Thursday, 29 December 2011
This is also the time for reflection. While it's up to you to reflect on your own lives in 2011, I can help you reflect on the goings-ons of Wales' only Premier League team.
It's as comprehensive a compilation as I could produce, while still making it readable within ten minutes (no detailed match reports here then). If you've noticed anything I may have missed, write it as a comment and I'll include it!
I've also included my “Swansea Team of the Year 2011” at the end for you to disagree with.
“My, my, my... did that really happen this year?” you may gasp as you read the next few thousand words, for this is the story of Swansea City's 2011.
After the snow of last Christmas, Swansea started the year second place in the Championship table.
My earliest blog post fell in the first frosty week of January, where I addressed the lack of fire-power up front (not much has changed). Brendan Rodgers responded by signing Luke Moore and Ryan Harley.
Players also left the club in January: the ever likeable Shefki Kuqi ended his contract by mutual consent, while Gorka Pintado went on loan to AEK Larnaca FC.
The biggest shock of the January 2011 transfer window was the re-signing of Leon Britton from Sheffield United, who returned to South Wales after leaving the club in 2010.
On the field, Swansea won their first home game of the year – 1-0 vs Reading (a team they'd meet again in a slightly bigger match in May), and beat Colchester 4-0 in the Carling Cup, before bowing out to the might of Leyton Orient later in the month.
February saw a great streak of wins, and would've been a perfect month had it not been for the 1-0 loss to Cardiff at the Liberty Stadium. Another game of note was Middlesbrough away; an intense match where the Swans eventually came back from a 3-1 almost-certain loss by winning 4-3.
February also saw me slated for my criticism of Luke Moore, though I stood by my comments: an average player that wouldn't impact the Swans as much as people expected.
Fabio Borini joined the club on loan from Chelsea and really kicked off Swansea's promotion drive, scoring two on his debut. Tamas Priskin joined on loan too, though he was less memorable.
Swansea's form dipped slightly in March, winning just one in four games (3-2 at home against Nottingham Forest).
Elsewhere, the Audio Jacks podcast was born – a Swansea City podcast presented by myself and Matt Barroccu (albeit under the then title, “It wouldn't happen in Swansea”).
A media ban on Swansea players was issued by Huw Jenkins, who wanted to focus on winning games. However, Swansea continued their bad away form, which began to dent their hopes of automatic promotion – something that looked near certain earlier in the year. However the Swans went on to secure a place in the play-offs after beating Ipswich 4-1.
Tamas Priskin returned to Ipswich after becoming injured, scoring just one goal for Swansea.
A massive month. The Swans played their final league game at home: a routine 4-0 victory against Sheffield United, ending the season in third place in the Championship table.
Swansea were placed against Nottingham Forest in the play-offs, drawing the away leg 0-0, after Neil Taylor was sent off in the second minute. The second leg at the Liberty Stadium was full of entertainment, where Swansea eventually beat Nottingham Forest 3-1, including a wonder strike from Leon Britton and a last-gasp goal from the halfway line by Darren Pratley, securing a place in the Championship Play-off Final in Wembley.
Swansea fans got their first taste of everyone's favourite pass-time: queuing at the Liberty. The first time was for Wembley tickets.
Those 40,000 Jacks with tickets make their way from South Wales to London to watch history in the making. After a first half of sheer bliss and a three goal lead, Swansea make things difficult by allowing Reading back into the game. Thankfully, Scott Sinclair ensured it was Swansea's day with a successful penalty that finally brought the Premier League to South Wales!
The victory is celebrated throughout the city with an open-top bus parade. As the realisation of the Premier League sinks in, it was all change for the Swansea squad.
The first disappointing move was Fabio Borini's exit to Parma, before Darren Pratley left the club for Bolton. More surprisingly Dorus De Vries left for Wolves and a frantic search for a new keeper began. Cedric van der Gun and Albert Serran also said their goodbyes, to shrugs of the shoulder from most fans.
Swansea made a record transfer move, bringing Danny Graham to the club for £3.5 million while Ryan Harley finally joined the club after spending six months with Exeter on-loan.
A second bout of mega-queuing at the Liberty took place, this time for season-tickets.
“How many points do I need... wait do I need to be a season-ticket holder too or... hang on, why does he get priority over me if...” That's right, July was the month we saw the ultra-confusing, always-infuriating Jack Army membership scheme launched. Everyone in Swansea joined anyway, making it seem a little pointless.
Swansea's Premier League home and away kits were also revealed: the home kit was nice as expected, but the orange away kit baffled at first, then annoyed soon after, as people discovered it was no more than an old line of generic Adidas training kits. The third mega bout of queuing took place at the stadium for those after a home kit.
The club played summer friendlies against Neath, Port Talbot and Afan Lido... really preparing themselves for the best in the Premier League! At least it was an excuse for a little summer football.
In the transfer window, Steven Caulker arrived at the club on a season-long loan from Spurs, while goalkeeper Jose Moreira joined from Benfica.
In August, Leroy Lita signed up from Middlesbrough, while Michel Vorm joined the club from FC Utrecht. Gerhard Tremmel also signed at the end of August, after impressing during his summer trial.
Swansea played, and won, friendlies against Celtic and Real Betis at the Liberty Stadium, showing off a few new players, though the first major test was Man City at the Eithad. This was a test Swansea technically failed, though in an impressive way, with wonderful saves from Michel Vorm (the first time many had properly seen him in action), and proof Swansea could replicate their impressive passing game in the big league.
Embarrassingly though, the club lost 3-1 to Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup. Though this allowed concentration on the Premier League, it was a feeble way to exit the competition.
With winnable games against Wigan and Sunderland, Swansea were unable to find the back of the net and ended the month goalless, though quickly showing they were not finding the new league too daunting.
