Wednesday, 30 May 2012

30th May 2011 – One Year On: Where are they now?

I remember it like it was yesterday. But it wasn't. It was a year ago.

Yes, one year ago today (or yesterday if you are reading this tomorrow), Swansea City walked out onto that Wembley field to take on Reading in the Championship play-off final in front of 40,000 excited Swans fans (and a few Reading fans). Swansea won and then it was all a blur!

A year on and plenty has changed. However, before I spend the summer writing about hopes for next season, I felt it necessary to focus a blog post on the starting eleven who battled hard in that incredible game.

Where are they now? How was the past year for them? Let's have a look.

Dorus De Vries 
The departure of the likeable keeper was the biggest shock of last summer, and left a bad taste in the mouths of many Swans fans. He moved to Wolves "to be able to find [his] true potential" - potential that was left bottled up on the bench as Wolves spent most of the season in the relegation zone, finally sent back to the Championship in May. He made only his second Premier League start against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium in an odd 4-4 draw, and was jeered a number of times by the Swans fans. He'll spend next season in the Championship, probably on the bench. Sorry Dorus, but it wasn't our choice.

Angel Rangel 
Rangel had a good first season in the Premier League. He didn't make the headlines, and generally took a little longer than others to settle into the big league, but was eventually able to replicate his strong defending and pacey wing-back role in the big time. Always one of the first on anyone's team sheet. He had a few poor moments, notably his mistake which gifted Man United the only goal in the game at the Liberty. Still, we all love Rangel.

Garry Monk 
The iconic centre-back captained the Swans in that memorable play-off final and deservedly lifted the trophy. However, Monk played a lesser role throughout last season thanks to the inclusion of Steven Caulker at centre-back. Mind you, he still started 14 games, and played his part in the clean-sheet victories over Fulham, West Brom and Stoke. His career is not over yet, though it is starting to wind up. Much of it is summed up in his published autobiography, Loud, Proud and Positive (available from all good book shops or the internet I assume!).

Ashley Williams
Williams had a huge season for the club, starting all 37 Premier League games and all three cup matches, captaining the squad through much of it. There has been little in the way of struggling with the step up, as Williams kept world-class strikers quiet for many games. Always the first name on the team sheet and will take the captain role again next season.

Alan Tate 
I always forget Tate was playing in that play-off final, instead of the banned Neil Taylor. Unfortunately for Tate, his now infamous golf buggy incident ruled him out for much of the season with a broken leg. He eventually made a comeback and, while never making the pundits drool, gave his all, as he always does for Swansea City. He was subbed-on for the last few minutes of the game against his former club at Old Trafford, and deserved every last note of “we all dream of a team of Alan Tate's”.

Leon Britton 
Britton has become Swansea City's unlikely poster boy this season, being dubbed the Xavi of South Wales, and totting up some impressive passing statistics. He's been a vital part in the midfield engine and I predict the same next season. Why not check out my detailed article that I wrote for the Sabotage Times earlier in the season, centring on the rise of Leon Britton.

Joe Allen 
Allen established himself well in the Premier League and was a vital ball winner in the centre of the field. Overall he looked much more developed and less prone to frustrating mistakes (although he has picked up a few cards during the season). He was also able to contribute with the goal scoring – four this season, doubling his tally from last year.

Stephen Dobbie
His play created the second goal, then he scored the third for Swansea in the play-off final, but Dobbie just never got started in the Premier League. He had his chances to make an impact, but in his eight appearances (two starting, the rest as a sub) he looked a shadow of his Championship days. In March he rejoined Blackpool on loan, where he, albeit unsuccessfully, helped them in the battle for promotion. He may well stay with Blackpool next season, though will always be fondly remembered by Swans fans. 

Nathan Dyer 
His slippery dancing won the penalty which led to the first goal in the play-off final. He had a great start of the 11/12 season, emulating his Championship form in the early days against the likes of Man City and Arsenal though saw his role swapped with Wayne Routledge occasionally in the latter stages. The most important thing seems to be his ability in front of goal has improved – he scored six in total, and is looking much more the finished package.

Scott Sinclair 
Last season's poster boy scored an incredible hat-trick in the final. However, some may say that final was the last great game he had for the Swansea after losing a lot of form this season. While it is true he hasn't had the same impact down the wing as last season, he is a solid player and his composure from the penalty spot is still highly desirable. He's still the club's second highest goal scorer after Danny Graham, with eight goals this season. I reckon he has had his second season syndrome, and will shine again come August.

Fabio Borini 
Probably the most successful ex-Swansea striker and member of that play-off winning team. Borini left immediately, to head to his home nation of Italy to join Parma, though he spent most of the season with Roma. His fine Serie A performances saw Cesare Prandelli hand the youngster his debut appearance for the Italian national squad and he's off to Poland this summer to (hopefully, for me anyway) take Italy to glory! Forza Borini! Forza Swansea!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Swansea City: Hello Sigurdsson? Goodbye Tate? Stay there Dobbie?

It's been just under two weeks since Swansea City last took to the field. Brendan Rodgers has barely opened his bottle of SPF 30 and the summer rumours, links and signings are already in full flow.

