It was round seven of the EFL Championship last Saturday, and Bristol City welcomed Steve Cooper’s Swansea City to Ashton Gate. The Robins were looking to bounce back after their 1-0 loss to Middlesbrough last weekend, while the Swans hoped to secure their fourth win of the season. The first goal of the game came from the away side, courtesy of new signing Jamal Lowe in the second half. It looked to stay this way until Bristol City were awarded a penalty in the last ten minutes of the game. Nahki Wells stepped up and fired in his third goal of the season from the spot, ensuring a point for Dean Holden’s side. The tactical analysis below goes over the match.
Dean Holden made five changes within his Robins side using their 3-5-2 formation on Saturday. Goalkeeper Dan Bentley started his seventh game of the season between the sticks, with a slightly altered back three in front of him. Zak Vyner and Taylor Moore were joined by club captain Tomáš Kalas, along with Jay Dasilva and Steven Sessegnon, both starting their first league games of the season. Chris Brunt also picked up his first league appearance in a Bristol City shirt, joined in the midfield by familiars Andi Weimann and Jamie Paterson. A strike partnership of Chris Martin and Antoine Semenyo was selected upfront, with regular starter Nahki Wells on the bench.
Swansea lined up mirroring Bristol City’s 3-5-2 formation, making one change since their match against Coventry City. Freddie Woodman started in goal for Cooper’s side, behind an unchanged backline. Ben Cabango, Ryan Bennett and Marc Guehi formed the back three, with wing backs Jake Bidwell and Connor Roberts alongside them. Ex-Robins man Korey Smith started against his old side, with Jay Fulton and Matt Grimes also in midfield. André Ayew and Jamal Lowe were both selected in the forward line.
Bristol City in attack
When going forwards, the Robins often created triangles in wide areas of Swansea’s defensive third. Using their wing backs and midfielders, this allowed them to drag out defenders and create space in the box for players to exploit.
Above we see an example of this, with Paterson, Dasilva and Semenyo creating that passing triangle. The Swansea defenders come out to press them, leaving a large space around the penalty area which can now be taken advantage of.
Dasilva makes a run in an attempt to use the space created, but the ball from Semenyo is blocked by the Swansea defender. The move recycles in the same phase of play and the Robins continue to work the ball around the box. Eventually, they fashion a cross into the penalty area which is met by Weimann, but his shot goes wide of the goal.
In their attacks, wing backs Dasilva and Sessegnon would push up the pitch in support of the play ahead of them. This allowed them to put balls back in the box if ever cleared, constantly putting pressure on the Swansea defence. Brunt would sit in between the two and provide the same support, while also covering the central areas in case of a counter.
Bristol City in transition
As Swansea use the 3-5-2 formation, the majority of their play is through the centre of the park. This is because the ball has to go through their centre midfielders due to a lack of wingers in their side. This means when Bristol City lose the ball, their players press the midfield and give the Swansea players less time to make a decision.
Above, we see four Bristol City players press Swansea after losing possession in the middle of the park. Within the drawn circle, we see all three of the Swans midfielders outnumbered by their Bristol City counterparts along with Antoine Semenyo. In this phase of play, the ball is played out to Connor Roberts who is then forced into the midfield by Jay Dasilva. A pass is made back into the midfielders, and because of the bodies Bristol City have there, it can be intercepted and a counter-attack starts.
When pushing for an equalizer, the Robins substituted two extra strikers on and played with five going forwards. After getting the goal to make it 1-1, they continued with the same intensity and pushed on all four strikers when attacking. Above, we see the way Bristol City countered in an opportunity late in the second half. Famara Diédhiou has the ball in his own half, and we see Semenyo, Martin and Paterson race forwards at the top of the picture, joined by Nahki Wells at the bottom. Doing this creates more opportunities for them to score, as pushing on Paterson means he can find the strikers with his creative ability. Due to them being large in numbers, he has more options to choose from when making that clinical pass.
