Swansea City face Rotherham United today, looking to build on a fantastic week for Welsh football but an unusual and unwanted record stands in their way.
The Swans’ record after international breaks is awful and even though fans have complained about it for years, it’s worth noting just how shocking it really is.
Paul Clement was the last Swansea manager to win a match immediately after an international break. That was all the way back in 2017 when a Tammy Abraham brace was enough to see off Huddersfield Town.
Since then the Swans have lost eight and drawn two of these games.
The last manager to achieve this feat before Clement was Garry Monk and that was back in 2015.
Since Michael Laudrup’s departure in 2014, the Swans have won just two games immediately following international breaks.
Not all of these results were unexpected. Some of their most recent defeats in these fixtures included a trip to Old Trafford and a game against eventual 2019 Championship winners Norwich. These were both games the Swans were expected to lose despite being in decent form heading into these matches.
However there have been many more winnable games on this list and while not all of these performances were poor, it was often the case that Swansea were not at their usual level of sharpness after two weeks away.
It’s an astonishing run of results and it’s difficult to explain why the Swans, seemingly more than any other club, make such sluggish returns from international breaks.
One possible reason is that Swansea have more international players than most clubs.
It’s true that Swansea tend to lose more players during these breaks than the average Championship side.
During the latest break there were six players from Swansea’s first team squad who travelled to represent their countries either as senior or under-21 level. Only Watford, Norwich and Derby saw more players called up for their national sides.
Considering this weekend’s opponents Rotherham did not lose a single member of their senior squad to call-ups, this must surely play its part.
Whereas the Millers could use this fortnight to rest and recoup, several of Swansea’s key players were busy travelling and playing in high-pressure fixtures.
However the Swans are not the only club to lose large chunks of their squad during these breaks. During the last international break a third of the Championship saw four or more players called up. Of these eight clubs, only Swansea and struggling Derby lost their next matches.
Back when Swansea were in the Premier League this was a less valid excuse because they tended to have a similar number of call-ups to other clubs around them in the table, so why was their record so poor even then?
Swansea always had a handful of players who would travel particularly long distances to represent their countries.
Jefferson Montero would have to fly many hours across the Atlantic to play in Ecuador’s qualifiers while Ki Sung-Yeung would head east to represent South Korea.
The likes of Wilfried Bony and the Ayew brothers would also clock up plenty of air miles traversing Africa.
But the extreme distances travelled by one or two squad members cannot possibly explain why Swansea have won just two of the last 26 matches immediately following international breaks.
Other clubs have to deal with similar issues and they tend to falter far less often than Swansea in these situations.
There are factors which make these games trickier for Swansea but it’s still a bizarre run of results and one which has gone on for far too long.
Unfortunately the difficulties posed by international breaks have multiplied for clubs like Swansea this season.
The condensed nature of this year’s domestic calendar means managing player fitness is more complicated than ever. This juggling act is made more difficult by the fact international breaks are busier than usual.
The bizarre insistence on cramming in a friendly alongside two competitive matches needlessly puts even more pressure on the bodies of players who are already being worked to their limits by the frantic club schedule. I love international football but playing three matches in little more than a week during a global pandemic, in what is already a packed calendar, is madness.
We only need to look at Swansea’s injury list to see how international football can add to a club manager’s woes. Two of Swansea’s best players, Andre Ayew and Marc Guehi both returned early this week after picking up knocks for their respective countries. Both are doubts for today’s match.
Dealing with mass international call-ups can’t be easy for any Championship manager. Some of these stars will have only returned to their clubs on Thursday or even Friday, seriously limiting the amount of time they have to prepare for the next league fixture.
It has surely played its part in Swansea’s difficulties over recent years when returning to league action, particularly since dropping into the Championship where fewer rivals have to deal with these issues.
Today’s task has certainly been complicated by the international break. Overcoming a Rotherham side which has had two weeks to prepare without losing any of its players will be tough for Swansea, who have not had the same luxury.
In normal circumstances the in-form Swans would be expected to beat a team 13 places below them in the table but the past fortnight has probably evened the scales somewhat.
Swansea fans will be hoping that following a positive run of performances and results, Cooper’s men can overcome this handicap, secure a third consecutive home win end this woeful post-international record.