Friday 31 August 2012

Swansea City round-up at the end of silly season!

As we head towards the closing of the transfer window, most of us will be religiously checking Twitter, NewsNow and Sky Sports simultaneously, even though the rumour-mill is in overdrive and 80% of what we read will turn out to be nothing of any truth!

Example of the general bollocks we have to put up with!

I don't think there will be much more action for Swansea City in the next few hours. In reality, we've already been spoilt quite a bit this summer and anything we get now will surely be surplus.

So, overlooking the rumours, lets look at the confirmed (or 'most probable') comings and goings of South Wales' favourite football team!

Going, going... still going... probably going... GONE.

The first big mention goes to one of the most significant names Swansea have moulded over the past two seasons: Scott Sinclair. That first season was a dream for him and fans alike, punctuated by the hat-trick in the play-off final. However, since that mental day in London, Sinclair never looked happy at the club.

His departure to Man City is actually fine for Swansea - £8million (or £6.2million plus add-ons) for the winger is, yet again, superb business from Huw Jenkins. But I can't help feel that for Sinclair it's a stupid move. A youngster who spent most of his early career moving from one club to another, until he found his feet at Swansea, where he was the first name on the team sheet during that final Championship season.

Now he's off to Man City - clearly a club oozing with world-class talent and with no obvious need for him. Man City is a club where Sinclair will be lucky to make the bench for most games. So, why is he moving? Money? A whiny girlfriend? Probably a mixture of both. One thing I can guarantee: it's not to further his career. Good luck Sinclair. See you when you're loaned out to QPR a year down the line.

Elsewhere, we've recently said our goodbyes to Andrea Orlandi (to Brighton for an undisclosed fee). While it's refreshing to see a player like Orlandi leave with no long, drawn out negotiations, it seemed a little abrupt as there was some sentimental value with Orlandi.

He had been with the club for about five years, across four different managers. However, he's not done much in the grand scheme of things for Swansea City. I feel he had much more potential than some in midfield and showed sparks of brilliance at times (including his diving header which produced one of the fastest Premier League goal's ever!). Realistically though, he's not achieved that potential and is rightly gone.

Fede Bessone has left to Swindon to vast cries of “I didn't even realise he was still part of the squad!?”. Rodgers dived for ex-Swan Bessone in the 2011 summer transfer window as cover for injured Alan Tate. He wasn't used that much apart from one or two games and a substantial amount of bench-warming. He took wages, played a little for the reserves and ultimately did nothing much for the club. Best wishes Bessone, but please don't return a third time!

The ongoing debate of 'is Stephen Dobbie good enough for the Premier League?' has been solved: he's joining Orlandi at Brighton on a three-year contract. One of those players who never made the step-up to the current level. He'll do well at Brighton, I have no doubts about it!

Others likely to leave, but with no confirmations yet are Leroy Lita, who is rumoured to be loaned out to Crystal Palace, while Garry Monk is set to go to Bristol City on loan (though this is to be delayed for a few weeks after a back injury). Meanwhile, Curtis Obeng is likely to head to Fleetwood Town - again, on loan.

Welcome to Swansea City!

I'm not going to re-mention the likes of Michu, de Guzman and Chico Flores as there is plenty written on them and we've already seen them in action two or three times so far this season. All three are superb signings - let's leave it at that.

A player we will talk about is one of the biggest names of the summer and one who has finally signed - Pablo Hernandez. After much speculation and uncertainty, he's come from Valencia for £5.5million on a three-year deal, linking up again with Laudrup, who managed Hernandez during his time at Getafe. What a good replacement for Sinclair, especially with money left over from his sale!

Maybe having Hernandez is a little rough on Wayne Routledge who has been surprisingly brilliant over the first two games, but wing is one area where Swansea are pretty bare and needed beefing up. Anyway, I'm sure we'll see plenty of rotation and plenty of Routledge as the year goes on - we all know Dyer can tire himself out!

Record signing Ki Sung-Yueng has now played one game for the Swans after coming from Celtic for £5.5million, bringing with him big support from Korea. He'll probably immediately replace Jonathan de Guzman in the centre for now. There's a decent article on another Swans blog, summing up Sung-Yueng, including some words from a Celtic supporter, which is worth checking out.

Elsewhere, Kyle Bartley from Arsenal for around £1million on a three-year deal helps beef up the defence, and Itay Shechter on a season-long loan from Kaiserslautern gives some much needed competition to Danny Graham.

All things considered, I'm sure you'll agree that this has probably been the best summer transfer movement for Swansea in a good while!

As we head into autumn (that's right, all that rain and thunder was actually summer in disguise), Swansea are really looking a solid team, almost unstoppable.

Check out my Swansea vs. Sunderland preview, posted earlier!

