Barnsley will lock horns with Swansea City in the first leg of the EFL Championship playoff semi-final at the Oakwell Stadium on Monday night.

With the end of the 2020/21 campaign nigh, the EFL Championship playoffs for the final promotion spot to the Premier League for next season kick off on Monday night, with the first leg of the semi-final stages. The first of the two semi-final encounters takes place at the Vitality Stadium where Bournemouth play hosts to Brentford while the second one will go down at the Oakwell Stadium with Barnsley set to take on Swansea City.

Barnsley, after a rather troubling start to the season, turned it around following the change of managers in October 2020. When Valerien Ismael took over the reins, the Tykes were languishing in the 21st place. However, under the Frenchman, they have amassed 74 points in 34 games, going on a solid run that saw them lose just three of their last 20 fixtures in the Championship to finish in the fifth place and earn a spot in the playoffs.

However, Barnsely did fail to win both of their last two games, losing to Preston North End before being held to a 2-2 draw by champions Norwich City on the final day. Swansea City, meanwhile, spent most of the campaign challenging for the automatic promotion slots. But a patchy run of form late in the season – particularly a streak of four losses in late March – early April saw them drift off of the top two.

But Steve Cooper’s side managed to book a spot in the playoffs on the penultimate matchday with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Derby County, although they ended up losing to runners-up Watford last weekend, making it just one win in the final five games, depriving them of momentum heading into the semi-final.

Barnsley and Swansea have clashed twice this season during the league competition, with the Swans emerging out 2-0 winners over the Tykes on both occasions. Ahead of the crucial semi-final first leg, The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Barnsley

Barnsley manager Valerien Ismael has greeted some good news in the lead-up to the playoff semi-final as key midfielder Alex Mowatt has recovered from his injury and fit to feature on Monday. In addition, Herbie Kane is also back available for the Tykes but Ben Williams remains out on the sidelines.

Barnsley will line up in a 3-4-3 setup in front of goalkeeper Bradley Collins, with Mads Andersen, Michal Helik and Michael Sollbauer forming the three-man defensive unit in front of him, although Liam Ketching is also an option for Ismael to consider.

Callum Brittain and Callum Styles ought to be the two wing-backs on the right and left sides, respectively from where they will look to provide offensive support while also helping out the centre-backs in defensive phases.

The returning Mowatt should slot right back into the middle of the park from where he will look to push forward and add numbers in the final third. He is likely to be partnered by Romal Palmer, with Kane also an option. Off the ball, the duo will look to press the visitors aggressively to close down spaces and force quick turnovers.

Moving into the attacking unit, breakout star Daryl Dike, who has impressed since arriving in January, should come into the side after being a substitute last time out. The youngster ought to line up as the centre-forward with Cauley Woodrow, who is the Tykes’ leading goalscorer in the league, slotting in on the right and Conor Chaplin on the left. Carlton Morris could be used as an impact substitute from the bench.

Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Collins; Andersen, Helik, Sollbauer; Brittain, Palmer, Mowatt, Styles; Woodrow, Dike, Chaplin

Swansea City

Swansea City will be able to call upon the services of key players Andre Ayew and Ben Cabango. Young defender Brandon Cooper, however, misses out with an injury while Jordan Morris remains a long-term absentee for the Welsh outfit as they prepare to take on Barnsley.

Steve Cooper has shifted from a three-man defensive setup to a 4-3-3 formation in recent weeks and could yet again stick to a similar shape on Monday night against the Tykes. Freddie Woodman, who kept 20 clean sheets in the Championship this term, is a certain starter between the sticks for the Swans.

The return of Cabango makes thins interesting as far as the selection of the centre-backs is considered with Ryan Bennett and Marc Guehi also pushing for a starting berth. However, Cooper might opt to stick with the latter pair, with Cabango having played just twice in the last seven games for Swansea. Connor Roberts and Ryan Manning ought to line up as the full-backs, with the latter replacing Jake Bidwell on the left flank.

Moving into the middle of the park, captain Matt Grimes is a certain starter for the Welsh outfit as is Jay Fulton, with the duo likely to be key in withstanding the Barnsley press while on-loan midfielder Conor Hourihane will look to provide the forward thrust from the centre of the park.

There is no looking past the deadly duo of Andre Ayew and Jamal Lowe, who between them have scored 29 goals in the Championship this term, out on the flanks. With Liam Cullen impressing towards the back end of the season, he should get the nod as the striker for the visitors at Oakwell on Monday.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Woodman; Roberts, Bennett, Guehi, Manning; Hourihane, Grimes, Fulton; Ayew, Cullen, Lowe

Key Stats

  • During the 2020-21 Championship season, Swansea City were the only side to complete a league double over Barnsley, winning 2-0 both home and away against the Tykes.
  • From Valerien Ismael’s first match in charge of Barnsley on October 27th last year, only Norwich City (25) won more Championship matches than the Tykes have under the Frenchman (23).
  • This is Swansea City’s eighth different Football League playoff campaign, with only five teams participating in more (including 2020-21 entries). They were knocked out in last season’s Championship playoffs by Brentford at the semi-final stage, last going up via the playoffs in 2010-11 under Brendan Rodgers in the Championship.
  • Barnsley have been successful in two of their three previous Football League play-off campaigns, winning promotion from League One in 2005-06 and 2015-16. Their one failure came at this level in 1999-00 under Dave Bassett, losing 4-2 to Ipswich Town in the final after overcoming Birmingham City in the semi-final.
  • Only Norwich’s Emiliano Buendía (123) and Millwall’s Jed Wallace (85) created more chances in the Championship this season than Swansea’s Connor Roberts (84), with the Welshman also assisting seven goals, one of which was against Barnsley in a 2-0 win at Oakwell in January.

Player to Watch

Daryl Dike

Arriving on a loan deal from MLS outfit Orlando City midway through the season, Daryl Dike has been a game-changing signing for Barnsley. The 20-year-old has managed to find the back of the net on nine occasions in 19 outings in the Championship, playing a crucial role in the Tykes’ push for the playoffs.

Indeed, since making his debut in February, only two Championship players – Norwich’s Teemu Pukki (13) and Blackburn’s Adam Armstrong (10) – have scored more goals in the division than Dike (9), with the USMNT ace netting with 28% of his 32 shots at goal, which is the highest ratio of any player with at least 25 shots in the Championship in that time.

This sort of impact has already seen him register on the radars of several Premier League clubs including Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham. While a move to one of the big clubs might not materialise, Dike could still end up playing top-flight football next season if he is able to fire Barnsely to promotion, with the Tykes having the option of making his transfer permanent. A big game for the 20-year-old.

Prediction

Barnsley 1-0 Swansea City

Barnsley have been the surprise package of the season in the Championship, managing to book a playoff berth after an iffy start to the campaign. So, the confidence will be high within the camp despite the team not winning their last two games.

On the other hand, Swansea have struggled to put together a good run of results of late, winning just one in their last five and losing their latest fixture against Watford. But they will take confidence from the fact that they are the only team to do the double over Barnsley in the Championship this term.

Given what’s at stake, both teams are likely to play it safe and not take risks, with the second leg also to be played. However, given the way Barnsley have performed of late and with the Swans on a bit of a decline, The Hard Tackle is predicting a narrow win for the Tykes, who will also be buoyed by the 4,000-odd fans in the stadium.

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