Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Ok? Ok? Ok? - OK!

You may think I've gone mental, or my blog been hacked into, but no - the title is just a light-hearted jab at Brendan Rodgers (whose time on Being: Liverpool has exposed him as a religious user of the word 'ok').

It seems like just yesterday we all felt the jolt of panic when we sensed unrest in the Swansea City camp - Brendan Rodgers being linked with Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers being confirmed with Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers leaving for Liverpool. Then came the cliche-riddled letter to the Evening Post. Then he was gone.

We soon wiped away the tears. Some of us turned angry, others remained unsure whether or not he was the new Martinez. However, he soon confirmed his place on the Swans fans hate list after looking to poach players like Ashley Williams and Michel Vorm, and then succeeding in taking Joe Allen.

Tomorrow, for the first time, Swansea City come up against Brendan Rodgers in the Capital One Cup.

We probably won't see the usual cup match tradition, where most Swansea fringe players will be aired out - we would hope for (and I'm sure Laudrup will deliver) pretty much a first team squad, with a few exceptions.

With the Man City game taking one of Swansea City's most valuable players in Michel Vorm, Gerhard Tremmel will really need to rise to this occasion. He has look flaky in the past and even struggled against Barnsley, but Laudrup has confidence in him. Still, I guess he is a better option than David Cornell.

Elsewhere Angel Rangel is suspended, but it's not the end of the world as I'm sure Rangel needed a bit of a rest. Dwight Tiendalli or Jazz Richards may well get an airing out, while Alan Tate or Garry Monk may make an appearance somewhere in defence at some point.

Maybe we'll see Luke Moore start up front or on a wing, though Danny Graham and Nathan Dyer have both been bench-warming recently, so I'd be surprised if they don't start.

Of course, this is a cup match - if Swansea lose it's not the end of the world. Ultimately the Premier League is still priority, but it goes without saying a win would be more than just a win.

Rodgers has the advantage of it being in Anfield and has the 'bigger' players advantage - we know what Steven Gerrard, Louis Suarez and, of course, Joe Allen can do on a good day. However, it's likely they will be rested - which is good news for the Swans.

I'm not sure how the travelling Jacks will respond to Rodgers... okay, they won't be applauding him. We all know what Rodgers did for the team, but it wasn't just his doing, as some of the lazier media outlets like to insist. We have plenty to thank the Irishman for, but enough to be bitter about too.

While the Swans fans at the game will surely vent plenty of anger, it will hopefully be our (well, Michael Laudrup and the team's) football that will do the talking.

(Meanwhile, this is an interesting article I found on the origin of the word Ok). Ok?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Swansea City vs Man City: Out for blood

There is no doubt that this weekend Man City - an already brutal opponent - will be considerably riled up when they take on Swansea City, after crashing out of the Champions League on Wednesday.

Swansea - as well all love to recall - beat Man City 1-0 last season. However the eventual Champions did beat the Swans emphatically in the first game - one we like to remember less.

Add the recoil from the Champions League loss and the 1-0 defeat at the Liberty Stadium to the stories of Roberto Mancini wanting revenge after Laudrup's Barcelona beat the Sampdoria side captained by the Italian in the 1992 European Cup final, and Man City have 'out for blood' written all over them.

Yes, this week things will be very tough at the roaring Etihad Stadium, where the home fans will demand a victory.

Looking at the team and we are pretty lucky with no real injury worries apart from Neil Taylor. Michael Laudrup has tinkered with the team in recent games and - though he's a shrewd manager - I still don't think he is actually sure of his best starting eleven. And I guess he's not the only one...

I'm not sure what set up he will go for, but one certainty is Michel Vorm in goals. An easy one, that. We should also see the recently clumsy Ashley Williams, with his refreshed contract, alongside Chico Flores in the centre of defence, and Angel Rangel and Ben Davies outside them.