Ryan Harley and Shaun MacDonald both left the club in this month, leaving a very ginger-shaped hole. Elsewhere, Alan Tate broke his leg in what the club described as a "bizarre golfing accident" (aka buggygate).
Transfer Deadline Day saw the Swans sign Darnel Situ from Lens and Rafik Halliche on loan from Fulham, moves that would supposedly boost the club's defensive problems. However, an annoying amount of red tape stopped these from being eligible to play. Fede Bessone also rejoined the club – a shock to many supporters.
On the field, the phrase: “You wait for a bus, then three come along at once” summed up Swansea's first goals in the Premier League. They nabbed their first three goals and a comfortable 3-0 win against West Brom.
This game was sandwiched between two “glamour” ties – one a game Swansea could well have won against Arsenal (instead losing 1-0), and the other a less than impressive performance at Stamford Bridge (at least an away goal was scored in the 4-1 loss).
If September was a step in the right direction, October was a slight step backwards, featuring some of the concentration lapses and cock-ups that we are accustomed to from Swansea City.
Two decent home wins (against Stoke and Bolton) fell either side of two away losses: the first against fellow newcomers Norwich, who scored two early goals and took advantage of poor Swans performance. The second came against Wolves, where Swansea let a 2-0 lead slide into a 2-2 draw after two goals in two minutes from the home side.
The lack of away wins continued.
Though a quiet month thanks to an international break, November saw the game of the season as Swansea welcomed Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium – a game that stirred up plenty of anticipation and excitement, in addition to irritation and disappointment (again, mainly through the Jack Army ticketing system). Essentially it was a game Swansea could've actually won, let alone draw. However a opportunistic goal from Hernandez ensured United left with a 1-0 victory.
Other games included the exciting, yet frustrating, 0-0 draw away to Liverpool and another 0-0 draw with Aston Villa in a subdued Liberty Stadium fixture.
December packed six games into one month, though the Swans were unable to pick up as many points as expected.
The month began with Yakubu running riot in the shocking 4-2 loss at bottom-of-the-table Blackburn, a game in which two rare away goals were overshadowed by poor defending.
Michel Vorm was again the hero in the 2-0 win against Fulham the following week, while a 'boxing day' match between QPR produced a game of two very different halves – another one Swansea should've grabbed by the scruff.
Angel Rangel and Neil Taylor both picked up fresh injuries in December which, again, highlighted the lack of depth in defence and the need for an established utility back in the January Transfer window. Up front, Rory Donnelly was the main name in Brendan Rodgers' sights, though the young Irishman seemed to be highly sought after...
It's all up to Mr. Rodgers and his men to write what happens in 2012. Will it be the year Swansea face a big relegation battle? Will they get their act together in attack and finish in the top ten? It's an exciting time to be a Swans fan!
Before I sign off for the year, here is my "Swansea City Team of 2011" - including players who have now left/have fallen out of form, but did so much for the club at some point this year.
Team of 2011
Garry Monk (Captain)
Dorus De Vries
I know that this will produce a few annoyed responses! I feel it's about right. I did have trouble with the "Gower or Allen" question - they both had their ups and downs - but Gower just pipped it for me. What's your Team of 2011?
Happy New Year to all readers of the blog. I hope 2012 sees you well. Forza Swansea!
Wednesday, 28 December 2011
Football returned to the Liberty Stadium on 27th December for a very entertaining game between Swansea and QPR. Both promoted last season, both in need of a win to repair a slight dip in form. Both, probably, felt they would have won it on paper and should have won it at the end of the game. But they didn't – it was a draw, and a draw was a fair result.
Swansea deserved to win from their first half performance. Again, very slick, easy-on-the-eye passing which resulted in the opportunity and goal for Danny Graham. Was it a handball from the striker? To be honest, it looked like. Should it have been disallowed? Probably, but, as you know, the ref wasn't having the best of days.
Graham had a good game overall, as did Leon Britton, while Kemy Agustien was strong in the centre (until he moved to right back). Michel Vorm had a few good saves and Joe Allen looked good, if slightly flustered.
However, Neil Warnock seemed to transfer his anger to his players and the second half became QPR's to win. The point that turned Swansea from 'cruising' to 'stumbling through' appeared to be the joint substitution of Dyer and Moore for Rangel and Routledge. No sooner had this happened, a flick backwards from Britton saw Mackie outrun Williams and draw level. Swansea looked disjointed from this point onwards and QPR could well have scored another two.
A stonewall penalty appeal was turned down by Mr Probert, cancelling out his earlier mistake which allowed the Swans goal. Probert seemed to have an odd game. The ref is said to have done a good job when he tends to keep out of the limelight, but Probert was all over the place – frustrating both teams in equal measures. As mentioned, he allowed Graham to handball, but turned down a clear penalty. He wanted throw-ins retaken and allowed players to talk back too often. He even got in the way of a Joey Barton run, which nearly ended in a Swansea goal.
Though a point is obviously better than a loss, the game against QPR was one Swansea should've grabbed by the scruff and put away before half time. However, like we've seen a few times already this season, they've let the opposition get back into it. With Spurs rampant anything more than a loss on Saturday will be an exceptional result. Then again, Swansea seem to perform better when they are expected to lose, so a point or three isn't that unlikely.
At 14th in the Premier League table, Swansea are in a dangerous place, but it's not time for panicking yet. At halfway through the season they're looking like a team that are “almost there”. Some tweaking with the final third – maybe another capable striker – in the transfer window and I'm still confident of a top ten finish this season.
Friday, 2 December 2011
This Saturday Swansea City take on Blackburn Rovers: a team at the very bottom of the Premier League.
With just seven points to their name so far, things are not looking too hot for Steve Kean and his men. They've won just one game this season (a frenetic 4-3 win against Arsenal), and have 16 games separating them from their last clean sheet.
