Monday, 11 August 2014

Swansea City: The Season Preview

Is it just me or was that a short summer?

In less than a week Swansea City will be back up and running, kicking off their fourth Premier League campaign with an away trip to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United (Saturday, 12.45pm).

We've seen / heard / read about the Swans pre-season friendlies (make sure to read my full round-up) - some of them were pretty convincing wins, but other games made for much less comfortable watching.

Unfortunately when Swansea played Villarreal on Saturday at the Liberty they looked to pick up where they left off last season - a little clueless and disorganised. What is worrying is that the players on the pitch were essentially Garry Monk's first team (excluding the injured Leon Britton and Wayne Routledge).

However, despite looking very uninspiring, the 3-0 loss perhaps proved to Monk that whatever he was trying out didn't work. Set up the same way against Man United and it's pretty much the first loss of the season guaranteed.

What went wrong in that game? Well the formation seemed non-existent. Were they playing a 4-4-2? Or a 3-5-2? Or a 4-5-1? Whatever they were trying it wasn't working and they looked very unbalanced. Naturally without Britton soaking up the pressure in the middle and another dedicated winger out wide there was always going to be some unbalance.


Hopefully a key player again this season

So how will Swansea fare this season? It's really hard to predict! To many pundits, the Swans are relegation fodder, but I still can't see it. If they keep hold of Wilfried Bony and he links up well with the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jefferson Montero, Jonjo Shelvey and Bafetimbi Gomis, the attack could be one of the best outside the top four.

With midfield possibly the strongest it has ever been, the main area of worry seems to be in defence - an area that has not been much of an issue in recent years. With the departure of Ben Davies and Chico Flores, this crucial part of the team is looking a little threadbare.

Angel Rangel - though still one of my favourite players - is not as sharp as he once was, while Kyle Bartley looks a little suspect at times. However the club are making a move for Napoli's Argentinian centre-back Federico Fernandez, while Nice's left/centre-back Timothee Kolodziejczak (looking forward to Kevin Johns saying that over the Liberty loudspeakers!) has also been linked with the club.

Whatever happens, fans and the board will be more sympathetic of Monk than they would another manager. But he's not invincible and if we start to see poor results there will certainly be unrest among those who wanted Monk as permanent manager and those who thought it was too soon.

The fixtures are pretty balanced throughout the season, with two highly winnable games to begin (after United of course) - Burnley and West Brom at the Liberty Stadium. I guess it would be worth reassessing after those games. Pick up six points by the end of the month and everything is fine. Anything less and questions will be asked.

But let's end this on a positive - Swansea are an established top flight side entering their fourth year in probably the greatest league in the world. With solid goalscorers, electric pace, longstanding stalwarts and a midfield with plenty of depth there's no reason we should be worried.

(Unless Bony leaves...)


Monday, 4 August 2014

Swansea City Summary: A month of pre-season friendlies

For those who didn't see them or who haven't been keeping an eye on the scores, here's a recap of how the Swans have fared in their pre-season friendlies:


vs. Chivas Guadalajara (16 July) - Drew 1-1
Many first-team players were involved in the opening friendly against the Mexicans in America, including Angel Rangel (captain), Leon Britton, Bafetimbi Gomis, Jonjo Shelvey and Nathan Dyer, who scored Swansea's only goal in the 57th minute. Chivas proved tricky opponents and found an equaliser through a last-minute penalty. There were two red cards in this game, including one for Neil Taylor.

vs. Minnesota United (19 July) - Lost 2-0
The first loss of the season, courtesy of two first-half goals from Justin Davis and Greg Jordan. Again the Swans showed off several first-team players including Chico Flores, Gerhard Tremmel, Bafetimbi Gomis, Neil Taylor and Angel Rangel. Swansea enjoyed most of the possession, but failed to turn it into anything worth celebrating.

vs. Plymouth Argyle (27 July) - Won 4-0
Back in Britain following their short American tour, Swansea finally claimed a victory in their pre-season campaign. The game saw the return of Ki Sung-Yueng to the team. Rory Donnelly scored first within ten minutes, followed by a rare goal from Jordi Amat in the second-half. Then came two goals for Gylfi Sigurdsson on his return to the club. A very comfortable afternoon for Garry Monk and the travelling Swans fans.

vs. Exeter City (29 July) - Won 2-0
Another comfortable game for the Swans against League Two opposition, which saw a number of first-team players out with injury. New striker Bafetimbi Gomis scored his first goal for the club in the first half, before Josh Sheehan made it two in the 78th minute. Wilfried Bony made his first appearance following his World Cup campaign, and set up Sheehan's goal.