As we make our way down the team sheet, things become less certain. The combination in the middle will probably be Leon Britton, Michu and Ki Sung Yueng - who has kindly asked the travelling Jacks to make lots of noise - though Jonathan de Guzman is equally likely to start instead of any one of those. On the wings, little Nathan Dyer, Wayne Routledge and new-boy Pablo Hernandez have all made use of themselves recently and have all had time on and off the bench - either of those three could start.

Luke Moore scored the winner last year against Man City and - though I've never been his biggest fan - he hasn't looked bad recently. However it's quite unlikely he will start upfront. We will probably see Danny Graham start again, although Michu looked dangerous last week. Either way, the striker will have a tough time against a world-class goalkeeper and a pretty solid defence.
For the opposition, we are likely to see the appearance of ex-Swan, Scott Sinclair. This will be strange and I'm not sure of the reception he will get with the away support. It's pretty likely he will feature, as some of the bigger Man City players played mid-week against Ajax. I don't think he deserves boos or applause. You make up your own mind.

As usual, my knowledge of the opposition is just what I read on other websites and - ultimately - made up. So, instead of cut-and-pasting some drivel, I asked Ric Turner, a writer from Man City fan site Blue Moon, to share his thoughts with us. Take it away Ric!

It's probably a bad time for Swansea to visit The Etihad as City have started to rediscover their form after a relatively sluggish start to the season, taking nine points from the last three games.

The midweek game in Amsterdam may take its toll, but Mancini is likely to rotate the squad which could mean rare starts for the likes of Sinclair and Nastasic.

Last season Swansea gave a good account of themselves on the opening day of the season, and the 4-0 scoreline flattered City somewhat.

Under Laudrup you've made a fairly promising start to this campaign, and he's made some astute signings in Michu and Hernandez, but I think City will have too much for you at home. Our record at Eastlands is exceptional, and we haven't lost a league game at home for almost two years.

Likely team: Hart, Richards, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy, Barry, Garcia, Yaya Toure, Sinclair, Tevez, Balotelli

Prediction: Swansea play fairly open football, which could be to their detriment against a side as strong as City. 2-0 to City.

Swansea to win the game is around 12/1. As you may guess, I'm not particularly optimistic. However, we know the ball is round and anything could happen - we saw it last year - so I have put a few pound on Swansea grabbing the shock win again... just in case.

The less optimistic, but more realistic bet - and my prediction for the game - is 3-1 to Man City (at about 9/1). Ric's prediction of 2-0 to Man City is around 6/1. Both worth a pound in my eyes.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

BOOK REVIEW: "Proud to be a Swan: The History of Swansea City 1912-2012"‏

As Premier League football stopped for a week, I took my own international break. A long flight to America gave me the perfect opportunity to catch up on some reading (and drinking from tiny cans of aeroplane beer). But what book was I to read to pass the time?

Since Swansea City have gone global, I've received quite a few emails from new Swans fans around the world. One question that crops up time and again is 'what are the best books to read about Swansea's history?'

Usually - pushed for time - I will just say 'check the official Swansea City history page'. I usually feel a little guilty for not being able to recommend something specific. So I decided to check out a history book - one that can bring anyone up to speed on our exciting football club.


Looking towards new releases I picked up a copy of "Proud to be a Swan: The History of Swansea City 1912-2012"‏ (y Lolfa), by a man who is both a historian and (most importantly) a Swans fan - Geraint H. Jenkins.

The book appealed to me because it seemed to offer the chance to learn everything about Swansea City from the very beginning, without having to dive into the library for prolonged periods (something the author clearly did).

It reads more like a novel than a history book, which is appropriate considering the almost fictional history Swansea City have written themselves. Much of the waffle sometimes associated with history books is cut out - what's left is a highly readable journey through Swansea's history.

Over the 186 pages, we read about the events leading up to the formation of the club and the first glory days of the mid-20s, where Joe Bradshaw reigned over players like Joe Sykes and Jack Fowler. Those were the days where the Vetch was bursting with fans shouting 'hurrah', while the players won the club's first trophies with attractive, passing football similar to the Swansea City of today.