Their last match was against Cardiff in the Carling Cup on Tuesday, where they lost 2-0. Steve Kean admits he essentially forfeited the game, keeping players fresh for Swansea – a game Kean believes will “kick-start” Blackburn's season.
There aren't too many players to fear, though Nigerian international Ayegbeni Yakubu will keep Ashley Williams busy enough (probably).
So is this a must-win game for the Swans? Yes, I think so.
A loss to Blackburn, who are suffering a terrible run, will not make for happy fans. If a draw at Liverpool seemed like points thrown away, a draw or less on Saturday will be an incredible waste!
I would have put my savings (all £94) on Swansea winning on Saturday, but injuries are standing in the way of pure confidence. Jazz Richards will fill in for the injured Angel Rangel, but his finesse and confidence is off the mark.
Danny Graham is also likely to miss the match, which is worrying as he has stepped up in recent games, even though the goals are still not consistently flowing. Leroy Lita is likely to stand in, though I'd be happier seeing Sinclair take the lone striker role, with Routledge and Dyer on the wings. It won't happen, but it's an idea that hasn't been explored enough.
What results mean:
Currently 13th, a win could technically see Swansea move to 8th in the table, providing the five teams above all lose, but it's unlikely (isn't it?). Let's say a good win should see Swansea back in the top ten.
Betting on the game?
Despite me, and most other fans, feeling the away win, the bookmakers are looking to Blackburn to take the points. Swansea aren't likely to score many away from home, but if their Rangel-less defence stays solid and Lita can muster up more than a few nice attempts, I think Swansea to win 1-0 (at 9/1 on PaddyPower) is a realistic bet!
A 'scorecast' on Swansea to win 1-0 with Sinclair scoring the only goal is a generous 45/1. That's worth a pound!
Saturday, 26 November 2011
While Christmas is the busiest time of year for many around the globe, it's not just over-priced gift boxes containing a cheap bar of soap and a Homer Simpson flannel (£15.99? Bargain!) and excessive drinking that will take up the majority of our free time. This year Swansea City FC will essentially be juggling eight games over the festive period, which is a lot of football-watching to cram in!
As it's been a few weeks since I've been regularly blogging (holiday and exams eating up a good chunk of that), I feel a little "recap" and look ahead to the upcoming month is in order.
Let's blitz through this:
I was in America for this one and used a 'pay-per-view' television to watch the game on. I wish I hadn't, as Swansea fell apart against fellow promotion successfuls in a game they should have won on paper. 3-1 to Norwich.
Again, still in the USA for this one (thankfully it was free on cable this time). Swansea had the chance to hammer Wolves and record a nice away win with two early goals, but buckled and ended up allowing Wolves to score two goals in two minutes and share the points. A big waste!
Swansea welcomed back Darren Pratley with a 3-1 win over Bolton, in a game that saw Joe Allen, Scott Sinclair and Danny Graham all score. Graham scored an own goal in the second half which seemed to give Bolton something to chase, but thankfully another 'Wolves' wasn't on the cards.
An enjoyable game to watch, but frustrating towards the end when Swansea should have won it - they were the better team on the day.
Another great game to watch, but Swansea seemed in awe of United in the first half and Rangel's silly mistake cost Swansea a draw and potentially (if Scott Sinclair hadn't boobed up his shot) a win over the champions.
So that's the past out of the way - what does Santa have in his sack for Swans fans?
December will be the busiest month in Swansea City's Premier League calendar, with six games, sandwiched between the Aston Villa game on Sunday and a game on 2nd January against... Aston Villa. It seems Villa will kick off and round up the festive period in Swansea then!
Aston Villa currently sit 8th in the table. Swansea are in 13th, but just two points separate the teams. With Danny Graham settled and the work-rate of the whole team one of the best in the Premier League, not to mention the home advantage, there is no reason why Swansea shouldn't win! Villa fans know this and confidence is apparently low among them. Yes, Michael Vorm will be dealing with one of football's most incredible strikers – Emile Heskey – but the three points are definitely up for grabs! My predication? A simple 1-0 home win to Swansea.
So how many points can we expect from the festive season?
I'm not going to get into score prediction, but roughly, this is how I see the win-draw-losses working out:
Aston Villa (home) - win
Blackburn (away) - win
Fulham (home) - win
Newcastle (away) - lose
Everton (away) - lose
QPR (home) - win
Tottenham (home) - draw
Aston Villa (away) - draw
14 points from 8 games.
Realistically speaking, Swansea, if they can keep up their good form, are looking at about 14 points. They could lose at home to Villa and win away at Newcastle, but around 14 points is what we're looking at achieving. This would set the team up for a great start to 2012.
The most important upcoming games are against the likes of Blackburn and Fulham who are below the club in the table and that's where we want to keep them! Same goes for Everton who are a place above the Swans in the table, so taking points off them is more important than the glamour ties.
This ends a relatively short and vague blog, but I'm going to leave you with this video I found. It pretty much sums up Emile Heskey's prowess on FIFA – not sure why I find it so amusing!
(NB: I didn't produce, edit or upload the video, and own no copyrights to anything - etc, etc, etc)
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Let's get the facts out first - as was reported by the club this afternoon:
Swansea City can confirm that all home tickets for the Premier League fixture with champions Manchester United on November 19 have sold out today.
Following a busy first day of sales on Monday, the remaining few tickets were snapped up this morning as the club sold out its home allocation for the sixth consecutive match.
It seems to be the season-ticket holders with over a certain amount of points on the Jack Army membership scheme who got hold of the majority of tickets yesterday, before the final few were purchased today (I believe these were also season-ticket holders, albeit with less points).
