Saturday, 28 April 2012

Swansea City 4 - 4 Wolves: "The Sloppy Swan - a cautionary tale”

I'm not sure what result Mr Rodgers was hoping for when he put his new look 3-4-3 side out against Wolves. I guess it wasn't 4-4. Still, safety was basically secure, so trying something new was worth a go...wasn't it?

If you saw the game, you know what happened and can miss out the following paragraph (unless you want to relive the horror...):

Kick-off. 22 seconds and Orlandi heads past de Vries. 1-0! Allen makes it two within four minutes. 2-0! Dyer grabs the third. 3-0! Game over! No, Wolves claw one back through Fletcher. 3-1. Graham puts the game to bed with Swansea's fourth. 4-1! Or does he? Jarvis soon makes it 4-2. Half time! Restart, Edwards makes it 4-3. A comeback is on. Nope it's already here - Jarvis makes it 4-4. Wolves should really go onto win the game, but it ends 4-4.

A thriller - Amazing. Entertaining. Annoying. Frustrating. Sloppy.

From 3-0 up in 15 minutes to 4-4 at the final whistle. Swansea haven't really self-imploded like this all season... not since... well, that game against Wolves in October.

In a match they were expected to win quite easily, Swansea could have done just that. Not many teams who are already relegated find the will and energy to stage a come back. But Wolves had nothing to lose and, sensing a vulnerable Swansea defence, come back they did.

The formation certainly contributed to Swansea both scoring and conceding those total six goals in the first half. The additional man in midfield gave the Swans plenty to work with. Orlandi, that extra man, really put in a good display and scored the quickest Premier League goal this season, before he was subbed at half time. It's a shame he wasn't on in the second half as you feel Swansea might have clung onto that lead.

It was Swansea's defence that lost it today. Very sloppy from all involved. Having three at the back in the first half saw too much pressure when Wolves decided that they actually wanted to come away with something. Bringing on Taylor should have made things more solid, but Caulker was forced to play as a makeshift right back. This wasn't the reason for the draw though – letting Wolves score even one goal was too much of an error.

Some have put Swansea's unravelling down to tired legs and tired minds, but we must remember Wolves have played the same amount of games. It's no excuse really.

The result means Swansea drop a place to 12th, where the win might have propelled them to 9th. I think a dream top ten finish is now out of the question. A shame, but survival was more than anyone hoped at the start of the season.

A few positives to end this blog post:
  • Swansea scored four goals 
  • Andrea Orlandi looks to be a decent player again 
  • Swansea recorded the quickest Premier League goal this season
  • De Vries didn't have a great game (or save a penalty like I predicted)
  • We witnessed Terry Connor smiling. It was heart-warming.

See you in Manchester!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Swansea City vs Bolton: Now, back to the top ten!

That dreaded fifth defeat in a row didn't come last week thankfully, as Swansea comfortably beat Blackburn 3-0. This Saturday sees the Swans take on relegation strugglers Bolton in the Reebok Stadium.

Now, I thought 40 was the magic number of points needed to mathematically stay afloat in the Premier League pond, but others, including Brendan Rodgers, are insisting on another win to be sure. I guess this isn't a bad thing; we wouldn't want him to come out and say “yep, we're done for points this season - Gower will start in goals on Saturday, with an injured Alan Tate up-front, just for a laugh!”.

No, Rodgers wants to be sure, and a win on Saturday will guarantee Swansea are safe.

However, winning the game against Bolton would be another stepping stone to, what should be, Swansea's next achievable goal: finishing in the top ten. It would be a real triumphant end to a season already filled with a variety of memorable accomplishments for the little club from South Wales.

Four games left. Two are very winnable. One is certainly drawable, if not winnable too (the Liverpool game). If results don't go well for other teams around the Swans in the table, that tenth place finish is there for the taking.

So - Bolton. Joe Allen, Scott Sinclair and Danny Graham all scored in October as Swansea beat Bolton 3-1 in the Liberty Stadium.

Bolton have a few on the injury list including Stuart Holden, Ricardo Gardner and Tyrone Mears along with Fabrice Muamba, who is recovering well it seems, after his collapse a few weeks ago. This encouraging news will ensure Bolton have nothing on their minds except winning.