We hear all about the various highs of the club, including trophies won, superstars developed and promotions secured. Of course, with the highs come the lows, and these are also all well documented - from the wartime years and wavering support to relegation scraps, and even a gruesome death.

Thankfully the book is very up-to-date, with the inclusion of our most recent manager upset and the recruitment of Michael Laudrup. Basically, if it happened in the past 100 years, it's likely to be in the book.

Add two high quality photo sections and a foreword by Swansea genius Huw Jenkins and you have a very readable history book.

So, as Swansea City step into the next 100 years of being South Wales' favourite football team, it's safe to say 'Proud to be a Swan' has punctuated the last century superbly.

You can buy the book here!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Swansea City and the first 'not-must-win-but-must-not-lose' of the season!

It's pretty early in the season to describe any game as 'must win', but we've discussed not-must-win-but-must-not-lose games in the past and I believe Saturday's match against Reading falls into this category.

Last time Swansea met Reading!

We're all aware of the current blip in Swansea's second Premier League season. After such a brilliant first two games, the three losses in a row probably hit us harder than if the Swans had just won one, lost one, one won, lost one, and so on.

It will be vital to pick up at least a point against Reading - not just to finish this lame period of despair, but to also take something away from Reading; a team likely to be battling Swansea towards the end of the season.

Also, let's face it - Reading are a team Swansea should be beating, especially at home. We did it at Wembley last year so who is to say we can't do it again on home soil in the big boy league!?

Michael Laudrup has said it will be one of the four biggest fixtures of the season. While it may not be a Liverpool clash or Man City at home, the Swans boss is right and it's good he knows this. It would be disconcerting for him to come out and say "Reading is just another game - play like you have been boys".

Reading are without a victory in their season so far, so while this will be a winnable game for Swansea it is certainly not going to be a walk over.

Before you say 'negative bastard' and click the little red cross at the top of your browser, I will say it is always reassuring to see that Swansea can lose three games in a row and still be 11th in the Premier League table! A win could well put the club back in 8th in the table, which is nicer to focus on instead of what fate looms if they suffer another loss. 

So onto the squad and, apart from Neil Taylor and Kemy Agustien, Swansea are basically back to full strength after the period of red cards and injuries. This means there are no excuses about being sparse in certain areas - the quality of play is the only thing in question.

It was Chico Flores' fault that Peter Crouch was unmarked for the first goal conceded at Stoke, but we'll blame that on rust thanks to his three game absence. He has no excuses this week. His fellow centre back Ashley Williams also needs his game head on after some recent poor form.

Angel Rangel has come out of the last few games one of the only players who seems to have done - or tried to do - his job properly. Ben Davies on the other wing isn't the most confident, but has done a decent job recently - however, I would still like to see Dwight Tiendalli start this week.

In midfield Leon Britton will play his 400th game for the Swans if he plays on Saturday. When I say if it will almost certainly be when he plays. He must partner up with Ki Sung Yueng, who - like Rangel - seemed to do a good job when others were losing it. Michu is the final man in the middle three and, though less effective recently, deserves the chance to start because we all know what he can do.

The final third has been a problem for Swansea in the last three games. I know it's technically all been a problem - especially with seven goals conceded - but Danny Graham and co just haven't been compensating with goals for Swansea. Graham seems isolated at times while Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge - who should both start on Saturday - just haven't had the confidence that they did against QPR and West Ham.

Onto Reading and... well I don't know much about Reading. I tried to get a Reading blogger on board but none were interested. To sum up - a poor start leaves them in 19th place with just two points. If you are desperate to find out about the opposition, I suggest reading the BBC preview whenever it is released...

I actually feel Swansea will turn things around this week. I almost had my 2-1 to Stoke prediction correct and feel I will be bang on with a 2-1 to Swansea prediction this week (at around 7/1). Bet on this at your peril.