This does beg the question: why does the ever-infuriating Jack Army scheme give priority to those who already have a ticket to the match? (I'm not having a go at season-ticket holders by the way - far from it - instead having a go at the logic of the scheme). Naturally season-ticket holders don't need another ticket as they already have one. I'm not arguing this case too much, because the answer is probably: they are buying them for friends/brothers/fathers who, say, can't afford a season ticket usually, which is a probable scenario. I have little qualms with that.
There is the option that they are buying tickets for 'plastic' fans or Man United fans living in Swansea who just want to watch Alex Ferguson’s men instead of their home team (and there will be quite a few in the stands by all accounts). This is irritating as it fills the seat of a true Swans fan who may not be able to afford a season ticket, or who lives away and can't get to every match. However, I can write this option off as a 'it was bound to happen because its the biggest game of the season'.
What I don't accept as fair is the rumours of those who have bought a spare ticket and are selling them for a large profit, either online or on the gates. Currently these are unconfirmed rumours – I'm going off a number of comments I've noted on Twitter and Facebook. There will always be those wanting to make a profit off other people, but the worst thing about these rumours is: it is Swans fans making a profit off Swans fans!
If you think about it, only those with the season-ticket AND Jack Army membership AND priority points (essentially fans who have already spent a lot of time and money following the club) were able to buy the tickets before they sold out. Therefore, if any are exchanging hands for well over the RRP, it's a loyal Swans fan ripping off another Swans fan. As I said: these may just be rumours and come to nothing, but if you are thinking of selling your ticket on to a genuine Swansea supporter, please don't do it extortionately!
Remember, if you weren't lucky enough to get a ticket but are still intent on watching the match, it is on ESPN and in the majority of Swansea pubs with that dodgy Armenian television channel on Saturday 19 November at 5:30pm .
That's it from me, I'll be back soon with my usual brand of sketchy, irreverent (and irrelevant) blogs.
Friday, 7 October 2011
The first thing we must address is the fact that Swansea are in the Premier League. If this news hasn't sunk in for you, seeing the team there in FIFA must be the proof you need! Though in real life this is wonderful, in-game some of the pleasure has gone: the pleasure of taking a smaller team through the divisions to the glory of top flight football! This season Swansea have already booked their place in the greatest league in the world. Where's the fun in that!? A small price to pay I guess. I guess getting into the Champions League will be the aim for manager mode now!
Talking of aims, my current target is to actually win a game. Or even to score a goal. One thing you may agree with if you've had a go: FIFA 12 is hard. This is not a terrible thing for those liking a challenge, but even getting the ball off the opposition seems to be a struggle with the revamped defending system. It's a hard game. Or I'm shit. One of those...
Attacking is also more difficult, though more interesting I must admit. Past editions of the iconic game have seemed a little 'ping-pongy' at times, but FIFA 12 seems to have changed the physics of the game again, meaning you have to work hard for every pass, every shot and every goal. Not delving too far into the physics of it (mainly because I don't understand them), I will conclude goals are harder to come by, but when they do come you may find they are more enjoyable.
So, onto the Swans: the primary reason I am writing this blog.
Before we take to the field, I must mention there is finally a stadium that resembles the Liberty! Though it'll probably be a good few years before the Liberty Stadium is created as it's own special stadium, 'British Modern' has the look of Swansea's home: a generic, concrete, one-tier stadium that does the job. With a simple name change in the settings, it feels just like a Saturday afternoon in Landore – I can almost smell the Tesco Stand.
It seems not much effort has gone into developing the facial detail of the Swansea players, though the general body size, hair cut and skin colour ensures it's not difficult to distinguish who's who on the pitch. From the usual 'tele camera' angle, Dyer looks like Dyer, Williams looks like Williams and Tate looks like Beaker. This makes it easy enough when playing as you know who to pass to for zippy wing play, and who to switch to when making that goal saving slide tackle!
A feature born in FIFA 11 was the post-match player ratings screen, where each individual player was awarded what the computer judged as fair ratings. While the concept is the same on FIFA 12, the CGI avatars of the player's faces have been replaced with an actual photo of the player. In theory this adds realism, though as the picture is relatively small it seems to warp the photos slightly. I've noticed Stephen Caulker looks like Mr Miyagi, while something odd happens to Scott Sinclair's forehead that makes him resemble a Klingon.
All the new signings, as expected, are available to play with (yes, including Bessone!). Even Bodde is injury free, though it seems like cheating if I play him - I'm a stickler for realism.
Commentary is the final point I'll touch on. In one of my first Swansea vs. Cardiff matches I played (Cardiff won 4-0 by the way... sorry) I noticed the commentary team of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith seemed fresher than previous games. The specific commentary they make about the passion of the South Wales derby is nice to hear, instead of the generic old "oh, this will be a good derby match" that could apply to anything. If you get bored of those two, Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend are the other option. Spoilt for choice these days aren't we!
Overall, FIFA 12 will provide me with a lot more game-play than FIFA 11 did, mainly through the challenges it poses. I've yet to have a good go at manager mode, though from what I've seen it will take up the majority of my cold winter evenings. I do feel I may have to change the difficultly level from 'pro' to 'semi-pro' soon, lest I throw my PS3 at the wall in the frustration of not being able to make one successful tackle.
Until next time, happy gaming!
Friday, 23 September 2011
Last week we finally saw a goal (make that three) in the Liberty Stadium, which did wonders in settling the nerves of players, management and fans alike. Had a goal not been scored, things may be looking a little bleak against Chelsea. Thankfully Leroy Lita stepped up well and put away his first chance, contributing to Nathan Dyer's goal and generally menacing West Brom's back four. But with Danny Graham fit again, this throws us straight onto the question: who to start up front?
