It's that time of year again. The egg-shaped balls are removed from their storage cupboard, the H-shaped goals are erected and the rhino-shaped players take to the field. It is, of course, Six Nations time. Some would argue the Wales vs. England game is the most important derby in this year's sporting calendar. Wrong.
November doesn't seem that long ago, when I was typing up a blog for the first Swansea vs. Cardiff game this season. Back then, nobody really knew what to expect. The Swans were doing well in the table, but were still unable to find a striker to score goals. Some Jacks were quietly confident of a Swansea win; some were loudly confident. It seems that the confidence paid off with Swansea taking home all three points. So is anyone confident with the Swans' chances of doing the double for the first time ever?
I guess we have to first ask what has changed since that match last year. If nothing has changed then, yes, Swansea will certainly do the double. But it seems things have changed slightly.
When the teams last met, the Swans sat just below Cardiff in the league table. Now, though, they are two places above their rivals and, with the home advantage, they'll go into the match as favourites. Is this a good thing? Being favourites is a mixed blessing. For confidence boosting it is a great title to have, but we've seen Swansea buckle under pressure already this season and there seems to be a little more riding on it this time around. It's the derby with their biggest rivals, there is less than half the season to go and a win is, again, vital. It also takes place in front of a loyal home crowd who will settle for nothing less than a win. Plus they have the chance to make history by doing the double! The expectation will be a heavy test of their coping abilities, but it is something they have to overcome if they stand any chance in the Premier League next season.
Naturally there is so much hype around this fixture, and rightly so, but if we strip this game down to a skeleton of itself, we see the Swans in third position in the table, with fourth and fifth place (Forest and Cardiff) having one or two games in hand. A win could see Swansea back into second, but a loss could take them down to fifth. The team, I'm sure, will all know how much this derby means emotionally, but they also need to remember it is just a game and a game they must win for points to propel them forward as the closing stages of the season approach. The wins are important. I can guarantee you that Cardiff fans won't care that Swansea beat them in November 2010 if they are in the Premier League next season while Swansea remain in the Championship.
So, pressure aside, what else has changed? Well, the squad has developed slightly, but for the better? The Swans have new signings such as Leon Britton and David Edgar to add a little solidity and familiarity, but they have lost Marvin Emnes, the one striker that could actually score! Replacing Emnes is Luke Moore, who is still goalless for the Swans. I know many fans are saying it'll be great for him to get his debut goal against Cardiff, but I can't see it happening. Currently it looks like a Swansea striker will never score again! Goals are coming, but only from midfielders like Pratley and Sinclair. Is this a bad thing? “As long as the goal go in” you may argue. But aren't we missing a trick here? Swansea have a problem if their striker isn't getting goals. He's basically not touching the ball all game, which could be seen as Swansea playing with a man less! Somehow something must change to supply the main striker, be it Moore or Beattie, with more goal-scoring opportunities. It's almost as if Swansea should play a 4-6-0 formation, with no striker, but all midfield players looking for goals.
Despite what I say about strategy, now is not the time to play around with mixing things up. It's best to stick with the tried and tested (4-5-1) for this match, then, if needs be, change things around afterwards. The most likely goals will come from a cross by Dyer or Sinclair, probably netted by Pratley. If I was a betting man (what am I saying? I AM a betting man!), I would put a few pounds on Swansea to win 1-0 with Pratley scoring the goal. At the moment that is a massive 45/1 (PaddyPower) and probably well worth at least a pound!
Cardiff won't be allowing this to happen easily though. They are hungry for this win. More so than Swansea I fear. They were embarrassed on their own turf back in November and now, sitting below the Swans, have less to lose. The problem Swansea face is that Cardiff have a great attack in Jay Bothroyd, Craig Bellamy, John Parkin and, of course, Michael “Dirty Bastard” Chopra. I'm almost jealous of the depth in attack Cardiff possess. Not to worry though: it's about the whole team on the day and if Swansea play like they did in November - keeping the ball and frustrating Cardiff - it's likely that the great attack will be quelled.
Defending will be trickier without Gary Monk, but the back four of Tate, Williams, Rangel and, probably, Edgar should be enough to stop most of the Cardiff attacking moves. If Cardiff are going to score it may come from a set piece like a corner, an area where the Swans have struggled in the past to defend. Stop corners going in and Swansea are probably the most solid defenders in the Championship! Oh, and let's not have any own goals either!
My team to face Cardiff: De Vries, Edgar, Tate, Williams, Rangel; Pratley, Allen, Dobbie, Sinclair, Dyer; Beattie. (Dobbie playing central attacking midfield role).
I am pretty positive that Swansea will go on to win this derby match in front of the home crowd. On the day, if they can supress nerves and emotions and deal with the immense pressure, Swansea are a better team than Cardiff. With both teams on the verge of getting into the Premier League, this could well be the most exciting derby match in history!
Let's do the double! Forza Swansea!