vs. Bournemouth (1 August) - Lost 3-1
Garry Monk started with quite a young and inexperienced team, which probably explains the 3-1 loss to Championship side Bournemouth. The most experienced players to start for the Swans were Gerhard Tremmel, Nathan Dyer and Angel Rangel. Swansea's speedy new winger Jefferson Montero grabbed the only goal for his new side.

vs. Reading (2 August) - Won 3-1
The Swans second game in two days saw a much more experienced starting eleven and it showed with a convincing 3-1 victory against Reading. Wayne Routledge was in great form and scored two of Swansea's goals in the first-half, before Bafetimbi Gomis made it three in the second-half with a nice chip. Wilfried Bony also missed a penalty (but we'll forgive him this once).

vs. Villareal (9 August, 3pm) - Lost 3-0
A pretty poor return to the Liberty Stadium for Swansea who looked pretty clueless in their set-up against the Spaniards. Monk selected pretty much his complete first-team, but they were torn apart by an average Villarreal. A little worrying a week before the season kicks-off, but at least it's exposed some problems before it's too late.


Friday, 25 July 2014

Summer silence on Forza Swansea

Just a note to acknowledge the lack of blog updates recently. From February to the end of June I spent nearly every day researching and writing about the Swans for my upcoming book, Swansea City's Greatest Games, so this summer I've taken a bit of a break.

I mean, I am usually pretty lazy over the summer anyway, but at least this year I have a bit more of an excuse... (do I?).

Rest assured, as the new season dawns there will be more fresh content from myself and the contributors (who also seem to have taken a bit of a summer break).

Meanwhile, as soon as the book is available for pre-ordering I will write a big article about what's in it and what you can expect. It's looking good though!

Anyway, that's it for now, keep checking back and see you soon!

"Good goal Messi son - done exactly what I taught you."

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Swansea City: "Paella and chips please mate"

"Un San Miguel por favor Pedro."

Like the majority of British holidaymakers, I only really know one or two Spanish phrases. And - with most of Swansea City's Spanish contingent making a moody exit this summer - it's probably for the best that I didn't make the effort to learn much more.

Joking aside, it is looking more and more likely that when the 2014/15 season arrives we will probably not see the likes of Alejandro Pozuelo, Jose Canas, Pablo Hernandez and Michu at the Liberty Stadium.

Rewind to 19 September 2013, when Swansea demolished Valencia in the Mestalla. The Swans fielded a starting eleven featuring six Spanish players - more than their hosts! But, once the heart of the team, time seems to be up for the Spaniards.

So what went wrong?

Towards the end of the season, after Michael Laudrup's departure, there appeared to be a rift forming between the Spaniards and the rest of the team (Angel Rangel excluded perhaps). We heard of no less than two separate training ground bust-ups, including the notorious #Brickgate incident in April 2014.
 
But on the field the Spaniards did have some brilliant moments in the spotlight. Against QPR in 2012, Chico was described by the Daily Mail as 'composure and comfort on the ball personified', while Michu was the poster boy for Swansea's centenary season - and rightly so after his 22 goals and the incredible passion he showed for his new club.



Alejando Pozuelo - on his way out.

The others showed potential at times. Hernandez had moments of genius - look at his blistering performance against West Brom in 2012. He was like a player possessed. It's just a shame he couldn't keep those intense periods of wonder football at a consistent level. Chico too had his moments, but they were watched tentatively, knowing he was only ever a few minutes away from doing something ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Pozuelo - while raw - showed glimmers of what he may be capable of in the future and Canas tried to emulate the Leon Britton pit-bull role in the centre, though was nowhere near as composed as he should have been.

The only one I haven't mentioned is Alvaro Vazquez, but there really is no need to mention him...

In all - as I've suggested - consistency and the lack of it was the problem. For every one game of brilliance and excitement, there were two or three of confusion and boredom. Naturally it was not just the Spanish players at fault, but their attitudes didn't seem to help.

We'll never fully know what goes on behind closed training ground doors, but it is clear that the majority of the Spaniards are not part of Garry Monk's 'get back to basics' plans.

Monk has hinted he wants to keep hold of Michu - who has been tipped to go to Napoli or even West Ham - but the midfielder just doesn't look like he wants to stay with the Swans. Hernandez, meanhwhile, has been linked with Qatari outfit Lekhwiya SC (no coincidence that a certain Michael Laudrup has recently taken over there).

Whatever happens these Spanish players need to be replaced if they do go, otherwise the squad will be left looking a little bare. 

