Showing posts with label Napoli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Napoli. Show all posts

Tuesday 23 September 2014

BEWARE: Leave the Swans at your peril!

After watching Michu getting hauled off for Napoli on Sunday, ALEC JOHNSON considers why any player that leaves Swansea with a greedy motive tends to end up sitting the rest of their career out on a bench.


By Alec Johnson

It’s Sunday, 21 September and our former glory boy Miguel Michu gets his first start in Serie A for the perennial underachievers, otherwise called Napoli.

Just over 8,000 people are there to watch Udinese beat Napoli 1-0, with a frustrated Michu and equally miffed Argentinian hitman Gonzalo Higuain shooting blanks once again. The truth is that neither has scored a league goal this season.

So why did Michu - once worshipped in this part of South Wales - force this move?

Yes, Naples is a nice place to live but he won’t win anything there unless Maradona comes out of retirement. The games are played out in front of half-empty stadiums which themselves are crumbling, none worse that the Stadio San Paolo, as the 900 over there with me last February will confirm.

But it's not just Michu's decision to move that's puzzling. We also have our Spanish-now-Arabian brothers... what's all that about? Moving to a start-up football club in a league with average crowds less than Ashleigh Road on a Sunday morning. It's cash and lifestyle over club and country. That essentially finishes the careers of Pablo Hernandez and Chico Flores.

Add Ben Davies and Michel Vorm to the ever-growing list of evacuees and you start to see a pattern developing. While Ben is at least getting some Thursday football over at Spurs, Michel hasn’t put his gloves on yet. One year ago he was the Netherlands’ number one, now he is Spurs’ third choice. While accepting that Vorm actually didn’t choose to leave, he did choose the destination and clearly hadn’t considered the options fully.

Nice hat Danny - shame about the bench.

Roll back a few more years and it’s Darren Pratley, Dorus de Vries, Sam Ricketts and Danny Graham all scrapping around in the Championship having, in their own small-minded way, forced through exits from our club. Nobody on this list bettered themselves and none of them would find a place in our squad today. No doubt we have become a stronger club, but have they all gone backwards?

I believe so.

The greatest disappointment of the lot was our hero Scott Sinclair. In his final match for us he scored a stunner in a 5-0 win at Loftus Road, before leaving for a club where he played 78 minutes in the whole next season. What a waste of a raw talent that would have continued to improve within our environment.

Sinclair on the bench - a familiar sight.
Swansea City give players the freedom to express themselves, playing with confidence that forces technical improvement. This is also not a club that carries the weight of great expectation so the fans don’t turn on you with every mistake.

We feel that we are on the journey together and Saturday’s awesome spirit through the stadium as everybody sang for the entire second half confirms this. We barely touched the ball yet the attitude was one of togetherness. That itself is very rare in football.

So, the loyalty is reciprocal, as is the success of the players and the club. Nobody needs to leave for a few pieces of extra silver or an opportunity to play for their country (unless you’re English of course) as the land of opportunity is right here. The club now compete on salary in the richest league in the world, the city provides a fabulous lifestyle and the management encourage players to play. What more would you want in a football career?

Welcome to the most successful football in Wales, and the best run club in football.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Alec's Napolitano tour: "I came, I saw, I survived!"

Swansea City's adventure in Italy will forever be remembered as one of the most memorable away matches in the club's history for both the occasion and performance. ForzaSwansea's ALEC JOHNSON took a trip to South Italy with 900 other Jacks to cheer on the Swans... and he survived! Here's how he got on:


Before the journey

That wonderful saying "see Naples and die" had another twist ahead of the Jack Army's visit as the Welsh media seemed to believe we were stepping into a first century gladiator battle instead of a Europa League game!

My stock response to the danger was "we will all be fine", but I eventually gave up telling people that I wasn’t going to die in some Italian battleground. Yes you have to be cautious, but having previously survived the San Siro and Stadio Olympico, I travelled feeling comfortable in the fact that it wasn’t going to be my final journey.