Too many rumours begin and end on Twitter and, with no attribution, it's barely worth taking notice of most of them. However, some may have legs...

Let's briefly catch up with what's been going on:

Gylfi Sigurdsson
I began writing several posts on Sigurdsson, but as soon as I went to publish them we heard of another twist in the story. It seems Huw Jenkins is opening his wallet wide to grab the Icelandic midfielder, who played such a key role in the latter stages of the season. He filled the centre of the pitch nicely, netting many goals in style for the Swans, so it's no wonder everyone wants him to stay on.

The latest news seems to be that Swansea have agreed a £7.2million fee with Hoffenheim after Huw Jenkins flew to Germany. Sigurdsson must now agree personal terms and decide if he wants to make the switch permanently.

Let us hope it's all sorted soon and £7.2million is the limit. Though he is clearly a quality player, the whole budget shouldn't be spent on one man. You never know - he may have his own bout of 'second-season syndrome'! But I'm almost certain that won't happen. A decision is coming soon though; an announcement we all anticipate highly.

Tate and Monk Released?! 
No... at least I don't think so. But I bring this up as I recently overheard someone say 'I don't believe they've released Tate and Monk from their contracts!'. Thankfully a quick internet search proved it to be another nothing rumour, and rightly so.

While they are struggling in the Premier League they should never be forced out, for two reasons: one being Swansea are severely lacking defenders at the moment. If Taylor and Rangel take a knock, it's Tate who will step in. We don't even have the luxury of two fresh, young centre-backs at the moment with the departure of Caulker, so Monk is currently first choice along with Williams.

The other reason should be obvious - they are Swansea City. Despite being somewhat past their prime, both Monk and Tate are key figures to have on the bench, in the dressing room and, when it's called for, on the field. I'm sure they'd take pay cuts if needs be, but to be released just like that? No!

Stephen Dobbie
Still on the Swans books, but will he play again? Watching the play-off semi-finals it was clear to see why the Blackpool fans love him. His touch, his vision... he is the complete player. For the Championship. Yes, I fear Dobbie is a very good Championship player and that is his limit.

Is it worth keeping him? With the probable signing of Sigurdsson, Dobbie is even less likely to start for Swansea next season, so I think now is the time to let him go (for a nice lump sum of course - £1million is the current price tag). Naturally, he won't be forgotten easily, after what he did for the team in the promotion winning season, but I think most would be happier to see him make the switch to Blackpool permanently.

Marvin Emnes 
Swansea were linked with Marvin Emnes last week, but that little rumour did the rounds and died. Like Dobbie he seems to be a fantastic Championship player and will always be remembered for his goal against Cardiff, but I can't confidently say he'd make an impact on the Premier League.

Rodgers to Liverpool 
He wasn't first choice for the Liverpool job and didn't want to upset the Swans players and supporters, so his decision not to get involved with talks was clever and ultimately the correct choice.

And the rest...
Rodgers to Roma, Emile Heskey to Swansea, Allen to Liverpool for £3million - none of these are happening! I can't decide which one is the most absurd and which I dislike the sound of the most...

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Goodbye 2011/12: a brief reflection

From crashing back to reality with the hammering from Man City in August, to the comfortable win over Liverpool on Sunday, it's been one hell of a debut season for Swansea City!

The months since the Premier League new boys walked out at the Etihad have been incredibly memorable. The first win against West Brom; taking points from games against Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea; Alan Tate and his golf buggy; incredible possession stats; and the 3-1 loss to Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup (…yeah, scrap that last one).

This season has shown the world what Swansea City are all about. The pundits and bookies said the club would rejoin Cardiff in the Championship if they tried to replicate the pass-and-move style in the Premier League - how wrong they were.

Over the months we've seen some real talent join the club: Michel Vorm, Wayne Routledge, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Steven Caulker - vital players in the survival campaign. They won't all stay, but they'll be welcomed back any time! Some players joined and didn't make much of an impact, like Josh McEachran and the incredible return of Fede Bessone.

We've also said our goodbyes to some such as Craig Beattie, and two gingers, Ryan Harley and Shaun MacDonald, while Stephen Dobbie made a loan move (again) to Blackpool (again) where he helped them secure a place in the play-off final (again).

Swansea had their ups and downs on the field, from the deserved victories against Man City and Arsenal, to never being able to win against Wolves (even when it looked certain!). Low periods of form did become a worry at times, but the Swans never looked like being dragged into a relegation battle, with 17th being the lowest place all season, after the second game.

Despite that well-deserved win against Liverpool, Swansea ended the season with a poor spell - winning just one in eight and losing four in a row. Had they been a little more clinical in the final third, scoring just one or two goals where it mattered, Swansea could easily have finished in the top ten.

Having said that, finishing too high in the first season might not be desirable as it could set unrealistic ambitions for next time.

No, this season will be remembered as a highly positive campaign. 11th place was more than any of us predicted and to do it in such style and with limited resources has gained the club followers from across the globe.

So, what can we expect next season?

