Play-Off chasers Millwall and Swansea meet on Tuesday night EFL connoisseur Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) previews the Bermondsey showdown.
Millwall vs Swansea | Tuesday 30th June 2020, 17:00 | Sky Sports
With Cardiff hitting form, Millwall and Swansea will both see victory at the Den on Tuesday night as being essential to keeping the play-off places within touching distance.
Swansea, 10th, could have stayed a point off sixth on Saturday but their 1-0 home loss to Luton puts them four points off the pace, while their hosts are one point behind in 11th.
Neither side has the power to directly derail the current incumbents of the final Play-Off spot in the subsequent six fixtures, so it seems reasonable to suggest that if either loses this match, that team will be playing in the Championship again next season.
Millwall’s backward step
Millwall are a tough nut to crack.
Since Gary Rowett took charge, the Londoners have taken a respectable 41 points from 27 games and lost just six times – only West Brom have been defeated on fewer occasions in that timeframe.
They have conceded just 26 goals, with no side outside the top three shipping fewer.
That defensive resilience was in evidence in last week’s 0-0 draw at Barnsley, but they might have been hoping for more than the solitary point with which they returned from Yorkshire.
The Lions benefited from a decent goalkeeping display from Bartosz Bialkowski, who has made the third-most saves in the Championship with 117.
They had pace on the left, too, in Mason Bennett, who returned to the line-up; despite his recent struggles at Derby, Bennett has given the Londoners a different dimension.
They mustered, however, just one 95th-minute shot on target against the division’s second-bottom side, struggling for a coherent route to goal.
Rowett’s side played long balls to 5’10” Tom Bradshaw for much of the game yet ironically, when a natural target man in Matt Smith came on, they played more on the deck.
This was not a bad performance as such, but not one strong enough for a side aspiring a Play-Off finish.
Swansea also dropped points against bottom three opposition on Saturday.
Steve Cooper’s side lost 1-0 at home to Luton, unable to convert 63% possession into goals.
As we saw in the 3-0 win at Middlesbrough the week before, the Swans have a potentially exciting attacking quartet: the pace of Aldo Kalulu, the sharpness of Rhian Brewster and the flair of Andre Ayew compliments the vision of Connor Gallagher.
The problem they have, though, is not possessing full-backs strong enough to create space for the awesome foursome.
That did not matter at Boro, because they could pounce on opposition mistakes and positional errors that allowed them to bring Kalulu, Brewster, Ayew and Gallagher into play quickly in transition.
Against better disciplined outfits, there is greater onus on the full-backs to pose an alternative attacking threat. Unfortunately for Cooper’s side, right-back Connor Roberts has regressed this season and Jake Bidwell has always been little more than a steady and professional left-back.
Cooper has taken some criticism for the lack of fluency in Swansea’s play and his inexperience outside the youth scene concerns some natives. Granted, Cooper might not be quite as influential a coach as Graham Potter, but he does have more clout in the transfer market.
The rookie’s work as England Under-17s World Cup winning manager means he has good contacts with young players at Premier League clubs. Without Cooper, the Swans would not have pulled off loan deals for the likes of Ben Wilmot, Gallagher or Brewster, who have been their best players.
With a small budget to overcome the summer losses of Daniel James and Oli McBurnie, Swansea’s work in the loan market – which has allowed them to get top level talent at minimal cost – is a big part of why they are among the Play-Off contenders and not languishing deep in the bottom half.
The tactics board
We could see Rowett revert to the 4-2-3-1 that he has been wedded to previously in his career, with midfielder Woods, attacking midfielder Ben Thompson and target man Smith coming in for Shaun Williams, Shane Ferguson and Tom Bradshaw respectively.
Smith would give the Lions an aerial and goalscoring presence which, as we saw in the 3-0 win at Nottingham Forest, can be a game-changer. The 31-year-old’s inclusion would necessitate midfielders who can support the press, thus rendering the fit again Thompson, who enjoyed a bright cameo at Barnsley, a key returnee.
Millwall, we can expect, will be compact in the press and while Swansea will hope to quickly release Kalulu in behind Murray Wallace, or get Brewster to elude Hutchinson and Cooper, but it’s just a question of them doing enough good work in the middle third to get those attacking players involved.
The aforementioned full-back issues could make it hard for them to slip Gallagher in between the lines, especially with Thompson, Woods and Molumby potentially affecting play off the ball with their energy and tenacity.
If Smith does start, is that the hosts will have an aerial advantage: Millwall have won 31.1 headed duels per game this season, which is the second most in the division, whereas Swansea’s 19.8 is the joint-sixth fewest, so dealing with tussles of that nature will be vital for the visitors.
The betting angle
Bearing the above in mind, Jake Cooper has had 29 efforts at goal this season, which is the most out of all the centre-backs in the Championship – he could be worth a look at 18/1 with William Hill to score anytime.
Our best bet though is on Smith: the former QPR front-man is 12/5 with Betfair to score anytime and we reckon he’ll provide punishment in the capital.
Millwall vs Swansea – Matt Smith to score anytime (12/5 Betfair)