Alec (centre), Eli and their Italian friend Alessandro

The destination

If you wanted a degree of comfort in the company of fellow Jacks along with transport provided to the stadium, there were three clear choices: Naples, Rome or Sorrento. We opted for Sorrento as it was close, but not too close to Naples. Also we knew that Jim White SCFC tours had the round-trip sorted with a pre-arranged police escort, flashing lights, an English boozer, a rowdy mob and a sing song.

Before the match

As me and my boy Eli strolled down the Corso Italia in Sorrento looking for the proposed meeting place for Swans fans, we could hear the English Inn a few hundred metres before arriving. Hymns and arias followed by 'the scum came up and they’re going straight back down' blasted out across the peaceful town.

On arrival, there were around 30 or so Swans fans inside, most looked like they had been there since breakfast. The barman, Fabio, was draped in a Swans scarf with a Swans badge on his collar and he too joined in the songs albeit without understanding what the hell 'the scum' were or who Ki Sung Yeung or Vincent Tan may be.

Six Perronis and two hours later, we headed back to our apartment unbeknown that a group of Sorrento Ultras strolled in shortly after. Now, this bit is baffling: they approached the Swans fans who remained in the pub, asking if they would like to have a fight. Have times changed or is this a cultural thing? Back home, bottles would have been thrown across the bar and there would have been no polite invite to have a fight - it would just kick off.

Catching up with several other groups staying in Naples, they encountered the exact same experience. So it seems that anybody visiting Napoli in future just needs Italian lessons not body armour.

Alec and co on the SCFC bus to the San Paolo

The San Paolo

The Sorrento mob were first in a good half an hour before kick off, greeted by hundreds of riot police and a dozen Liberty stewards. None of either group spoke the other language so the entire translation was delivered by Alessandro, a friend of mine from Milan who had come down for the game.

The San Paolo is the worst of the big old stadiums in Europe - beyond basic to the point of being third world. Horrific facilities with the only catering being pre-packed sandwiches and Ritz biscuits to munch on from your plastic bucket seat. However, the atmosphere generated from the two curva ends was deafening. 15,000 thousand at either end and they didn’t stop all game. Despite our constant singing we did feel drowned out.

Alec's view from the away end

The match

Oh how different it could have been. The Emnes chance in the first ten minutes. Bony one on one. Ash's late header. Bony's spin and volley. Our pace cut them open time and time again. We looked threatening on corners and they were very un-Italian in their defending of set pieces.

Pablo created havoc drifting around between the midfield and Bony did the same up top. He’s found his home in there and it will be interesting to see what happens when, not if, Michu returns. The turning point in the match came with bringing Neil Taylor on and playing people out of position. Nothing against Taylor but he isn’t a left midfielder and it was unfair to ask him to play it. It also wiped out our pace and width which is a huge part of our game and we never looked the same.

The Napolitano nutters
The riots

What riots? Despite the shockingly late arrival of the Rome and Naples port buses, the police did a fantastic job in keeping the supporters apart. The reputation of police aggression and a history of inciting riots wasn’t on view last week.

If anything their ignorance of multiple incidents of supporters throwing missiles was far too tolerant - almost as if it was accepted behaviour for us to be dodging Coke bottles. Even the customary 30 minute lock-in after the final whistle was relatively calm and they seemed to clear the surrounding escape routes very quickly with the help of half the Italian police force and a few copper choppers.

Post match

Going out of the Europa league at this stage is a safe exit I believe. We have bigger battles to win and any Jack would have taken elimination in Napoli at the knock-out stages back in July when this all kicked off.

We can be very proud of our achievements and have to keep the memories fresh, as it could be a while before we have the opportunity to experience a European tour once again. Onto West Brom and an anticipated three points that will go a huge way to securing our status as the only Premier League team in Wales next season.

Follow Alec on Twitter or join us on our Facebook page!

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Mamma Mia! The Swansea City vs Napoli preview

After a much-needed break from European competition, Swansea will face Napoli in the first leg of the Europa League Round of 32 this Thursday. A place in the last 16 against either Eintracht Frankfurt or Porto awaits. Our blogger GAVIN TUCKER runs us through how the Swans may get there...