Some are already using the clich├ęd 'second season syndrome' when looking ahead, but this seems to be coming from the same people who said we'd see Elvis sooner than we'd see Swansea survive... and we all know what happened there.

In their 100th season as a football club, Swansea will no longer have the 'new boy' tag and many fans will expect to better the 11th place finish. Maybe a place in Europe? Maybe that's a bit too ambitious for now, especially with a squad lacking depth. I'm sure we'd all take another season of survival!

I will explore the ambitions, targets and how it'll be done over the next few weeks, but for now enjoy the summer Swans fans - you've earned it!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Swansea City vs Liverpool: Farewells from Graceland

It's May already?!

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that the Premier League had a shiny gloss of untried anticipation about it? Now we're all old pros, having stood face-to-face with the giants, showing planet football that Swansea aren't just making up the numbers.

We've seen so much this season, and I'll capture those memories in an upcoming blog post. But for now it's a look ahead to Swansea's final game: at home to Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers has already ensured that the stadium will have a party atmosphere about it, with his request for fans to wear Elvis costumes on Sunday. This is, of course, to highlight Swansea's silencing of the critics who said there would be more chance of seeing the fat man (not Michael Chopra...) reappear than Swansea surviving the Premier League.

Though Swansea's dreams of finishing in the top ten have all but gone, along with the other dream of finishing above Liverpool, the most important dream of league survival was the only one that needed to come true. And it did.

So this game shouldn't matter.

But it does. It's the last chance for the East Stand to shout and sing, showing the club their appreciation for the season gone by. It's also the chance for the players to show the fans a final good performance, because the Swans fans really have played that 12th man role all season. Everyone deserves a good game.

Liverpool are eighth in the table after giving Chelsea a good thrashing on Tuesday night, and they have nothing to lose on Sunday either, except dignity; something they have already lost in bucket-loads this season. They'll be coming down to Graceland with intentions to claw a little back, ending their damp season on a high.

I don't expect much in the shape of a team overhaul from Brendan Rodgers – Liverpool are still a good footballing force, so the inclusion of weaker fringe players will probably wait until those pre-season friendlies in America. On Sunday it should be the same eleven we've seen so much of this season. However, I wouldn't mind seeing Orlandi get a run around again, if he can shake off his injury. He intrigued in his last match...

This could also be the last game we see Steven Caulker and Gylfi Sigurdsson in Swansea City white, depending on their intentions during the summer. Hopefully they will stay, but if not this will be their farewell game.

Having a final bet of the season? Put it all on Swansea! 12/5 with the bookies, and well worth a gamble. The Elvis stunt is bound to create a 13th, 14th and 15th man for the Swans, spurring them on for that final win to round off a memorable season.

It's also worth sticking a pound on 4-4. You never know.

I'll be back with my season reviews, player report cards and next season previews over the next few weeks – until then, Forza Swansea!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Swansea City vs Man United: The brief, sketchy preview

The trip to Manchester is the penultimate match for Swansea City this season and the chance to cause another real upset in this unpredictable league.

Man United quite possibly threw away their chance at a 20th league title after that lacklustre, tired performance against their rivals on Monday night, but are still tipped to destroy Swansea on Sunday.

However I am optimistic. Perhaps I shouldn't be, with Swansea winning just one in their last seven games and with odds of 12/1 to win this one, but I feel we're still in for one more Swansea City shock before the season is through.

The Swans are safe. They have nothing to lose, and nothing more to gain (the top ten spot is probably just out of reach unless other results go the right way). The Sky cameras will be on, Swansea are clear underdogs and Man United, who are also slightly out of form, will be playing with desperation. Call me a silly sausage, but I feel this has 'upset' written all over it!

Who does Brendan Rodgers pick then? The 3-4-3 worked well to an extent last week, giving Swansea a much stronger attacking threat, but leave three at the back and the Swans will surely be torn apart by Rooney and co. No, it'll be much the same as we've seen all season – 4-5-1 or thereabouts.

I'd like to see Orlandi take part again, after an effective first half last week. Possibly in the place of Leon Britton, maybe even Gylfi Sigurdsson – two players who might have been figured out a little by the opposition.

Alan Tate is expecting to make a return for this game against his former club. However, if Angel Rangel is fit, I don't think many will see Tate starting the game. He may come on at the end, depending on how things are going, similar to Mark Gower getting a little run-around against his former team at Spurs.

Whatever team Rodgers picks for this game, be sure that Sir Alex (...Ferguson) (...you knew who I meant) will field a younger Man United team, a much different side from the bunch who lost to Man City. Good news for Swansea as Jonny Evans and Danny Welbeck are unlikely to feature due to injuries, but we may see the return of Antonio Valencia and Javier Hernandez to the starting line-up.

Betting on the game? Swansea, as mentioned, are around 12/1 to win, and 6/1 to draw. A decent bet to cover may be 'Swansea to win or draw' which is priced at 4/1. It's hard to call a score on this one – I wouldn't bet against 4-4 (at 350/1) if I'm honest, but a more realistic 3-1 to Man United may be wiser (9/1).

Either way, it should be a great final away game for Swansea before a sure win against Liverpool the following week!

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.