While Graham does need a confidence-boosting goal, is Stamford Bridge the place he'll find it? If he starts and again fails to score, will his fifth goalless game mean another dent in his confidence? Having said that, maybe the pressure is off him now that the first goals have been scored and he is not expected to to score this week. All a little confusing this psychology business isn't it...?
Leroy Lita was a stand-out player against West Brom, so should he start again? His presence on the field against West Brom was reminiscent of a thug you may see strutting around Wind Street on a Friday night. Lita constantly looks like he's after a fight, so I say let him fight! His first attempt on goal was clinically put away, which was a breath of fresh air after the 'almost there mate' few games that Graham has had. Start Lita again – if he doesn't perform, bring Graham on towards the end of the game.
The midfield (bar Sinclair and Dyer) is the other area that poses selection problems. The first start for Joe Allen against West Brom was great to see – he worked hard (running 13.25 km in the West Brom game, a season high for a Swans player) and maybe deserves to take the field on Saturday. Who should line up next to him? With Leon Britton on top form, Wayne Routledge back in action and Mark Gower spraying a nice array of passes in the last game, as well as Stephen Dobbie still looking to make his mark, Brendan Rodgers is spoilt for choice.
A question mark remains over Neil Taylor's fitness after the Odemwingie clash, but Bessone may prove to be a decent temporary replacement. Hungarian defender Zoltan Liptak (I'm sure that's a brand of sunblock...) is on trial with the club after leaving Videoton (and I'm sure that's a DVD rental shop in Brynhyfryd...), but he probably won't feature. He adds enough height at the back (6ft 4in) so could be another decent one for the future
If Taylor remain questionable, my team to play Chelsea would be:
Rangel Monk Williams Bessone
Dyer Britton Routledge Allen Sinclair
Scott Sinclair will want to show Chelsea what they missed out on, while Brendan Rodgers will also want to have a great game against the club he played a management role in. Frank Lampard will play against the team he scored his first professional goal against, during his stint with the Swans in 1995. Recent history lesson over.
We know Chelsea are a danger. Despite Torres being incredibly light on goals, he's a world class player, a Spanish national and has incredible skill at his disposal. Whether or not he will use any of it against Swansea remains to be answered, though he is a big threat for Ashley Williams and co., not forgetting the likes of Didier Drogba, Juan Mata and Nicholas Anelka.
They've already bagged a series of good results and currently sit 3rd in the table. Come on, you've seen them play plenty of times – you don't need me to tell you they are a quality side, if lacking that cutting edge recently.
My prediction? I can't realistically see Chelsea losing this (Swansea are 13/1 to win). If Chelsea are planning to make anything of this Premier League season they must win against the less established teams. However, I do see Swansea putting up a similar fight like the game against Arsenal. I'll say 3-1 to Chelsea (9/1), though it wouldn't be impossible for Swansea to walk away with one point, which would be a massive success (only topped by a win!).
Sunday, 18 September 2011
Local tragedies had been building through the last few weeks, so it seemed right that the Swans should banish their goal demons on a day where they were playing for more than just points - they played for the four Welsh miners, the local five-year-old and Brendan Rodgers' father, who all sadly died recently.
I don't particularly want to mention the moment's silence prior to kick-off, but I will: the first 30 seconds were a touching tribute, however a minority of West Brom fans (who were reported to be entering the stadium at the time) began a shouting battle which quickly ruined the moment. Very shameful, if it was a purposeful interruption.
Onto the match, where we finally saw Swansea score not one, but three goals! Fair enough, it was a penalty, but I think a penalty is what was needed. Surely a message from the Gods of football: “You've had so many bloody chances and keep missing - just have one on us”. Scott Sinclair put it away and, like many had predicted, the flood gates opened.
The amount of abuse I've recently received for asking “why not start Leroy Lita instead of Danny Graham” was large and consistent. Not one to gloat, let me just say “TOLD YOU SO!” and move on. Seriously though, it took an injury to the aforementioned Graham to see Lita claim his first Premier League start. Lita knew, like the majority of us, that he might not get regular chances to impress with Graham fully fit, so he had a lot to prove; and prove he did. He looked hungry for the ball from the off. The first chance that fell to him was put in the back of the net – very refreshing. He made a number of impressive off-the-ball runs and also contributed to Nathan Dyer's goal with a nice flick from Vorm's clearance. An enjoyable performance by the pitbullish Lita.
A note about Danny Graham: it's possible that, now goals have been scored, the pressure is off him personally. Therefore he may relax a little more in front of goal during his next game and put away his chances.
As I mentioned, it was nice to see Dyer score for a change – the amount he creates has always been overshadowed by his (lack of) ability in front of goal, but he managed to calmly slide one between the legs of Ben Foster early in the second half. It may well be the last goal of his for another year, but as long as he continues running and creating, he'll be the first name on the team sheet for some time to come.
Defensively, Swansea were solid once again. In a time where every feasible defensive option appeared to be unavailable, we saw Garry Monk return to the pitch slightly before he was 100% fit, though you wouldn't have guessed: he fell back into action like it was an extension of that play-off final.
The injury to Neil Taylor was very worrying, especially with the appearance of stretchers, paramedics, oxygen and Fede Bessone on the sidelines, but it doesn't seem to be as serious as it first appeared thankfully. He had a good game (apart from the occasional lapse of concentration) and it'll be good to see him back at Chelsea - we hope.
Fede Bessone did appear, as I said, and seemed to slot in fine. I doubt he was expecting to feature at any point against West Brom, though he didn't look too phased by the “big time”. Elsewhere, Joe Allen and Leon Britton had wonderful games, Mark Gower played some lovely long balls and Scott Sinclair troubled the Baggies defence a number of times. A convincing team display by Swansea.