By Gavin Tucker 

Swansea City, having rested the vast majority of the first team in Sunday's FA Cup defeat, should be at pretty much full strength going into this landmark game.

The squad has looked revitalised under Garry Monk's stewardship, pressing higher up the field while looking to regain possession and playing with the width we have missed going forward lately.

Shelvey played against Napoli while at Liverpool

Jonjo Shelvey may be available after suffering a hamstring strain in the West Ham game. Interestingly, it was now Napoli boss Benitez who signed Shelvey for Liverpool towards the end of his time there, stating he was looking for "British players with passion".

Stranger still is that Jonjo's first start for Liverpool was actually against Napoli in the Europa League aged 18 in 2010. Also, perhaps most strange was his teammate for that fixture was Swans new boy David N'Gog... football has a funny way of throwing coincidences like this up!

Being at home first leg is not ideal and it will be important to get a positive result at the Liberty, a clean sheet would be a massive plus and a goal (or three) should give us a solid base in the difficult second leg on 27th February at the Stadio San Paolo.

There's also a chance we could see the long-awaited return of marvellous Michu, although it may only be a cameo appearance as it's unlikely he will be able to dive straight into a full 90 minutes.

Rafa Benitez's Napoli will make their first appearance in the Europa League this season after being harshly dumped out of their Champions League group despite impressive performances and results.

The Azzurri have been in good form of late - three straight wins including a 3-1 league victory over AC Milan and eliminating Roma 5-3 on aggregate in the two-legged Copa Italia semi-final. They currently occupy third place in Serie A, the final Champions League qualifying position.

Napoli have no major injury concerns or suspensions in their ranks going into the clash. Although top scorer Gonzalo Higuain may not make Thursday's clash after taking a knock to the back in his previous game.

You tend to know to a certain degree what to expect when facing a Benitez side. When taking over at Napoli he moved them away from the more traditional Italian formation of 3-4-3 to his favoured 4-2-3-1 set up that he has used consistently throughout his managerial career. Implementing his zonal marking system and a pretty solid defensive set up that concede few goals to good effect.

Pepe Reina is likely to feature in goal on loan from Liverpool and expect Marek Hamsik to be pulling the strings in midfield. Should Higuain miss the game, Rafa will probably opt to play Jose Callejon up top who has made a strong start since his move to Napoli from Real Madrid.

With approximately 1,700 Napoli supporters making the journey from Italy it should be a lively atmosphere. European competition under the floodlights is a special occasion and should be cherished.

After over 20 years since Swansea's last continental adventures, who knows when we could be tackling an Italian giant again. Savour it!

Napoli should hold no fear for Swansea and there is no doubt the Italians are a well drilled, tough opponent with some quality players. However we have outplayed and beaten better sides in our recent history. It was not so long ago we overcame Rafa Benitez's Chelsea side over a two-leg knockout format on route to Capital One Cup glory. Is this Napoli side any tougher than Chelsea last year?

Concentration, determination and a bit of luck and we can progress from one of the toughest draws we could have got. We are capable enough and, as cliched as it sounds, we can beat anyone on our day!

Prediction: Swansea 1-0 Napoli

Monday 16 December 2013

Reliving the Swansea City European tour... so far!

Although Swansea didn't take the expected route to qualification from the group, the main thing is we made it! Swansea City are through to the later stages of a European competition for the first time in our history!

The knockout stages await and the Swans have earned a mouthwatering tie against Italian giants Napoli. But how did we get to this stage? ForzaSwansea's newest contributor GAVIN TUCKER is giving us the chance to relive the high (and not-so-high) points of Swansea's Europa League campaign so far.


Drawing Napoli in the last 32 is a fixture that really marks the culmination of Swansea City’s progress over the last decade. The home leg will see Rafa Benitez’s side visit the Liberty on 20th February with the intimidating journey away to Stadio San Paolo on the 27th February.

