in particular, the no-nonsense Ben Pearson.
The 25-year-old has developed a statistically-calculated WhoScored.com strengths of 'tackling' and 'ball interception' as he averages 2.1 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per league game this season, both of which rank second of all Preston players. What's more, Pearson isn't adverse to landing himself in hot water to help deny opponents as his average of 1.2 fouls per game and seven yellow cards suggests.
By comparison, Gallagher is no saint, noted in his nine yellow cards, and this is a battle that could prove decisive across the 90 minutes.
If Gallagher does get the better of Pearson and the Preston midfield, then it could be that Swansea come away with all three points in this pivotal play-off meeting this afternoon