Swansea will also come up against Darren Pratley for the second time this season. I don't see much reason to boo him, though I assume he may get a jeer or two from the odd few travelling Jacks. Not as many as I anticipate Dorus de Vries will receive next week... but that's another blog post entirely!

Looking at Swansea and, apart from Alan Tate's fresh calf injury ruling him out, they have a full squad to choose from (minus long term absentees Kemy Agustien and, of course, Ferrie Bodde). The Swans squad, as usual, picks itself. Vorm; Rangel, Williams, Caulker, Taylor; Dyer, Allen, Sigurdsson, Britton, Sinclair; Graham. I can't see Routledge forcing his way back into the starting squad this week.

As you are aware, Bolton are in the bottom three (18th), which don't make them nice opposition at this time of the year. They have slightly more to play for than Swansea and have the home crowd behind them. It's a dangerous mix for the Swans, who do stutter on the road.

My prediction then is a 2-2 draw (priced at 11/1 on PaddyPower). It's been a while since I've predicted 2-2, but I just have that feeling. If Swansea concentrate though, the win is well within them, so add another goal onto that for 3-2 (at 25/1). For your information, Darren Pratley to score and Bolton to win is priced at 13/2 – maybe worth covering, just in case.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Swansea City vs Blackburn Rovers: five in a row?

Before a quick look forward to the Blackburn game, let's rewind to that one against QPR.

I've been relatively quiet about the farce on Wednesday evening. Many others have been very vocal. Some fans seem to be panicking, some seem to be angry and some seem to be angry that others are angry. It's all very confusing. What is pretty straightforward however, is that Swansea were very, very poor (compared to recent standards) and must get, at the very least, a point on Saturday. A loss will not do.

Before I start complaining about the drought of wins (or even goals) to celebrate, let's remember that this is still the debut Premier League season. Perhaps most of us (the team included) have jumped ahead of ourselves - enjoying the 'Swanselona' nicknames and superb passing/possession stats a little too much.

It's great to see, but Swansea are not Barcelona. The Swans are still a smallish club and even finishing 17th this season will be a good achievement (albeit a little damp considering the club had graced the top ten a few weeks ago).

So, looking ahead to Saturday and that single point needed to thrust Swansea into supposed mathematical safety is still at large. Unfortunately, playing a team like Blackburn, currently in the relegation zone, proves harder at this stage as they have so much to play for. Blackburn, too, have lost four in a row and know another loss will just increase the pressure.

That point we crave will not come easily. Lest we forget, Blackburn did a number on the Swans back in December (4-2) with Yakubu smashing them in from anywhere he chose. While I doubt it'll be the same scoreline this time around, even a team facing relegation can be a big threat (need I refer to QPR again?).

Who will start then? Rodgers has a full strength team (minus Kemy Agustien) to chose from, but it's the same eleven we are likely to see again in the Liberty Stadium this Saturday, as the quality of the reserves is not that inspiring at the moment. I do think Nathan Dyer needs to start after Wayne Routledge has shown some inconsistency recently after a few very good games, and looks to be lacking confidence.

Generally, the team need to keep on going about what they've been doing so well for the last few months, but with more confidence and a little enjoyment. Yes, it's hard to play with confidence and a smile when you're out of form, but if you dwell on it, it could become the start of a downwards fall that may see Cardiff welcome us back to the Championship next season.

Okay, that is an extreme example. If Swansea win on Saturday, safety is technically guaranteed. This should have happened a few weeks back, but it wouldn't be Swansea City without some unpredictable results and some nervous moments, would it!

It's hard to predict a score for this one. Swansea are favourites with the bookies (at evens or thereabouts), despite poor form, though the Liberty Stadium crowd will play a big part in lifting the team. I think Swansea will win, and will say 2-0 (at 9/1).

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Review: Swansea City 0 – 2 Newcastle United

Losing 2-0 to Newcastle makes it three losses in a row for Swansea – the first time this season. With the precious safety point still required, is now the time to panic?

... No, it's not. Swansea remain 11th in the table, but with every team below them having a game in hand, and some with two, it's not a comfortable time.