Swansea City vs Sunderland: The first real test

This blog post was originally one long unmanageable mess of transfer news and a preview of Saturday's match vs Sunderland. However, I saw sense and spilt them in two! The transfers round-up will be along later today.


Second Season Syndrome they all cried! They were wrong.

Okay, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. We're only two games in. Still, Swansea City have smashed the first two Premier League games, while comfortably moving into round three of the Capital One Cup mid-week. So far, so good.

However, despite two awesome performances, the quality of Swansea's opponents so far has been on the poor side. Sunderland will certainly pose much more of a threat than QPR and West Ham combined and Swansea can't assume a victory, even though confidence is high.

Last season when the two met they played out a 0-0 draw at the Liberty Stadium before Sunderland took all three points at the Stadium of Light - this was despite Swansea predictably racking up the possession stats and taking more shots on goal. This season we know things like possession stats are just a bonus and mean little unless goals are scored.

Laudrup, we hope, will opt for pretty much the same team that's done the job so far - why change a winning formula?

Though Pablo Hernandez has sealed a place with the club, he won't be in the squad for Saturday. This is good news I think - I'm all for giving players a little time to settle in before releasing them onto the field. The only change will probably come in the centre, where Ki Sung-Yueng should slot in instead of Jonathan de Guzman. Sung-Yueng can take a decent free kick and enjoys sitting back a little, which should compliment Michu and Britton.

So the team you'll probably see Saturday:

Rangel, Williams, Flores, Taylor 
Dyer, Britton, Sung-Yueng, Michu, Routledge 

Meanwhile, Sunderland should be pretty well rested, having only played one game (a credible 0-0 vs Arsenal) after their second was postponed due to rain. They have a strong squad, with a shrewd manager in Martin O'Neill and top class players including a few new faces that should pose some threat to Ashley Williams and co, such as Louis Saha, Steven Fletcher and, fresh from Man City, Adam Johnson.
It's pointless me pretending I know a lot about Sunderland because... I don't. Thankfully I've been in contact with someone who does: top Sunderland writer Dan Williams from The Roker Report, who has given us his thoughts ahead of the match:

There is a renewed sense of optimism around Sunderland as a club, thanks to Martin O'Neill's hard work in the transfer window. The manager made no secret of the fact that Steven Fletcher was his number one target, and after a long and drawn-out saga, finally got his man, picking up Louis Saha on a free transfer too for good measure. However, it is the signing of Adam Johnson that has Black Cats fans purring, as the Manchester City man shows a real statement of intent from the club, something that we have been crying out for since Darren Bent ran off to Birmingham, and Asamoah Gyan went chasing pound coins in the far East.

Although the weather put paid to our second game of the season, we look strong defensively at the Emirates, and sharp in front of goal against Morecambe in the League Cup on Tuesday night. Simon Mignolet will return in goal, having missed that game, while Carlos Cuellar will return to the middle of the back four alongside John O'Shea, with Jack Colback on the left, and Craig Gardner on the right. Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson should provide the hold in midfield, for a three-pronged attack behind Fletcher of James McClean, Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson.

Swansea have started the season on fire, but this will arguably be Laudrup's biggest test to date, and I fancy us to go in front. Although my colleagues at Roker Report might not agree, I'm going to plump for a 1-1 draw.

Confidence with caution there from Dan!

Though Sunderland are a bigger team (both physically and in footballing terms) and took three points last time, things will be different this week. Swansea have changed; they now have a few more players up for a scrap and are playing with such confidence it's hard to imagine anything other than a win. They'll also have the edge with the Liberty Stadium as their theatre. It also bodes well that Sunderland have not won in their previous nine away matches.

The bookies (usually in the know) have Swansea as favourites at around 11/10. While Dan predicts 1-1 (odds of around 5/1), I'm more confident of a Swans win. I do see Vorm letting one slip though, but with Swansea's momentum I'm saying 2-1 to the boys in white (around 8/1). A bet on Michu to score two goals or more is 11/1 and also well worth a pound or two!

Sunday 26 August 2012

Not a bad start, Swansea... not bad at all.

Swansea City 5 – 0 QPR
Swansea City 3 – 0 West Ham

That's a good start isn't it?

We've seen two impressive displays from the Swans in the opening week. Eight goals, two clean sheets and now second in the Premier League!

However, it's still early. Plenty of time for Vorm to get injured, the team to lose ten in a row and us to watch as Dyer signs for Liverpool. Yet, so far it's all reassuring stuff from a team tipped for a disastrous season and rock-bottom relegation.

Briefly top of the league, until Chelsea spoilt it.

We knew from the pre-season that Laudrup is a manager with plans to attack. While many - including myself - knew there would be more goals for Swansea this season, many - again, including myself - also assumed there would be more goals against Swansea. So far, in the second aspect, we've been wrong.

