Swansea City have to step up the pace
Swansea City 0, Everton 3.
THERE was a nod of respect to Everton, but the shake of the head about his own team was more pronounced.
Michael Laudrup reckoned Swansea City were the authors of their own downfall against David Moyes's side.
And, he suggested, if the script is similar at Stoke City next weekend, Swansea can brace themselves for a third successive Premier League defeat.
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"It was no surprise to me the way Everton played," said the Swansea manager, "but it was a surprise to me the way we played in the first 30 minutes. Nobody expected that."
In truth Everton were the better side for large swathes of their latest success over Swansea, but Laudrup felt the opening stages had set the tone.
The Dane had watched the DVD of Everton's previous trip to South Wales, when they produced the away performance of the season at the Liberty back in March.
Laudrup had a plan, a method he felt would allow Swansea to cope with Everton's high-energy, high-pressing game. That plan did not work — or at least his team failed to carry it out successfully.
One tactic, as Laudrup had revealed in the build-up, was to ensure needless set-pieces were not given away against one of the most menacing dead-ball teams in the division.
Yet Swansea contrived to provide Everton with five attacking free-kicks in the first seven minutes, and there was an alarming total of 22 home fouls in the game.
"We have never given away so many free-kicks in the first ten minutes," Laudrup groaned.
"Every free-kick is a potential goal chance for a team like Everton with players like (Marouane) Fellaini.
"Stoke will be exactly the same next weekend. If we give them those free-kicks, against Peter Crouch and Co, we will be 1-0 or 2-0 down in the first ten minutes."
Why so many set-pieces? The bottom line was that Swansea kept presenting Everton with the ball.
Laudrup's team have the ability to boss possession, to hide it from the opponent — even one as impressive as Everton — and therefore make it hard for them to influence a game.
But Swansea were far too loose in the early stages this weekend and, as a result, were made to look a little weak by the men from Merseyside.
The key, argued Laudrup, was the tempo.
"We played too slow," he said, "and that made it easy for Everton to get the ball back from us.
"We are not strong physically compared to nearly every team we play against, so we have to play fast.
"We have a way of playing and, when we do it fast, we are a very good side.
"When we don't do it, when there are too many touches or we run too much with the ball, there is more fighting for the ball.
"And when you are not as strong, like we are, you will lose those fights."
And more often than not, lose matches. Swansea go to the Britannia Stadium next Saturday knowing that if the game turns into an arm wrestle, they do not stand a chance.
And it is not just against the Potters, perhaps the side most renowned for physical power in the top flight, that Swansea will suffer.
Queens Park Rangers, West Ham, Aston Villa — the list of teams with more muscle than Swansea stretches up and down the league table.
So Swansea must rely on their style, on their ability to spray the ball around and, as a result, leave less technically adept opponents chasing leather.
Only occasionally against an Everton outfit with plenty of talent to go with their strength did Swansea produce the crisp, sharp passing which has brought them so much success in recent years.
Hence they finished up on the end of a 3-0 beating, their worst home defeat since Middlesbrough trampled over Paulo Sousa's Swansea team three years ago.
"We need to learn from the first 30 minutes," Laudrup added. "We know we are a team who will create quite a lot of chances.
"Even here, without playing very well, we created five or six good chances.
"If it is 0-0 and you take one of those chances you can win the game, but when you go 2-0 down it is very difficult."
Was Swansea's failure to play down to Everton's ability to stop them?
"We should always be able to play fast," insisted Laudrup. "We have shown that already, because some of the other teams have pressed us."
But still, the Barcelona great suggests, Swansea need an alternative approach.
"What shall we do if we don't play fast? There will be other games where for some reason we don't move the ball around fast enough. Do we have to play a little more direct then? What should we do?
There are moments where you cannot play it around even though that is what we want to do, and then we have to be a little more direct."
The problem then, of course, is that Swansea do not necessarily have the players to play a more traditional British style.
If this is to be another successful year in SA1, Swansea will surely have to stick with the philosophy which earned them a place among the elite and then kept them there last season.
Their cause this weekend was not helped by the fitness issues — plus the suspension of Chico Flores — which had left Laudrup's hands tied to some extent.
Leon Britton was left out of the starting side, Laudrup explained, because he had been unwell last week while Jonathan de Guzman missed training with an ankle problem.
"I had to plan for the whole game," he said. "There was a chance neither Leon nor Jonathan could play 90 minutes, so I wanted to start Ki Sung-Yueng with one of them.
"Ashley (Williams) played after an injection while Danny (Graham) had a problem as well, so I had to consider all these things when I picked the starting XI."
Britton's absence was one surprise, the other was the decision to omit Nathan Dyer in favour of Pablo Hernandez.
"I wanted to start with Pablo because defensively I wanted him on that side against (Leighton) Baines and (Steven) Pienaar," Laudrup added.
In truth Hernandez did not have a huge impact before he was added to the injury list, the winger leaving the field at half-time with a knee complaint.
Dyer looked keen to make an impression after arriving as the Spaniard's replacement, but he was back in the dressing room before the hour mark after two bookings in three minutes.
First Dyer was carded for dissent, then for a clumsy challenge on Baines.
"I thought Nathan was unlucky because he tried to kick the ball and missed it," Laudrup suggested.
Whether the dismissal was right or wrong, any realistic hopes of a Swansea revival went with him down the tunnel.
In truth, the hosts may well have come up short even with 11 men on the field.
On a miserable day at the office, Michel Vorm was their best player despite being beaten three times.
The opener came from one of the many Everton free-kicks, Fellaini beating Williams to Baines's delivery and teeing up Victor Anichebe to net from close range.
Replays revealed that Fellaini handled but Laudrup refused to grumble about the decision, pointing out instead that Everton were bound to score at some point during Swansea's poor opening spell.
Vorm had already saved from Anichebe and Kevin Mirallas, while Williams was fortunate not see red in the 11th minute for felling Anichebe when he looked like the last man.
Swansea stirred before the interval, Hernandez seeing a lob cleared out from under the bar by Phil Jagielka before Michu headed over and Ki sent a 25-yard curler just past the post.
But Everton scored a classic counter-attack goal just before the break, Mirallas netting at the second attempt after Vorm had pushed his first effort on to the bar. Swansea might have snatched a lifeline in first-half stoppage time, but Angel Rangel saw one effort well saved and pulled another across the face.
And there was more good work from Laudrup's team after the restart, Michu and Ki both forcing very good stops from Tim Howard.
Vorm was still busy, pushing away Anichebe's drive after Mirallas had hit the bar, and once Dyer walked it was almost all Everton.
Anichebe and Fellaini both missed golden chances, then the latter's header was cleared off the line by Britton, who had arrived from the bench.
Swansea's misery was complete when another needless free-kick was taken by Baines and headed in by Fellaini via Williams.
The Everton woodwork rattled right at the end thanks to de Guzman's curling free-kick, but a goal then would have been scant consolation.
After that spectacular start, Laudrup is having to handle his first dip in results as Swansea's leader.
Tomorrow's cup trip to Crawley offers a chance to taste the winning feeling — although resources are stretched — before the trip to Stoke, which looks a little daunting after the events of this weekend.
"The most important thing we have to find out after this is why it took us 30 minutes to come into the game," Laudrup stressed.
Should Swansea serve up a repeat performance in the Potteries, Laudrup's head will be shaking again.
A considerable improvement is required if his smile is to return.