Generally, the opposition were not terrible and had their chances (which gives even more credit to Swansea) – Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie looked sharp throughout (though I'd better curb any praise of Odemwingie due to his poor challenge on Taylor). It was good to see West Brom not completely give up towards the end, which ensured an enthralling finish, instead of everyone just counting down the seconds until the final whistle.
If you read my last blog, I hope you followed one of my tips and covered the 3-0 win (at 25/1) and are all collecting your winnings? I wish I'd put more than a pound on it now!
The Swans travel to Chelsea next Saturday with at least one win and, more importantly, a few goals under their belts. Will Taylor be back in time? Will Swansea lose another three to the injured list? Will Lita start again? Find out next time on, Swansea in the Premier League!
Friday, 16 September 2011
Rumours that Steven Caulker had picked up a knee injury that was likely to keep him out for two months was verified on Wednesday evening, shortly followed by the announcement that Rafik Halliche and Darnel Situ are unlikely to play for the club at any time soon, thanks to FIFA blocking the transfer. Thus, Swansea's defensive struggles finally peaked. Things can't get any worse! (Ashley Williams; move away from that golf cart...)
As Halliche, Situ and Caulker join Alan Tate on the unavailable list, just four realistic Premier League defenders remain in the squad: Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor, Angel Rangel and Garry Monk (assuming he plays on Saturday – reports circulating that he is likely to). Of course Fede Bessone and Jazz Richards are also available, as are those in the youth squad, though these aren't exactly mouthwatering prospects.
Kemy Agustien is also a factor in this, as he would have been available to simply slot into Caulker's place had he not picked up a hamstring injury against Arsenal.
Swansea are in dire need of a replacement – not one for the future, but one who can step in immediately. As they are permitted to sign free-agents, eyes turn to the list of misfits and has-beens who are ready to blow the dust from their boots. Names likes Sol Campbell have done the rounds with the fans. The 36-year-old clearly has the experience and, wages permitted, would be a fine replacement for Caulker. Certainly not a long term solution, but some type of pay-as-you-play deal might be worth looking at.
Another name cropped up: Marco Materazzi. The former Inter Milan and World Cup winner would add some sun-bleached glamour to the squad, with heaps of big game, big name experience, though wages again might be a problem. Personally I'd love to see this guy at Swansea!
Maybe Swansea are fine with what they have at the moment? Yes, its not an ideal situation, but a formation change could be the answer. Something like a 3-2-4-1 formation (inverted Christmas tree?):
Rangel Williams Taylor
Dyer Gower Routledge Sinclair
With Allen and Britton as holding defenders, and Taylor and Rangel making less attacking runs, there is no reason why this formation shouldn't temporarily work. I'd select Wayne Routledge over Stephan Dobbie. More than likely, this won't happen as Monk is expected to return, but the option is there.
West Brom are another team Swansea are expect to win against, in fan's and pundit's eyes alike (currently 8/5 favourites with PaddyPower). For essential confidence and points, Swansea must: a) get a goal and b) win. It's in front of another sell-out home crowd who deserve to finally see a goal.
Danny Graham must start – he needs another opportunity to score. However, should he fail to score this time, Leroy Lita should start for the next game. I know that may dent his confidence, but surely not scoring is already doing that? I'm aware some can't fathom Lita starting, but as he hasn't started a game yet nobody knows if it'll work or not.
Anyway, I might be jumping ahead too far – Graham may well score a hat-trick (80/1) and Swans will crush West Brom 3-0 (a more realistic 25/1)!
But what do we know about the opposition? Well the Baggies finished 11th in the Premier League last season and are currently 13th in the table, just a point above Swansea (lost their first three, but beat fellow newcomers Norwich 1-0 last week).
They certainly have key players that will cause Swansea's defence (or lack of it) some trouble. Peter Odemwingie is very bright up front, as is their new singing Shane Long, who was excellent for Reading last season (including against Swansea in the play-off final). At the back they're not so strong and have struggled to keep a clean-sheet under Roy Hodgson, so this may well be the game that Graham breaks his goal-scoring duck and Swansea put away all the chances they create – here's hoping.
My prediction: West Brom will score one by taking advantage of a weakened Swans back four, though everything will finally click for Swansea and they'll, once again, create plenty of opportunities and score least three! Swansea 3 – 1 West Brom (20/1).
… or it could be 0-0 again.
Sunday, 11 September 2011
Questionable physics aside and we are left with another game where Swansea are unable to score, despite many chances.
The positives were clearly there once again – the game against Arsenal showed that Swansea can be consistently solid against a strong Premier League opponent (apart from the occasional blip) and can push forward with relative ease at times. The fact is, Swansea should have taken at least a point away from the Emirates. They deserved it – if not, all three.
In fact, Arsenal didn't particularly look like scoring that many. Yes they had some wonderful chances, stopped by Michel Vorm and the post, but they didn't threaten as much as I expected. It's a shame, then, that Swansea lost to one of the oddest goals we'll ever see!
Let's clear the white elephant from the room – Vorm's uncharacteristic mistake was stupid. There's no two ways around it. It took a few seconds for everyone to register what had happened, but soon it was apparent that Swansea City had secured their place on at least one 'bloopers' DVD this Christmas. 'Danny Dyer's semi-amusing football-related cock-ups' will not be on my Christmas list this year.
Vorm, like the rest of us, was clearly disappointed, though it's easily forgiveable – the amount of points he's already saved in his short career with the club means I'd let him do it again next game (…maybe not). Kudos to Andrey Arshavin and his fat tongue, whose reaction time was incredible and easily put the resulting mistake in the back of the net.
As well as a pretty solid team display there were stand-out individuals for Swansea. Stephen Caulker showed a lot of talent, and his goal saving, potentially testicle-destroying sliding save in the first half was enough for a Man of the Match award for me.
Nathan Dyer's work rate was top notch as usual. Scott Sinclair caused trouble to Sagna at times and he was unlucky not to score when his powerful free-kick slapped the crossbar in the second half.