Defence, therefore, is doing it's job. Chico Flores has come in and is providing the team with the same stability Steven Caulker offered, though with a little more fire (this may lead to a few cards along the way, but who cares about the Fair Play league if Swansea qualify for Europe the proper way!). Angel Rangel and Neil Taylor look as dangerous as ever going forward, and Williams is as assured as always. Though mistakes have been made at the back, Michel Vorm has been solid enough to clean-up what the defenders leave behind. All looking great.

Going forward, Swansea are already more entertaining to watch. It took the Swans nine games to score eight goals last season under Brendan Rodgers, where it's taken just two this time around. While I thoroughly appreciate everything Rodgers did for the club (apart from pissing off to Liverpool), I found the football last season a little... pointless at times.

While I don't think passing football is boring, the game played under Rodgers was at times frustrating - all pass, pass, pass and incredible possession stats, but not as much end product to get excited about. With Laudrup we are still seeing decent possession (50% in the QPR game and 62% against West Ham), but are also seeing chances made and goals scored, with some exciting counter-attacks thrown in.

Michu is clearly a key figure. For £2million, he's been the signing of the season - no contest. Again, just two games in, but the Premier League's top scorer. He has replaced Allen and Sigurdsson in one hit for literally pennies in this league.

Elsewhere, Wayne Routledge has come alive in the first two games. The ongoing Scott Sinclair moody, pointless move to Man City (until he's loaned out to QPR) has allowed Routledge two starting places and he's done a lot with them; running, cutting inside and offering plenty for Danny Graham and Michu to work with. Though Pablo Hernandez may eventually sign, Routledge is showing he has enough for a permanent first team place.

Little Nathan Dyer - man of the match against West Ham - is looking dangerous as usual. I'm surprised there weren't many rumours/offers from other teams for Dyer this summer. The transfer window is still open, so I won't speak to soon - Rodgers' the thief still has money in the bank. For now, it's nice to see Dyer shooting more.

We are yet to see Ki Sung-Yueng in action. With Britton, Michu and de Guzman all offering plenty in midfield, who will make way for the record signing? I'm guessing it will be de Guzman.

Ultimately it is too early to say Swansea will repeat these exciting scorelines for the rest of the season. There will be tougher games against opponents who actually want to win (both QPR and West Ham haven't looked that up for it). But for now, Swansea still have a nice run of teams where similar comfortable wins are possible - Aston Villa, Stoke, Reading and Wigan are all coming up soon enough.

If Laudrup can keep up a decent run, Swansea can go into the bigger games in November - those against Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool - with no real pressure, already comfortably mid-table. We said before the season started that the Swans must take as many points from the opening games as they could, and things are going exactly to plan it seems!

Friday 17 August 2012

Swansea City vs QPR: Against all odds!

Football returns!

Well, football never really left us this summer, but the competition that really matters to Swansea City fans is back! (... that's the Premier League if you were wondering)

Maybe it's not wise to get too excited - it's well noted that Swansea often lose the opening game of the season. It's also well noted that Swansea lose away to QPR. Meanwhile the Swans have failed to score in five of their last six visits to Loftus Road and OPR are unbeaten in their last six Premier League games there. So Saturday's game doesn't really have 'Swans win' written all over it...

Still, this is a new Swansea side with a lot to prove and, kicking off their centenary season, is it possible that the team can come back with all three points? It will be the first time we'll see the Swans play competitively under Michael Laudrup – without Joe Allen, Gylfi Sigurdsson and, possibly, Scott Sinclair, but with Michu, de Guzman and Flores.

Trying to break the pattern of an opening day loss will be eleven Swans players - but which starting eleven will feature isn't as easy to predict as last season, when the team wrote itself.

It's safe to say we'll see Michel Vorm in goals and a back four of Rangel, Williams, Flores and Taylor is pretty likely, even though Kyle Bartley has joined and raring to go.

In midfield Leon Britton will be the first picked, and I assume we'll see Jonathan de Guzman and Michu join him for their first competitive Swans matches. Nathan Dyer will feature on the wing from the start and it's likely we'll see Wayne Routledge on the opposite side, if Scott Sinclair has gone by then. Finally, scoring the goals up front on his own (hopefully) should be Danny Graham.

QPR are a team nobody seems to like - I can understand why, with a host of obnoxious players, including Jay Boooooothroyd and Joey Barton (who naturally won't feature on Saturday), along with Adel Taarabt who is confident of a QPR win. Annoyingly QPR are not a bad team, despite a relegation battle last season, and have certainly strengthened over the summer.