Whatever happens Swansea cannot afford another loss, and certainly cannot afford another bad performance. I doubt it will change much but it will do nothing for the confidence of the side going into the international break.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Swansea vs. Stoke: not that different?

The 'top of the league' chants have stopped, the Michu goal-machine is broken and the fawned-over passing stats have recently been less impressive.

Yes, after the unbelievable start - picking up six points in two games - Swansea City have settled into a more believable Premier League season, earning just one point in the last three and looking like a poor Championship team in the process.

It should be pointless me saying 'let's not panic' because people shouldn't be panicking. However, Swans fans are understandably uneasy with the way things are going. The team need to sharpen up a little and play a bit of... well, football.

Still, it's early in the season and there is now a chance for the team to redeem themselves against Stoke on Saturday. Stoke are 13th in the table - two places below Swansea after a poor start for them - on four points with four draws.

Most media outlets will be billing this as a 'clash of styles' and last season it was very true. Stoke are a big physical side who - clich├ęd as it may be, but quite true - love to play a long ball to a tall front man. Last season Swansea were bullied off the ball and succumbed to strong set-pieces. But this season things already seem different. Swansea are looking to play a longer pass at times and - with the likes of Michu, Chico Flores and Sung-Yueng - are looking a tougher side, able to cope with what Stoke can throw at them physically.

Who should start in the middle on Saturday is a question worth asking. The side certainly missed Leon Britton against Everton so he needs to be the first name on the team sheet in my eyes. Michu, despite a poor spell recently, is certainly on there too. The fiery ying to Britton's calmer yang. Completing the trio should be Ki Sung-Yeung who was one of the only players against Everton to have a decent game. This relatively untested group should work well.

Nathan Dyer's silly sending off meant he missed one game (as it was two yellow cards, not a straight red), so he will be back this week after missing the Crawley game. I'd assume Wayne Routledge will join him on the other side as Pablo Hernandez looked a little useless against Everton.

Swansea's defensive worries remain worrying, though we're relieved to see Chico Flores back from his three-match ban. He'll certainly bolster the back four considerably, in place of Alan Tate who looked unable to cope against Everton. Elsewhere I think I'd prefer to see Dwight Tiendalli start at left back instead of Ben Davies for a change. Tiendalli had a good game at Crawley by all accounts and a Premier League start is deserved.

Would it be a stupid move to change Ashley Williams for Garry Monk? Probably. Either way, Williams needs a good shake after some of his worst ever performances in a Swans shirt recently.

With a defence lacking in confidence, goals are likely to be conceded - there's no escaping that. However the attacking players need to balance this out with goals of their own.

Stoke, as we've mentioned, have also started poorly and will be desperate for all three points after not winning in their last 11 Premier League matches. Stoke are without banned Andy Wilkinson, while former Swans player Mamady Sidibe is also out with an injury. They still have power, skill and, of course, height in players like Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam, though have a talented short-arse in Michael Owen likely to cause some trouble.

I feel it'll be a fiery game, with goals from both sides. However I have a funny feeling Swansea will feel the pressure away from home, especially at the Britannia - well known for its great home atmosphere. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm going for 2-1 to Stoke (at around 7/1). However with Stoke's recent record of score draws, 1-1 is a bet worth covering at around 5/1.

I'm sure none of us would complain with a point. None of us would complain with a loss if Swansea played with a little more purpose and direction than against Everton!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Swansea 0 – 3 Everton: Another one to forget!

If you are here, you're a glutton for punishment. Seriously, it's a lovely sunny Saturday evening - why aren't you drinking away the memories of the early kick-off in one of Swansea's many beer gardens?

Right... the match. Everyone has off days. Unfortunately the Swans players had all their off days at the same time!

It's really hard to write about Swansea City when it seemed like it wasn't actually Swansea playing. The players were wearing the kit, but otherwise it could have been Tranmere Rovers knocking it around.

Let's face it - the Swans were useless for much of the game. The usual smooth pass-and-move-forward game was replaced with a bumpy pass-and-lose-it-in-bad-areas style. Every first touch looked to bounce into the distance and careless passes were intercepted with ease.