As we've regularly seen this season, Swansea were able to out-pass a good team all day long. In the first half Swansea put together 466 passes to Newcastle's 81, but the visitors still managed to get a goal and Swansea's good passing record became, as one tweeter mentioned, irrelevant.

Another statistic that pundits and fans love to bring up is possession. Swansea again dominated possession and at one point had 82% of it. Then Newcastle scored another.

This will have to be put down to a bad day where little went right. There is nothing wrong with Swansea's playing style, and the shots taken – such as those from Sigurdsson and Allen – certainly tested Krul, but the need for someone who can score goals on demand is something to look into this summer.

Changes were made to the starting line-up, with Brendan Rodgers opting for Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer together, as I called in my match preview. However I don't think many would've called Luke Moore kicking off today. He's never been a favourite of mine, but I've given him a chance. Off the bench he always seems to prove me wrong, with a number of inspired flicks and, of course, the goal against Man City. Yet when he starts a game he lacks invention or energy. I was pleased to see him make way for Danny Graham in the second half.

At the same time that Moore went off for Graham, Scott Sinclair took the field for Dyer, however I'm not convinced that that swap was the best choice – Routledge was not having his most effective game, while Dyer was creating things here and there. Unless it was tactical in the sense that Dyer needed a rest for Wednesday or had picked up an injury, I feel Rodgers made a rare mistake.

Newcastle were well set-up, took everything Swansea threw at them and then took their chances (actually less shots on target than the home team) to win the game. It's a surprise, but I can see Newcastle getting that Champions League spot next season with the likes of Cisse in the squad.

With QPR on Wednesday, Swansea have five days to look at what happened then prepare for what should be an easier game. Having said that, it's never straightforward playing a relegation-battling team is it?

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Swansea City vs Newcastle United: That Friday feeling!

Many people love a Friday night – it's the highlight of their week, with too much booze, dirty nightclubs and even dirtier kebabs. I am not one of those many. I usually tend to sit in quietly, waiting for Saturday to come and, with it, football.

This week however I need not wait so long, for Swansea are gracing the biggest footballing stage this Friday when they take on Newcastle United at the Liberty Stadium.

With that Friday feeling (© Cadbury Crunchie 1980...), this match is set to be an exciting game between two teams that have proved a lot this season. Swansea have proved they are no longer just Championship material, and Newcastle have shrugged off mid-table predictions and are level on points with Chelsea and pushing for a Champions League place next season.

Both will want to, again, prove critics wrong this weekend.

With three games in eight days, Brendan Rodgers may choose to rest a few players, knowing Swansea are more likely to get something more from QPR (Wednesday) and Blackburn (next Saturday) than Newcastle, though I'd be surprised if Steven Caulker didn't start after missing last week against Spurs.

I predict Nathan Dyer will start this one to give Wayne Routledge a rest, though an interesting move would be to leave Scott Sinclair on the bench and start Routledge and Dyer together. Sinclair is more in need of some relaxing bench time than Routledge and it may do his wavy form some good.

Swansea are coming off two defeats in two games they were actually expected to get little out of, so while confidence won't be that low, they'll want to avoid three losses in a row, especially at home. Out to stop the Swans picking up that precious 40th point this season, is Newcastle; a team Swansea haven't beat since 1980.

As I have done for the past few weeks, I've asked an opposition blogger in the know to fill us in on their team, their opinions of Swansea and their vital score prediction! Take it away John from Coming Home Newcastle (a great Toon fan blog at SBNation.com)

I'd love to say that, coming off an impressive three-game winning streak, I'm full of confidence heading across the border into Liberty Stadium on Friday morning, but, unfortunately, this has all the makings of a "trap game" for Newcastle.

That being said, I do believe that Newcastle are the stronger side, and we're riding a hot streak where Swansea appear to be hitting a skid (thus, the "trap"). Newcastle's attack has come alive recently behind Alan Pardew's implementation of the 4-3-3, outscoring opponents 5-1 in those two games, with Papiss Cisse netting four on his own.

Hatem Ben Arfa finally seems to have found a spot from which he can be effective, and even though the back line has been decimated with the injuries of Steven Taylor and captain Fabricio Colocinni, James Perch and Mike Williamson have been stout in their stead. Overall, Newcastle has looked sharp, on point, and deadly in the attack in recent weeks.