While QPR players aren't the nicest around, the fans aren't too bad and Rory Mosedale from QPR Report has kindly shared with us his thoughts on the clash:

On Swansea - It's been a summer of change at Swansea - losing a manager is always tough, especially when it's someone as good as Rodgers. Laudrup was an interesting appointment to me, unproven in the Premier League and hasn't experienced much success in La Liga but he does try and get his teams to play the right style of football. I've been quite impressed with your summer signings so far; Michu is a very good player and should fit in well with your style of play. Sinclair is a bit hit and miss for me so if you get a decent fee for him then it's good business. I think Swansea are a good club who are going about things the right way. It seems a lot of Swansea fans don't particularly like QPR and want us to go down but I think we'll both finish comfortably in mid table.

On QPR – It's been a very exciting summer for the R's. Having finally cleared out the deadwood in the squad we signed Ryan Nelsen, Robert Green, Andy Johnson, Samba Diakite, Fabio, Ji Sung Park and Junior Hoilett, with one or two more coming in over the next few weeks. Everyone is buzzing at QPR right now, something you'll hopefully see on Saturday. No bad injury problems going into the game, midfielder Ali Faurlin won't be fit enough to start but he may come on from the bench. Jamie Mackie and Diakite could miss out but will hopefully be ready for Saturday. Taarabt always enjoys playing against Swansea and he's been on fire in pre-season so you can expect a good game from our Moroccan Magician. Cisse has also been firing in the goals so be weary of him.

QPR's likely starting XI: Green, Onouha, Ferdinand, Hill, Fabio, Park, Diakite, Hoilett, Taarabt, Mackie, Cisse (4,2,3,1)

Rory's score prediction: Swansea have a very poor record at Loftus Road and our team is looking very good. Will have to go for 3-0 to QPR 

It seems Rory is pretty confident and I guess nobody can blame him with the Swans' record at Loftus Road. Is this the season that Swansea stick the middle finger up to both the Loftus Road record and the first game record? I say... maybe. I cautiously predict a break of all trends with a 1-1 draw. That wouldn't be a bad result, all things considered.

If you're after a bet and want to follow Rory's 3-0 to QPR prediction, you'll find odds of around 18/1. My prediction of 1-1 is a less generous 5/1, while Danny Graham to find the net first is 7/1.

Pointless bet of the week: Fede Bessone to score a hat-trick @ 500/1.

Now only another few hours to wait until football starts again!

Sunday 12 August 2012

Swansea City 2012/13 - back to the Championship?

Please rest assured that the title of this blog post in no way reflects my personal prediction of Swansea City's destiny this season. But it does reflect what I'm reading elsewhere.

Recently flicking through the new FourFourTwo Season Preview magazine, I noticed they predict Swansea will finish in 20th. That's right, propping up the table. A 'Wolves' if you will. On the first read I was a little surprised, considering how well Swansea did last season.

However, the relegation predictions don't end with FourFourTwo. The American sports site, Bleacher Report feature Swansea in their 'Five favourites to be relegated this season' article, while The Independent suggest the Swans may 'struggle to keep up' in their preview.


They key reasons behind the relegation predictions become obvious when you read on. Issues like the fact that the Premier League is all new to Michael Laudrup, a manager who hadn't been successful with all his previous teams. Also if Laudrup plans to stick to the same attractive, passing football (which he does), he won't have the element of surprise that Brendan Rodgers had last season - the rest of the league may have the Swans all figured out. This is worrying with no definite 'plan B'.

The other issues addressed in these articles focus on the players. If Sinclair leaves the club (which seems 50/50 at the moment), the Swans will have lost three of their five top scorers last season in this transfer window: Sinclair (8), Sigurdsson (7), Allen (4). This means Swansea may well be lacking the fire-power FourFourTwo warn about.

Personally I don't feel the Swans have that much to worry about. Not as much as the media make out anyway. However, points will be needed from the very start; there won't be as much room for trial and error this season.

Away form must be sorted out too, and points have to be ripped away from the new arrivals in the league as well as potential relegation rivals. This season, it should be these vital games that draw the crowds, not the Man Uniteds, Chelseas and Liverpools of the league (okay, maybe not the Liverpool one - that is a must win game!).

Swansea supporters, myself included, are more optimistic than the media, but with understandable caution. Last season we predicted a realistic finish of 16th or so in the untested waters of the Premier League, but thankfully our caution wasn't needed with the superb 11th finish. This season, we all seem to be predicting around the same (15th seems to be the magic number), with as much caution I guess.

Though praise from national media last season was nice, I'm sure we'll all admit that being the underdog is an equally enjoyable way to approach some games, so this assumption that Swansea will do poorly shouldn't get us down. We all enjoyed saying 'told you so' last season, and it'll be nice to do it again the second time around (especially to Brendan Rodgers).