Barnsley vs Swansea | Monday 17th May 2021, 18:00 | Sky Sports
Whilst the other play-off semi-final features two teams largely expected to be challenging for promotion this season, part two of the first legs features two outfits where such expectations weren’t necessarily so high.
That statement certainly falls at the feet of Barnsley, who finished 21st last season, whilst it is no secret that Swansea don’t possess the kind of budget some of the bigger clubs at this level have at their disposal.
Whilst Barnsley did not necessarily have promotion aspirations in pre-season, then-boss Gerhard Struber did say he wanted to build a team that could compete, and at the very least wouldn’t contest relegation. They needed something of a great escape last season to avoid dropping into League One, and Wigan’s point’s deduction aided them in that regard, too.
However, last October, Struber felt the MLS was too good to resist, and the Tykes recruited Valérien Ismaël a few weeks afterwards; another appointment from the Austrian league, just like Struber.
He hasn’t really looked back since, and achieving a near 60% winning percentage is ultimately why Barnsley are competing in their first play-off campaign since 2015/16 and looking for a Premier League return, of which the club last appeared in during the 1997/18 campaign. They’ve been in relatively inconsistent form over the last couple of months, with four wins, two draws and three defeats in their last nine, but the bigger picture shows they are in pretty decent nick and will prove tough to beat.
Swansea don’t have too much of a different squad from last season, when they too reached the play-offs. They will always have a chance with someone such as Andre Ayew in their ranks, but he has been battling injuries in recent times and the Swans will be hoping he is raring to go here, which he should be.
They suffered four defeats in a row as recently as March/April, so a run of three wins in 11 doesn’t scream that they’re entering the play-offs in very high spirits. However, Steve Cooper feels as though it was a great achievement getting to the play-offs again given their limited expenditure, so maybe that’s his way of reducing the pressure on them.
No matter what, there is less pressure and expectancy on Barnsley here, and understandably so. That being said, they won’t be here just to make up the numbers. They are an ambitious group, and there is no guarantee they’d be back in the play-offs next season if they fell short this time, so maybe it is a bit of a now or never kind of mentality for them, which brings its own kind of pressure.
In the regular season, Swansea did complete the double over Barnsley; winning 2-0 each time. However, those of you who read my Bournemouth v Brentford first leg preview will know I don’t necessarily means Swansea are nailed on to win here, as Brentford also did the double over Bournemouth in the season.
If you’re into percentages, what would be the rate of probability of a team beating the same opponent three times in the same season? Especially if the levels of quality between the two are very similar, as is the case with all four play-off teams. I’m not so big into form going into the play-offs, but each to their own.
I do feel a little more strongly about this game than the other play-off tie, and I anticipate this clash at Oakwell being more of a spectacle in terms of being an entertaining watch. I just don’t see this one being too nervy or anything, even if both are playing down the pressure upon them. If that is the case, then maybe both should enjoy the occasion and approach it with freedom and let the shackles off.
I don’t normally like tipping the draw, but I’ll throw it forward as a suggestion here at a price of 16/7 (VBet). There are some similarities between the two teams which leads me to think they could cancel one another out over 90 minutes.
For all a lot is mentioned about Barnsley’s direct approach and Swansea’s neat and tidy passing game, both possess a long-throw weapon which could be handy in the big moments. Whilst is could end all-square, I do think the price of 11/10 (GentingBet) on both teams scoring is too way to resist. I just picture this being a real end-to-end game, as most normally are involving Barnsley.
Finally, I touched upon the long-throw element and Barnsley are especially effective via routes such as this. Only Cardiff have scored more goals on set pieces, and centre backs Michal Helik and Mads Andersen will both be the obvious targets on every dead ball situation.
Helik is their fifth-highest scorer, whilst Andersen has just the one goal, so I like the prospects of the Polish international to score anytime at a price of 12/1 (Bet365). It is shorter at other betting firms, so that price has to be taken advantage of.
Barnsley vs Swansea – Draw (16/7 VBet)
Barnsley vs Swansea – Both Teams To Score (11/10 GentingBet)
Barnsley vs Swansea – Michal Helik Anytime Goalscorer (12/1 Bet365)