Napoli is one of the toughest draws we could have had, with some top class players in Jose Callejon, Marek Hamsik and Valon Behrami; it will take a solid performance over two legs and maybe a little luck to see us through. Let's not forget it was not so long ago we beat Chelsea, then champions of Europe, over a two-legged knockout round and we all know how that ended. Just try to push the thought of Dwight Tiendalli facing Gonzalo Higuain to the back of your mind for now at least.

Here's a quick(ish) summary of our adventure so far in Europe and how we got to where we are:


After comfortable wins against Malmo and Petrolul Ploiesti, 4-0 and 6-3 on aggregate respectively, Swansea progressed to the group stage draw. Thanks to a couple of upsets elsewhere the Swans moved up the seeded rankings meaning, in theory at least, a slightly easier group than first expected.
Swansea were drawn straight out of Pot 2 and into Group A with Valencia of Spain (ranked the number one seeded team in the tournament at that stage), followed soon after by St Gallen of Switzerland and Kuban Krasnodar of Russia. The general consensus was that Valencia would be a tough one, but we could, maybe should, qualify from our group. First up a trip to the Mestalla...

Valencia 0-3 Swansea

As starts go, it really couldn't have come much better this. Over 2000 Swans supporters, including myself, made the journey for what was to become and will be remembered as one of THE results in our recent history. Valencia had been struggling with league form going into the game, and there was a feeling that with the right performance we could get a positive result from this fixture.

Valencia's Adil Rami was sent off for a ninth-minute professional foul when he hauled down Wilfried Bony - an incident that Swansea took full advantage of. Bony struck first when his right-footed opener went in via a deflection five minutes later. Half time came and the Swans were 1-0 up in the Mestalla.

As the second half resumed, attention was drawn to the home fans (or lack thereof) behind the goal - the Valencia ultras had refused to return to the stands for the second half in protest to the current and recent results from their team. They did eventually return however, just in time to see Michu fire in from eight yards to make it 2-0. Cue away-section mayhem. Jonathan de Guzman curled in a 30-yard free-kick for the third and, to the applause of Valencia fans at full time, Swansea left the field sitting at the top of Group A!

Swansea 1-0 St Gallen

Our first group game at home saw visiting St Gallen bring with them a very respectably sized and noisy away support of around 1500 - oh, and a couple of flares. You can't even smuggle in a bottle of pop into the East stand but St Gallen brought with them a different flavour of European support that we never experience as supporters domestically.

The game will most probably be remembered for the completely inept refereeing of one Duarte Gomes. Having recently been banned from taking control of international matches, he gave bizarre decision after bizarre decision to the point that you stopped being surprised by them towards the end.
Not stopping play in the first half for Michu to receive treatment for a head injury that gushed blood and required stitches at the break was not even the half of it.

St Gallen closed us down well and were very physical in their approach; they were probably unlucky overall not to get something from the game.

Tiendalli was ruled to have handled the ball in the box after 14 minutes, but a weak penalty from Goran Karanovic resulted in a comfortable save by Tremmel. With a few chances early seeing Michu and Jordi Amat both hitting the post, it was not until the second half that Swansea got the breakthrough. In the 52nd minute Wayne Routledge grabbed what proved to be the winner.
Top of Group A, with two games, two wins. We're through already.... right?

Swansea 1-1 Kuban Krasnodar
Our third group game and second home tie brought visitors Kuban Krasnodar to the Liberty and around 50 away fans made the long journey from Russia.

Swansea seemed to lack their usual fluency but finally found a bit of rhythm in the second half with Michu bravely sliding home after latching on to a lovely chip from Alejandro Pozuelo on the 68th minute.

Deep into injury time and 1-0 up we only had to keep possession and see the game out. However, Jonjo Shelvey attempting to take on a Kuban player in injury time saw possession lost. Tremmel brought Balde down in the area and Cisse stepped up to score his sides first goal in the group.
A 93rd minute equaliser - tough to take.