It's unrealistic to say 'let's just use homegrown talent' or 'let's not have any more Spanish players' because - as we all know - the Spaniards have generally been crucial in Swansea's rise and establishment in the Premier League. But maybe next time the club should go for quality over quantity.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Swansea City: A Midsummer Night's Update!

Firstly, I'm very sorry for the relative silence on the blog. This is partly down to it being the summer and not having loads of material to write about, while I've also spent so much of my time finishing off my new book, Swansea City's Greatest Games (more details on this in the coming week or so)!

But for now, let's have a brief catch-up!

(Free) Transfers

Garry Monk and Huw Jenkins have been uncharacteristically busy in the transfer market this summer and have accrued four new players already, paying next to nothing for some top talent (nothing new there then!).

At the start of June we saw the applauded arrival of Lucasz Fabianski. The Polish keeper joined from Arsenal on a free transfer for four years which was great business. Then came the most exciting addition in Baf├ętimbi Gomis from Lyon. A long-standing target for the Swans, the 28-year-old formidable French international striker was out-of-contract and is another to arrive in South Wales on a free transfer. He'll make for exciting watching next season, hopefully pairing up well with Wilfried Bony (if the big man is still around!)

Gomis!

Marvin Emnes has also joined the club for the third time - this time a permanent fixture! He wasn't free (although we don't know the price) but we don't mind splashing out a little on an attacker who knows the club and can score/create enough from the bench to make it worthwhile.

Then comes the signing of young left-back Stephen Kingsley from Falkirk (another undisclosed fee... if they don't want to tell us let's assume it was £35million!). The 19-year-old is probably another one for the future, but may make more of an impact if Ben Davies does leave.


Toffee throwing and spoiled bets

"I prefer Werther's Originals"

Ki Sung-Yeung and his South Korean team-mates were pelted with toffees thrown by angry fans when they arrived back home after their disappointing World Cup group stage exit (the video of this incident is here). Harsh on Ki, who actually played some brilliant football throughout his games.

Wilfried Bony, meanwhile is also back home following Ivory Coast's failure to make it out of the group stages. Bony scored two goals, but their early exit from the tournament means my bet on 'Bony to be top Premier League goalscorer' at 50/1 was essentially spoiled there and then! Gutted.

From a Swansea perspective both Jonathan de Guzman and Michel Vorm are still in the cup with Holland, who face Costa Rica in the quarter-final on Saturday at 9pm. I expect de Guzman to feature again in the tournament, especially with Nigel de Jong ruled out, but seeing Vorm may be limited to quick flashes of him on the bench.


Back to the action

Swansea are back in training which means the new season is just around the corner! Not before the team head off to America first for a series of friendlies. On Wednesday, 16 July they'll take on Mexican Lega MX side Chivas Guadalajara, then will travel north to face Minnesota United (North American Soccer League) on Saturday, 19 July.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Swansea City: New fixtures, World Cup watch and transfers round-up!

Another week or so has passed - the World Cup is in full swing, the transfer market has seen some movement and Cardiff are still in the Championship. So let's see how the summer is treating Swansea City!


Fixtures

The Premier League fixtures for the 2014/15 season were released today. Rumors of playing West Brom at home for the first game were false - instead Swansea will play Man United again for their opening fixture, albeit at Old Trafford this time around (this will be on 16th August).

The rest of August, September and October are all pretty winnable and should give us some nice points to take into November which looks like a bit of a tough month (with games against Everton, Arsenal and Man City).

The season overall is pretty well balanced between tough and not-so-tough teams. Hopefully survival in the Premier League will be sorted before May as the Swans will face both Arsenal (away) and Man City (home) in that month. The final game is on 24th May with an away trip to face Crystal Palace. The full list can be found on the Evening Post's website.


Emnes during his first stint with the club in 2010/11

Transfers

There's not been much in the way of transfer activity over the past week. At the moment the biggest news is that the Swans are pretty close to signing an old face - Marvin Emnes - for around £1million. The 26-year-old has been with the club on loan twice over the past few years and, although he's nothing groundbreaking, he offers another decent option up front and is already a firm fan favourite. And, let's be honest, £1million is a bargain!

Wilfried Bony has said he will only leave Swansea for a top six club, which - I guess - is fair enough, even though we hope it doesn't happen this summer. It may/will definitely be difficult for the club to keep hold of the star striker in the long term, but if he does go it will be better to see him with Arsenal or Chelsea, not Stoke or Sunderland.

