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Why have Swindon been slow with their build-up play this season?

Swindon Town have had problems this season against team who look to press and have been easily disrupted in build-up. Total Sport’s Joe Acklam looks at Swindon’s difficulties in possession.

In consecutive games, against Stockport County in the FA Cup and then again versus Tranmere Rovers last weekend, the opposition have been able to interrupt Town’s ball progression, but it stems from an issue that has been present in Swindon’s play since last season.

Scott Lindsey said following the Stockport game: “I think that it was very difficult and Stockport played a big part in it, they locked in against us and didn’t show us many space to try and play through.

“Having said that, I do feel that we got certain things wrong, which we have spoken about, and once we get certain things wrong it is very hard to play our way.

“We didn’t rotate well enough, we never played through or around their press. We kept making the wrong choice.

“When they come after you like that you have to play round, through, or over their press and we never got that right.”

When Swindon build out from the back they look to commit their full-backs/ wing-backs forward early and their advanced midfielders stay high towards the oppositions’ defensive line, looking to occupy and pin back their midfield.

Regardless of the formation being a back three or a back four, Swindon will leave four players deep to build the play, and this often leaves a cavernous space between the two groups which too frequently is not breached by movement between the lines.

In this screenshot from the Tranmere match, only Gladwin is visible on camera, but the forward players are all 30-40 yards ahead of where the play is on the edge of their own penalty area, inside the Tranmere half and this leaves them essentially out of the game.

The difference when it is a back three is that the third centre-back is replaced by one of the midfielders, but the gap between front and back persists.

In this screenshot from the Colchester match, Swindon have the ball on the halfway line, but it is almost impossible from them to get the ball to their front players as there are several defenders between them and the ball.

Tranmere started very quickly at the County Ground and faded as the game went on, but they almost completely nullified Swindon in the first 20 minutes of the game.

They did this by committing their wingers and two strikers in their 442 forward to create a four man block to reduce the space in the centre of the pitch and funnel Swindon out wide, where their full-backs have vacated the space to create width higher up.

This stops Swindon, if effectively pressed, from being able to play through a press to the forward players as those passes can be cut off and this means the rely upon someone being able to play a difficult pass or dribble through that press, which brings risk and well drilled oppositions have been able to exploit this.

Against Tranmere, their press in the first 20 minutes was effective to the point that Town were forced to attempt a number of long balls that were almost all unsuccessful, completing 40 out of 80 long balls in the game according to Sofascore.

This is not a new issue for Swindon, as it was something that could also be seen in last season’s team that could make them seem slow and passive in possession at times.

Lindsey has liked Saidou Khan this season as his signature spin and drives through midfield have helped Swindon breach this gap, but Tranmere were prepared for this and he conceded several chances by not doing this at the right times and being tackled.

Frazer Blake-Tracy also helped with this as the game went on with his choreographed moves with Ellis Iandolo, but getting players to run forward does leave space behind them and the defence exposed if they lose possession, and we have seen that Swindon have had struggles in transition.

Lindsey said about the way Town look to play out: “I think by bringing everybody towards the ball it just brings another press with you, we try and keep players away so that we bring the ball to them rather than them come to the ball.

“Possession-based teams often think ‘I am going to go to the ball, because I can get on the ball’, but in actual fact it is one of the worst things you can do, because you bring more pressure with you.”

There is merit in this explanation as you do not want to invite pressure on, but when teams look to match Swindon up man for man then they have frequently had problems progressing up the pitch and so the play does not reach those forward players.

In order to help with Swindon being stalled in build-up and forced into playing longer balls, they need more help where the midfielders and wing-backs play higher but look to drop off periodically to provide another passing option, which doesn’t happen enough at present.

This would solve the issue of inviting an opposition onto Swindon and either cause them to commit players high up the pitch and leave more Swindon space to play into higher up the field, or give easier passing options to bypass the press and get the ball forward quicker.

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