Fair enough to Everton, who deserved the win and deserved to sit at the top of the table (albeit briefly). They have some very talented players. However, despite their clear abilities this season, I can only say 'Swansea made it easy for you'.

Lovely day at the Liberty (apart from the game).

What went wrong? It certainly wasn't the strongest Swansea team on the pitch. When Alan Tate and Ben Davies start, you know things will have a degree of shakiness about them. Elsewhere, Nathan Dyer and Leon Britton were two key players - maybe the most vital so far this season - who were left on the bench. They would have set a different tone to the game had they started. Don't get me wrong, before the match I was excited to see Hernandez and Sung-Yueng make the starting line-up, but in reality they made little impact.

Defensively the Swans seemed all over the place. Tate - though we love him - messed up a few times. Davies was decent in some places, but showed his naivety in other areas, and allowed Pienaar to slip past him and create the second goal, five minutes before half time. Essentially game over.

Once again we have Michel Vorm to thank for it not being 7-0, though even his distribution was a little poor today.

Nathan Dyer really looked to change things when he came on, however his feisty attitude led to two yellows - one for mouthing-off and the other for a bad tackle on Leighton Baines. However it was not just Dyer; discipline was surprisingly bad from Swansea, with a whopping (never used that word on the blog before) five yellow cards.

I didn't see much of Ki Sung-Yueng in the first half, though he replaced Tate in the back when Leon Britton came on and made some use of himself. For me, Britton was the most effective and it showed how much Swansea missed him from the starting line up. Angel Rangel also had a decent game going forward.

The referee? Well, from a Swansea perspective he was terrible, and gave Everton one-too-many decisions. But I'm not going to blame it all on him.

Two poor performances and two deserved losses for Swansea now. There's not much more to say about this game. Looking on the bright side, Swansea are still in a fine position (ninth in the table as I write this), but we can't rely on those brilliant first few games to see us through the rest of the season!

Next week the away trip to Stoke is likely to be an equally difficult game, but then we have two potential wins against Wigan and Reading - a few points from those will be vital.

Before all that Premier League action, the Swans will play Crawley Town in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday. A chance for the team to get a good win and a little confidence after a few games to forget.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Forza Swansea - Best Sports Blog in Wales 2012!

I did what I promised and flew the flag (...scarf) at the Wales Blog Awards in Cardiff!

Forza Swansea is now officially the Best Sports Blog in Wales! Naturally we had all assumed it was the best for some time, but it's nice to have it confirmed. (Seriously though, I didn't expect to win so I am very happy and proud by this.)

Sporting Wales Editor Hamish Stuart and Political Editor of ITV Wales Adrian Masters present me with my award

If you were at the Wales Blog Awards ceremony on Thursday night, you may have noticed I was announced as the winner. You may have also noticed I walked onto the stage wearing my Swans scarf and had a lovely photo taken.

However, my acceptance speech was a mass of nervous babble where I think I made a joke about Cardiff fans... What I actually meant to say on stage was something poignant and a few "thank you's". So, after a little time to reflect, here is the acceptance speech I wanted to give...

"Thank you very much for this award - I am thrilled. I have to thank a few people. Firstly, my readers, friends and family who always offer their support, feedback and comments on my blog posts. If I didn't have the readers I wouldn't have the blog! I'd also like to mention the other blogs shortlisted for Best Sports Blog, which were Girl on the River and Dodgy Knees and Dirty Balls. These guys thoroughly deserved their runners-up certificates and I hope one of them wins next year. Finally, I'd like to thank Swansea City FC - the most exciting football club in Britain, who always give me so much ammo to write with. From Brendan Rodgers leaving to that day in Wembley, there is always something to say on Swansea City!"

So once again, a big thank you to everyone who has read the blog over the past two years and those who have sent me nice congratulatory messages and Tweets!

I'll be back shortly for more Swans news and reviews!