Talking Tactics | Swansea City v Watford

30th December 2022
First team
Reading away Ryan Manning

The games are coming thick and fast over the festive period, which means Swansea have the perfect chance to quickly bounce back from their 2-1 loss at Reading with the welcome of Watford on Friday night.

Here, preview this league clash, looking at what to expect from the Hornets, the key battle and a key stat.

What to expect from Watford

West Brom Slaven Bilic

Given the quality of personnel, many would have expected Watford to be challenging for the Championship title this season.

Yet the Hornets are, at the time of writing, 13 points off top spot, and come into Friday's meeting with Swansea on a run of one win in their last four.

A change in manager has seen Slaven Bilic rack up seven games from 14 games in charge at Vicarage Road.

While predecessor Rob Edwards favoured a three-man backline, Bilic has been loyal to a four-man defence, and notably a 4-2-3-1 setup. This allows wingers Ken Sema and Ismaila Sarr the chance to stretch opponents, and as such, it's no surprise that the former ranks first for assists (6) and the latter second for goals scored (6) of all Watford players in the Championship this season.

However, Bilic has a lengthy absentee list to contend with ahead of Watford's trip to Swansea, and that will impact their chances of securing all the spoils at the Stadium. Indeed, top-rated player Joao Pedro (7.40) is sidelined due to injury, while starting left-back Hassane Kamara is suspended owing to his red card in the Boxing Day home defeat to Millwall.

This makes Watford's challenge all the more difficult. The Swans earned a hard-fought 2-1 win at Vicarage Road in the reverse fixture, leaving it late to secure all the spoils when these two last met, and a repeat would certainly be welcomed on Friday night.

Nevertheless, even with a number of players ruled out, Watford are still incredibly difficult to break down. Only Sheffield United (21) have conceded fewer goals than the Hornets (24) in the Championship this season, and that defensive resolve means they remain firmly in the hunt for promotion, even if they may have to settle for a play-off finish come May.

Offensively, they rely heavily on their tricky attackers to create moments of magic to hurt opponents, and this has seen Watford develop a statistically-calculated strength of 'creating chances through individual skill'. It's no surprise that Watford rank top for dribbles per game (8.6) in the Championship,and 16th for key passes per game (8.1), suggesting that Swansea will need to come out on top in the key individual contests if they are to end their winless run.

Key battle

Ryan Manning takes on Norwich's Max Aarons

Ryan Manning was key for Swansea when these two last met. The 26-year-old provided the assist for Ben Cabango's late winner, which saw the Irishman earn the man-of-the-match award with a rating of 7.63.

The left wing-back is an effective performer in the final third, as noted by an average of 2.1 key passes per game, that ranking sixth in the Championship and reinforcing a statistically calculated strength of 'key passes'.

However, given Watford's penchant for relying on individual skill to create chances, Manning will also need to be at his best defensively to aid Swansea's push for all the spoils.

Sema may not be get the headlines that Joao Pedro or Ismaila Sarr, do yet he stills ranks top for key passes per game (1.9) of all Watford players. Fortunately for Swansea, Manning has proven tough to beat, so this could be a key clash in SA1.

Key stat

Craig Cathcart

As mentioned, Watford have one of the best defensive records in the Championship, yet while that may indicate Vicarage Road is a fortress, the Hornets have actually proven incredibly resolute on their travels, too.

Only Sheffield United (9) and Preston (10) have conceded fewer away goals than Watford (12) in the Championship this season, so while Swansea will look to home comforts as a means of getting back to winning ways, Slaven Bilic's side travel with few fears given their excellent form at the back.