Meanwhile the question mark still hangs over Ashley Williams' head, but all this talk from his agent smells too much like a tactic to increase his wages rather than an actual threat to go elsewhere. Another 'watch this space'!


World Cup watch

The World Cup is only a week old, but it's already been a fascinating tournament. And Brazil - home to the Copacabana, the Rio Carnival and the BSOP - is the temporary home to some of Swansea City's stars.

Wilfried Bony popped up to score Ivory Coast's first goal in the 2-1 turnaround against Japan, with a glancing header after latching on to Serge Aurier's cross in the second half.

Meanwhile Jonathan de Guzman played around an hour of Holland's thrilling 5-1 hammering of Spain (even if he looked a little out of his depth at times). Michel Vorm was on the bench for the Dutch for that game, but with Holland having no set number one, don't be surprised if we see him at some stage in the tournament.

In South Korea's 1-1 draw with Russia last night, Ki Sung Yueng showed the kind of midfield passing and domination that, had he shown more of in his first season with Swansea, may have seen him avoiding that loan spell at Sunderland. Either way, he looks like a player Garry Monk - and the Swans fans - will want to keep hold of.

More from all these players in the next few days (including de Guzman tonight hopefully)!


Shirt sponsors

Finally, the Swans look to have agreed a new shirt sponsorship deal with the company with the almost unreadable logo, GWFX (the Goldenway Global Group).

It turns out to be the biggest shirt sponsorship deal in Swansea City's history, supposedly worth more than £4 million to the club. Good business there, even if I do hate that logo!


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Swansea City: a procrastinators weekly summary

I've been away on holiday, then I spent a week procrastinating. So, without further delay, let's have a brief and sketchy look at what's been happening in the world of Swansea City over the past week or so!


Fabianski

For a change, the Swans have been very quick to nab a player in the transfer window - Lucasz Fabianski signed last week on a free transfer for four years. Great business to bring in a decent Polish international.

While he's not been Arsenal's first choice, he has been solid enough at times during his 32 appearances, even though he's made his fair share of mistakes. He's a capable keeper though - check out the video post on him from last week, highlighting his top ten saves. Whether or not he'll be first choice keeper next season will depend on...


Vorm

...Michel Vorm. One of the reasons Swansea excelled in their first and second seasons in the Premier League. But oddly the Dutch shot-stopper didn't look himself last season, conceding soft goals and making several uncharacteristic mistakes.

I'm sure most Swans fans would be happy to keep him next year, but rumours have been rife that he's heading off, with Liverpool showing interest. This seems to just be paper talk at the moment, with the man himself telling Dutch reporters there is little in the way of news on his departure. Watch this space.


Why always me?

Ashley Williams vs. the World

I'm not completely certain what has been happening with Ashley Williams. While I was away on holiday a brief look on Twitter showed he was having some sort of battle with everyone's favourite ex-Cardiff fat striker Michael Chopra. Who knows what it was about (most of us can probably guess), but it touched a nerve with the defender and he deleted his Twitter account.

Around the same time he was photographed at the Emirates Stadium. Maybe he was just having a tour? It didn't bode well with Swans fans with the apparent interest from Arsenal. QPR now seem to be the prime candidates to get his signature, though £4million seems a little cheap if Swansea were to let him go.

However, it seems the club are starting new contract negotiations today, so we'll just have to see what happens. I reckon he will stay, with a plumper wage packet.


Leon Britton

On the other hand we have Leon Britton, who has been nothing but professional in his ten or so years with the club. The good news today is that he has signed a contract extension to keep him with Swansea City until at least July 2017, which is nothing short of great news.


Luc Castaignos

Finally on the subject of transfers is the acquisition of Luc Castaignos, for £6.5million from FC Twente last weekend. Another Dutch international (albeit at U21 level), the 21-year-old scored 14 goals in 31 games last season and looks set to make more of an impact than the past few years of new strikers (Bony the exception). He still needs to complete his medical and agree personal terms, but it's another positive move for the Swans this summer.




World Cup Watch

There's not been any action yet, but already one of ours in injured. Jonathan de Guzman is now a doubt for the World Cup after suffering a hamstring injury in a training session for Holland. While there's still a chance he won't be with the Swans next season (he's still a Villarreal loanee, lest we forget), it's not great news. Let's hope Wilfried bony stays in one piece.

I have a £5 bet on Ivory Coast (as well as £20 on Italy of course...). While they aren't favourites by any length, they've got some quality including the big man. And with online betting odds of around 125/1 them winning will see me pick up a nice sum! (I've jinxed it now, haven't I?)