Talking Tactics | Swansea City v Stoke City
After a 2-1 loss at Blackburn on the opening weekend, Swansea City were held to a 0-0 draw by Sheffield United on Saturday night to put their first point on the board of the 2021-22 season. Attention now turns to the midweek of welcome of Stoke as Russell Martin seeks to oversee his first league win following his appointment earlier this month.
WhoScored.com preview Tuesday's welcome of the Potters as they look at what to expect from Stoke, focus on the key battle in the clash and a key stat to whet the appetite ahead of the midweek match up...
What to expect from Stoke
Stoke have made an unbeaten start to the season in all competitions, following up their opening weekend 3-2 win over Reading with a 2-1 Carabao Cup victory over Fleetwood and a 0-0 draw at Birmingham at the weekend. However, while two wins and a draw in three matches is a notable achievement, they have conceded three times in those three matches, though a solid showing and clean sheet in the Midlands on Saturday will have further boosted morale.
Expect Michael O'Neill to use a 5-3-2 setup once more, as he has done in his two league matches this season, when his Stoke side make the trip to the Swansea.com Stadium in midweek, with Leo Ostigard and ex-Swansea loanee Ben Wilmot flanking Harry Souttar at the heart of the defence. Wilmot isn't the only familiar face who'll travel to the south Wales this week, with Sam Clucas and Joe Allen set to feature in the middle of the park for O'Neill's side, with Sam Surridge an option in attack.
Allen and Clucas will be key, particularly as Stoke look to use the centre of the pitch to maximise their attacks. In their two league matches so far, 28% of their attacks have come through the middle of the pitch, with that the fourth highest such figure so far in 2021-22. So, stifling the former Swans midfielders could be of the utmost importance.
That brings us nicely onto the key battle in this clash in south Wales. Skipper Matt Grimes is set to operate in the middle of the Swansea midfield with Flynn Downes and Jamie Paterson in support. Grimes' defensive work allows the duo to push on and support the offensive and he'll need to be at his ball-winning best against Stoke in order to boost Swansea's chances of a second-successive league clean sheet and three points to boot.
Fortunately for Swansea, Grimes boasts statistically calculated WhoScored.com strengths of 'tackling' and 'ball interception', two traits that Martin will hope can allow the Swans to dominate proceedings in the middle of the park. What's more, of the six of Grimes' best-rated WhoScored.com performances, five have come in home games, and two of those five were last season in meetings with Rotherham (9.40) and Nottingham Forest (8.31).
Clearly, Grimes likes to make home advantage count and, with the fans now back at the Swansea.com Stadium, he'll be looking to continue that trend.
It may not be a baptism of fire for Allen as he remains a popular figure at his old stomping ground, but supporters can be sure that Grimes won't give the former-Swans fan favourite a welcome reception in south Wales.
Allen's pass success rate of 82.8% is the best of all Stoke players to feature in both league matches so far, and ensuring he does not have licence to run the game for the visitors is likely to be important for Swansea if they are to achieve a positive outcome.
For any team chasing success, being able to pick up a regular haul of points both home and away is key.
However, the Potters have struggled with this balance and their form on the road dented their chances of being firmly in the promotion hunt last term.
Indeed, of Stoke's 13 away league games in 2021, they have won just twice; of those to ply their trade in the Championship since the start of last season, no team has won fewer away games this calendar year.
Considering Swansea won this game last season, and three of the last five home meetings with Stoke, they'll be looking to prolong the Potters' away league woes if they can in midweek.