Talking of unlucky, it's time to scrutinise Danny Graham. Again he showed plenty of enthusiasm and will to score, but again he failed in his efforts.
It's a tough decision now. It's only been four games (five including the Shrewsbury fiasco), but Graham hasn't scored. A selection of pundits believe he isn't cut out for the Premier League. I'm not sure – technically, he has looked like scoring plenty of times. It probably is just bad luck, but for the West Brom game should Graham start on the bench and be used as an impact sub? No doubt I'll look at this option further in my West Brom preview in the week. (Your opinions and thoughts are more than welcome - leave them in the comments box below)
Either way, Swansea must score in the Liberty Stadium on Saturday. West Brom are another of the 'easy' teams and, at home, Swansea will surely have chances to put them away. Things may start to get a little awkward if they don't score.
Brendan Rodgers was naturally not present in London due to the unfortunate death of his father on Saturday morning. It goes without saying that all fans' thoughts are with him and we hope he is able to return soon to guide the team to their first Premier League victory.
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
This Saturday sees another 'glamour tie', where the Swans will take on Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. It's highly anticipated as both teams have a similar brand of football: fast and entertaining, with wonderful passing abilities, but sometimes struggle with the end product!
Ashley Williams and Neil Taylor return from international duty to join new defenders Darnel Situ, Rafik Halliche and Fede Bessone, though at the time of writing only Bessone was cleared to play - the club are still waiting on Situ and Halliche. With Rangel and Caulker also fit and ready there is finally a little competition in the back line, with all four spots theoretically up for grabs (though I can't see Bessone starting ahead of Rangel or Taylor). Garry Monk is still struggling with his foot injury, so it's unlikely he'll feature.
Mark Gower has spoken of his hopes of finally pushing for a place in the starting line-up, though probably won't be first on the list. Personally I'd use the Britton, Routledge and Agustien combo once again. It's been working at home: goal scoring opportunities have been created, and Agustien and Britton add defensive security.
Starting Stephen Dobbie instead of Routledge may also be an idea - his confidence doesn't seem to be that high currently, so a start may give him a boost. Then again, decisions should be for the best of the team, not the best of the individual. He needs to use the times he is subbed on as a platform to show how capable he is. So far in the Premier League he hasn't been able to show that.
As usual Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer are vital for creating chances on goal so they're in. That leaves the starting striker. Is it time for Lita? Many would argue no, and I may agree this time. Danny Graham should start, though if he fails to get a goal his confidence may take a further knock. Despite Arsenal going through a low, they will be harder to break down than the likes of Wigan and Sunderland, so any chances that are created must be put away!
Onto the opposition: the Gunners have recently hit a low point, with the 8-2 demolition by Man United surely rock-bottom.
The main area they've struggled with recently appears to have been transfers; both bringing players in and letting them slip, most notably Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri to Man City. However, they managed to rejuvenate the squad on transfer deadline day with German international Per Mertesacker and Brazil international Andres Santos - both add to a back four that were seriously lacking against Man United, and, with Bacary Sagna expected to be back from illness, Arsenal's defence is looking a lot healthier.
Arsene Wenger also added Mikel Arteta from Everton and Chelsea's Yossi Benayoun to the midfield, and with Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie in the squad it won't be a simple task by any means. Luckily for the Swans the likes of Gervinho and Alex Song will miss the match, both still serving bans from recent red cards, while Jack Wilshire is out with an ankle injury.
My prediction is 2-1 to Arsenal (odds currently around 7/1). I see Swansea getting their first goal, though can see an exciting Arsenal attack finding a way past the defence and Vorm.
Ultimately it's Arsenal's game to lose. Swansea aren't expected to win (with 9/1 odds confirming this), so, with less pressure than the games against Wigan and Sunderland, maybe we'll see a goal? A loss isn't ideal for Swansea (obviously), though a draw would be seen as a wonderful success. Either way, with both teams out to play attractive football, it's bound to be an entertaining game!
Read more of my thoughts on the Arsenal match here – an interview carried out by an Arsenal blogger (towards the bottom of the page). Interesting reading about the opposition too!
Thursday, 1 September 2011
What's that you say? You didn't sit inside all day watching the television because you have better things to do? Well I don't, so here's what happened for Swansea City.
To start with, throughout the day, Swansea were linked with several players who, for one reason or another, didn't end up near the club, such as Romaric (Sevilla), Adrian Mariappa (Watford), Matthew Bates (Middlesbrough) and a last minute loan bid for Fabio Borini, among others (including several wind-up rumours such as Stockport's Ryan Fraughan and a last-gasp bid for Marcos Senna).
Eventually the window slammed shut and Swansea were left with:
Gerhard Tremmel (free from Red Bull Salzburg)
Completed earlier in the day, the signing of Gerhard Tremmel was unsurprising, yet welcome news. The trialist impressed more than Jose Moreira in pre-season friendlies and will add strength to the important area that is goalkeeping. We hope Michel Vorm will remain fit throughout the rest of his career with Swansea; if not, Tremmel is an adequate backup.
Darnel Situ (£250,000 from Lens)
The most exciting signing of the evening for Swansea, the France u19's captain was signed for £250,000 from French club Lens. The 19-year-old seems to be a “one for the future” signing, and isn't expected to make a direct impact on this Premier League campaign, but the centre back looks promising!
Rafik Halliche (on loan from Fulham)
On loan until the end of January 2010, the 24-year-old centre back will be cover for Ashley Williams and Steven Caulker, and another defender to temporarily add to the bench – an area Swansea have been lacking in for some time. I'm yet to see Halliche in action but, by all accounts, Fulham fans are glad to get rid of him, which is never a nice thing to hear about your new signing. He made just one appearance for Fulham, from the bench, but he has had 21 caps for the Algerian national team. Don't expect wonders, he's nothing more than cover it seems.