Bristol City in defence
Due to their formation, Bristol City were able to outnumber the Swansea attack whilst also picking up any runners.
Here we see how the Robins structured their defence when on the back foot. The defensive five would become a back four, to allow Jay Dasilva to track the man making a run. The centre backs would shift across to cover the gaps, and now the back three looks more like a back four most people are familiar with. This shape also allows Swansea’s strikers to both be marked, as well as the opposite wing back in the other channel. Chris Brunt sits deeper than his other midfielders and can pick up the extra man in midfield.
Swansea City in attack
When going forwards, the Swans would sometimes tell their strikers to move wide and drag out the centre back marking them. This would create gaps in the Bristol City defence which attacking wing backs could then drive into.
Here we see an example of André Ayew moving towards the touchline to drag out Zak Vyner. The Bristol City centre back follows him wide, and due to other responsibilities, Kalas cannot cover the space left behind. In regards to the advancing wing back, Steven Sessegnon is man-marking Jake Bidwell, which is why the defenders starting position is so high up the pitch. This grants the attacker even more space to run into. In the play above, Vyner clears Ayew’s pass out for a throw-in, but Swansea City have still been able to gain yards up the pitch.
Swansea City in transition
Through analysis, Swansea City found out how Bristol City use Chris Martin as an outlet when breeding counter attacks. Using this information, they were able to efficiently press the target man as soon as he was found with a pass.
Here we see an example of this happening, with four players surrounding the new signing for the Robins. In the build-up, Swansea lost possession to Bristol City in the 18-yard-box and the home side looked to start a counter. Right wing back Steven Sessegnon, brother of Tottenham‘s Ryan Sessengnon, plays out to Chris Martin, who comes deep to receive the ball. As soon as the striker takes a touch, he is swarmed by four Swansea players and is forced towards the touchline. Doing this ensures he cannot advance up the pitch with the ball, or make a pass out to teammates around him in support. In this instance, he loses possession, and André Ayew can take a shot on goal which results in a corner. These tactics were effective for Swansea, with Chris Martin only winning three of the 13 offensive duels he had throughout the match.
Bristol City occasionally told one of their centre backs to travel forwards with the ball when attacking, along with both wing backs pushing on to increase forward options. This left them vulnerable at the back when losing the ball, and was therefore exploited by Swansea City. When going from defence into attack, Swansea would leave pacey striker André Ayew forwards to be able to quickly start counters against the West Country side. Above we see how one effective pass was able to split open Bristol City’s defence, for the Ghanaian to latch on to and drive towards goal. In the situation pictured, Ayew reaches the penalty area and takes a shot, only for it to be blocked by ex-Chelsea centre back Tomáš Kalas.
Swansea City in defence
When organising their backline against Bristol City, the Swans would assemble a flat back five along with their three midfielders also getting behind the ball.
Here we can see the organisation amongst the Swansea City players, with eight outfielders within their defensive third. Bristol City often use overlapping centre backs when attacking, much like EPL side Sheffield United. Right wing back Connor Roberts tracks the advancing Taylor Moore, with Korey Smith pressing Jay Dasilva to try and prevent the cross. We see the other two centre midfielders, Fulton and Grimes, sit outside the box to prevent a possible cutback to Paterson and Weimann (out of the picture). This organisation was very effective for the Welsh side, as analysis of the stats show Bristol City did not have a single shot on target from outside the penalty area. In fact, their only goal came from the penalty spot.
To summarize, a 1-1 draw is probably a fair result considering both the match stats and two sides. Bristol City had the lion’s share of possession (65%) throughout the second half, but was not able to score from open play due to Swansea’s solid backline. This result ensured it wasn’t back to back defeats for Dean Holden’s side, who now travel away to Bournemouth on Wednesday night. In regards to Swansea, this was their second 1-1 draw in a row, and now host Stoke City at home in the week on Tuesday.