If Swansea were to attack a weakness, I believe it'd be most effective for them to hammer the middle early and see if we'll give, and if we don't, then use the speed and experience on the wings to drive the attack. With the 4-3-3, we've had to play far more compact than usual. Sinclair, Dyer, and Newcastle old boy Wayne Routledge could have monster games on the flank. I'm not ashamed to admit that Newcastle will have their hands completely full with Nathan Dyer.

All that said, I still think we'll leave Wales with three points after a barn burner: 3-2 NUFC.

So, some positive stuff from John, but he is wary of the threat that Swansea present.

In the meeting at St James Park back in December, Swansea held the home side to a 0-0 draw, but I feel there'll be goals this time around.

With the bookies, Swansea are favourites at 7/5 on PaddyPower. I'm going with a 1-1 draw (at 5/1), which wouldn't be a bad result for Swansea all things considered. Saying that, it's a home game and the East Stand will surely have sunk eight pints of lager each, so the noise levels will be immense, which could encourage Swans to get that extra one. 2-1 to Swansea is at 15/2. John's prediction of 3-2 to Newcastle is at 30/1.

So let's hope all Swans fans will end Friday night drinking themselves into a frenzy in celebration at Premier League safety!

Friday, 30 March 2012

Swansea vs Spurs: Safety matches (… take two)

Things didn't quite pan out as Swansea had hoped when taking on a stubborn Everton last Saturday. The 2-0 loss goes to show that... well, Swansea can't win them all (I think, deep down, we already knew that).

Onto Sunday and Swansea City, with accompanying Jack Army, will travel the simple journey to London to play a not-so-simple match against Harry Redknapp's side (hopefully not soon to be Brendan Rodgers' side as the media like to suggest!).

Swansea shared the points with Spurs at the Liberty Stadium back in December in a thrilling encounter that felt more like a win for Swansea. So we know it's not an impossible task – when you beat Man City, nothing seems an impossible task I guess – but we do know it'll be a tough one.

There are two key changes to the Swans squad this weekend, the first being a big blow in not having Spurs loanee Steven Caulker available, due to the terms of his loan. Garry Monk should slip back into the squad and do an equally fine job, but there'll be aspects of Caulker's game we will miss, especially in the air.

A more positive change is the return of Nathan Dyer after his three-match suspension. He'll be fit, fresh and dying for a game, but would his inclusion mean a place on the bench for Wayne Routledge? Routledge has been superb recently with three assists in the last two games that Swansea have won and it would be harsh to drop him. The other option is to leave out Scott Sinclair who hasn't had the greatest of seasons so far. However, I feel it's more likely that Routledge will sit this one out.

Spurs are currently fourth in the Premier League table and are looking likely to play Champions League football next season, despite a recent dip in form (they have failed to win in their last four league matches).

Aaron Lennon is likely to make and appearance after four matches out with a hamstring injury, which will be a boost to the home side, but they're likely to miss Ledley King and long-term absentees Michael Dawson and Heurelho Gomes.

This week we're lucky to have insight from top Spurs writer Dan Fitch from tottenhamblog.com, who kindly donated thoughts from a Spurs perspective:

Swansea gave us one of our toughest games this season, when we drew 1-1 at the Liberty Stadium. I knew that Swansea had a reputation for playing attractive possession football in the lower divisions, but I've been astonished at how successful it's proved in the top flight. Most promoted teams who try to play good football go straight down, but Swansea seem to have a tough core and defend well.

It's been great to see how Steven Caulker has done at Swansea and although I don't agree with the rule that on-loan players can't play against the club that owns them, I hope you miss him on Sunday. After a difficult time, we've maybe turned a corner with our results against Chelsea and Bolton. I'm expecting us to create loads of chances, miss most of them and struggle to a 1-0 win.

Despite Swansea having the option of Dyer back and Premier League survival all but guaranteed, I can't confidently predict a win for Swansea down to the inconsistency on the road. I'm feeling a repeat of December could be in store though, so I'll predict an entertaining 1-1 (at 7/1 on PaddyPower). Dan's prediction of a 1-0 win to Spurs is at 5/1.