Kuban Krasnodar 1-1 Swansea 

A massive shout has to go to the 50 Swans followers who spent hours deciphering the visa requirements and made the long and expensive journey to support our team in this fixture.

Picture courtesy of Tom (Twitter: @Glos_Jack)

Wilfried Bony's early, low strike looked set to give Swansea victory. Another Kuban escape seemed unlikely when Xandao was shown a second yellow card for clattering Alvaro Vazquez, but Ivelin Popov fed Balde to score and saw Kuban equalise in injury time, AGAIN.

To miss out on a win and a valuable three points to a last gasp goal once is bad enough, but for it to happen twice, within two weeks, against the same team was frustrating to say the least.

Swansea 0-1 Valencia

A strange night at the Liberty saw Valencia take the victory and secure top place in Group A. Valencia dominated possession and the match had very sedate pace all evening. You could easily be forgiven for thinking you were watching a pre-season friendly.

Fewer than 100 of the Valencia faithful made the trip from Spain to Swansea, and saw their side take the lead as Tremmel's tame punch fell to Juan Barnat outside the box. His shot was deflected into the path of Daniel Parejo.

Swans were left frustrated as Wilfried Bony limped off with an injury only for his replacement Alvaro Vasquez to have a perfectly legitimate equaliser ruled out for offside. 

Meanwhile St Gallen were officially out of the competition after losing 4-0 to Kuban Krasnodar. The Russians, however, were mathematically in with a chance of qualification should they beat Valencia at the Mestalla in the final game and Swansea lose to St Gallen while overcoming a goal difference of three.

St Gallen 1-0 Swansea

(The Fog Derby)

Flight disruption due to fog left the team delayed at Cardiff. When it finally cleared, a further delay due to a technical fault on the place resulted in the team waking up a sleepy Chico from his airport terminal slumber and scheduling a flight from Southend. The team finally arrived in Switzerland, although the training session scheduled for Wednesday evening was cancelled. Not ideal preparation.

The journeys of some supporters were also badly affected and, after numerous flight delays and cancellations, some were forced to abandon their travel plans. A massively frustrating and stressful experience for all involved.

It appeared the fog had followed the team and supporters out to St Gallen. Swans supporters tucked in the corner of the AFG Arena, unable to see the far end of the pitch as play commenced. St Gallen fans were in fine voice again seemingly fuelled by giant pretzels.

One massive pretzel too many...

The game itself was probably one to forget. The very attack-orientated line up from Laudrup and lack of a holding midfielder saw us ultimately struggle in the centre of the park. Tremmel gave a good performance and were it not for a few superb saves we could have easily seen a bigger loss.

Whether it was complacency after getting six points from the initial two games, the sheer number of team changes game to game, a touch of arrogance or a general lack of effort, we undoubtedly limped over the line into the knockout stages. Still, if you had offered us second in this group before a ball was kicked then I'm sure most would have happily taken it.

The next step...

Onwards into the knockout rounds once again and a big-time draw against Napoli. No chance for mistakes at this stage and should we progress from this behemoth of a fixture, Swansea will face the winner of Eintacht Frankfurt vs Porto.

The break from Europe between now and February will give the team a chance to narrow their focus back to the Premier League and hopefully improve their form. It's a popular opinion that the Europa League in general disrupts a team’s league performances, with the players being exhausted from the travel, extra games, etc. It's hard to say really with the Swans as we are still in a reasonable league position and have a decent points total.

One thing I believe has impacted us though is the (necessary) heavy rotation of the squad game to game. Two seasons ago it was pretty much the same eleven week in, week out. You knew the line up before it came out. That consistency helped understanding between players. Having to rotate so heavily being in Europe is completely foreign to Swansea (pun intended) but so far I think it's been managed fairly well.

In summary it's a fantastic achievement for Swansea to have qualified for the Europa League and we can be proud of how far we have progressed. It's been an exciting journey and who knows when we may be in European competition again. Whatever happens from here on in we can all be even prouder than usual to be a Jack.

Thanks for reading, feel free to follow me on Twitter: @gavint_