Whatever the score, it's a game bringing two enjoyable footballing sides together in front of the Sky Sports cameras (no need for dodgy Greek cable hook-ups this weekend then!). As both Swansea and Spurs sit in first and second in the Premier League Fair Play table respectively, we can expect a clean, positive game with a lively atmosphere (which, I suspect, will be even better if Swansea win!)

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Check out my preview for UniBet.com, where I go head to head with a Spurs fan to give my take on Sunday's game.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Swansea City vs Everton: Safety matches!

The notion of “safety” in the Premier League seems a little irrelevant when Swansea City comfortably hold eighth position in the table.

Even so, the mathematicians among you (which, I suspect, is not that many) will want the added feeling of security that 40 points will bring and a win in Saturday's game against Everton will push Swansea into the desired “safe” zone.

The current team is looking more and more comfortable each week. I can't see much being changed this Saturday - the old clich├ę reads 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. (Other clich├ęs I enjoy include: 'stubborn as a mule', 'tip of the iceberg' and 'start from scratch' - all have probably featured heavily in this blog over the years.)

Nathan Dyer will be serving the last of his three-match ban for his red card at Wigan, leaving Wayne Routledge to once again fill in on the right wing. I guess “fill in” undermines him slightly as he's done so much more than just fill a hole. While arguably less skilful and certainly less speedy than Dyer, Routledge's delivery into the box has been superb and it's something that is definitely leading to goals.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is having an inspired few weeks and I wouldn't bet against him getting another goal or two in the game against Everton. He's certainly the player to permanently fill the Dobbie-role (now on loan to Blackpool until the end of the season) – if Swansea can raise the funds to sign him.

Ashley Williams is still not a certainty to start after missing out at Fulham due to sickness last weekend. We hope he returns, but I'm sure Monk would relish another starting appearance (and probably deserves it).

Before we get too caught up in getting the fourth win in a row, lest we forget Everton are still a “big” team. Despite now being below the Swans in the table (tenth), they're consistently a top-ten side and boast a number of impressive players and a good manager in Moyes.

Everton took all three points from Swansea in Goodison Park at Christmas time with a 1-0 win, but were unable to overtake the Swans in the table on Wednesday, when they lost 1-0 to Arsenal. In fact the Arsenal game marked the third in a row without a win, so they'll see Swansea as a route back to winning ways. I'm sure they'll be wary though – I don't think any team now feels Swansea is an easy three points, especially at the Liberty Stadium.

But who am I to analyse Everton? In a ForzaSwansea first, I've allowed another blogger to grace my blog. Here's some great analysis from Nic, writer at top Everton blog The Executioner's Bong:

Brendan Rodgers has rightly been lauded for the way Swansea have lightened up the top flight. The best thing about your style is that it shows you don’t have to play the direct, dour percentage football adopted by other sides that have come up.

Against a side who keeps the ball like you guys do there is perhaps a plan A and Plan B. ‘Plan A’ is to let you have the ball, conserve energy by only pressing when you approach 20 yards from our goal. Plan B is to stop you playing from the back. Given the small squad and the vital cup replay on Tuesday I’d doubt very much if Moyes would adopt an energy sapping tactic like Plan B and will instead adopt Plan A and look to stand off, narrow the passing angles to Swansea’s defenders and push them to play longer.

Moyes will certainly shuffle his pack for this one given the Arsenal game last night and the cup game next Tuesday. I’d expect Stracquilarsi, Anichebe and perhaps Gueye to get run outs given they all have good energy as we will probably spend a lot of time not in possession. Pienaar is cup tied for Tuesday so will probably start also. I’d imagine Cahill, Jelavic and possibly Drenthe will all be rested.

Our goal scoring record on the road is awful – less than one per game – so you probably only need the one goal to win it!

With that in mind, let's move to some bets! If you're planning to place a wager on the match, a few to cover are listed below:

Swansea are favourites at 5/4 so would be a good inclusion in any accumulator you have going this weekend. 'Sigurdsson to score first' is at 13/2 and probably worth covering as he is the man on fire at the moment.

My score prediction is 2-1 to Swansea, which is priced at 15/2. Nic says just one goal could win it for Swansea, and 1-0 to the home side is at 11/2 (all odds from PaddyPower)!

Thanks again to Nic and be sure to check out The Executioner's Bong for more analysis!