Fede Bessone (free from Leeds)
Earlier in the day, rumours were strong that an old face would be joining the Swans again. Scotland? Gomez? … Trundle? No, we were all wrong – it was Fede Bessone. The 27-year-old left Swansea for Leeds in 2010, making just six appearances, before being loaned to Charlton Athletic. Now he's back with the newest Premier League club on a two-year deal.
I know it's frowned upon to moan about players, but I know I am far from the only one who sees this as a backwards step. He was surplus to requirements at a Championship club, so I'm not sure what impact Rodgers believes he will make in the Premier League? I hope I'm wrong; I hope Bessone returns as a new, fast, Rangel-esque wing back, but will that really happen? I'm sure Ashley Richards would've provided as much cover. Still, it's an option on the bench. Mustn't grumble.
There were no players to leave the club on deadline day, though a rumour that Blackpool were interested in Stephen Dobbie circulated through much of the afternoon. Probably a feasible rumour, but not in Swansea's best interests. Dobbie has only had half an hour on the Premier League pitches – while he hasn't yet impressed, there is more to come from Dobbie this season I am sure.
Another end to a slightly underwhelming transfer deadline day for Swansea City – apart from loan signings the team is now ready to continue their Premier League campaign, barring any exclusions in the 25 man squad (announced shortly).
Sunday, 28 August 2011
Swansea's general possession was less dominating than previous games, but their chances in front of goal increased, which is a positive. However, like the game against Wigan, they were not able to put anything in the back of the net, taking the "games-without-scoring" tally to four.
Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer were typically the main routes to goal, both creating several chances - Sinclair saw his rocket of a strike slam off the crossbar in the first half, while Dyer showed his strengths in skill and agility, as well as his one weakness: shooting!
Sunderland will also feel it was two points dropped as they were not without their golden opportunities. These emphasise Vorm's importance once again, as he kept Swansea in the game with a number of top quality saves, including the one-on-one with Gyan in the 72nd minute. Interesting coincidence: the penalty that Vorm saved against Wigan also fell in the 72nd minute!
Mentioning Asamoah Gyan, the battles between him and Ashley Williams were enjoyable to watch, while Steven Caulker, apart from one little blip, had another comfortable game - very confident in the air.
The middle three were unchanged from the match against Wigan and rightly so. It's a combination that seems to be working well, with Agustien's strength, Routledge's speed and Britton's determination to get the ball when, technically, he shouldn't be anywhere near it!
This brings us to Danny Graham, who, once again didn't score. I mean, the rest of the team didn't score either, but Graham has to be singled out as he's the striker that promised so much. It may just be the case of adjusting from Championship to Premier League, and one goal will open the cat flap (listen to me chatting with Ian Wright below for that cliché!), but the opportunities were there; opportunities that a striker should be putting away. Let's put it down to nerves – the pressure for him to get a goal now is very high, so when he receives it in the box he probably thinks too much instead of actually putting his foot through it. They'll come. If not, at least he didn't cost £50 million.
The next game Swansea will play will be after the international break, against Arsenal in two weeks time – a game which the Swans won't be expected to win, or probably even score in. So, with that pressure off, expect to see Graham come out of his shell and grab a hat-trick!
Absolute Radio called me up earlier in the week, asking me to take part in Ian Wright's 'Rock n Roll Football' show after the Swans match. I agreed; here's how it went!
Absolute Radio - Chris Carra / Ian Wright - Swansea City chat by ChrisCarra
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Shrewsbury 3 – 1 Swansea: Opinion
Swansea crashed out of the Carling Cup in the least glamorous fashion on Tuesday, losing 3-1 away to League Two minnows Shrewsbury. I wasn't at the match, so am basing this part of the blog on my experience of the game from watching Tony Cottee's scrutiny live on Sky, reading match reports and speaking to fans who made the journey.
In a recent blog post I stated it would be in Swansea's best interest to fall out of any cup games as soon as possible, avoiding the risk of injury and fatigue for some first team players, but I almost regret typing that now. Swansea shouldn't have dropped out in the fashion they did, not against a team 65 places below them in the collated league table and certainly not when they took the initial lead!
The worrying element is, despite theoretically being a weakened side, on paper it wasn't that weak. Plenty of first team players started the match (Ashley Williams, Danny Graham, Joe Allen, Alan Tate) with more joining in the second half as subs (Scott Sinclair, Stephen Dobbie and Neil Taylor) – between them they should have been able to seal a comfortable win or, at the very least, a goal (remember, the one Swansea 'scored' was an own goal by Shrewsbury's Cansdell-Sherriff). The rest of the team was made up with the likes of Leroy Lita, Luke Moore, Mark Gower and Jose Moreira who, last season, wouldn't have been considered weak players.
Can we single anyone out? Lita and Graham both missed chances; I guess for £3.5 million, Danny Graham should have scored against a League Two side. Maybe he wasn't being fed the ball enough but, again, this would highlight the ongoing problem of plenty of possession and attractive passing, but no end product. Graham is not the only one to blame. By all accounts, Orlandi and Gower seemed to waste set pieces and Tate was out of position a little too often. Ashley Williams was also singled out for acting too big for the game (see this post from an angry fan on a Swansea City message board).
I don't think anyone has ever seen or heard Brendan Rodgers speak so angrily about his team before, but the stark truth needed to be voiced and he did so very well. Though I can't see many players telling their grandchildren they lost to Shrewsbury, like Rodgers suggested, the statement hopefully makes them think, even feel a little embarrassed.
A good performance, and possibly a goal, against Sunderland on Saturday and this will all be forgotten, but it's been a wake-up call to the players and fans alike.
The two gingers I mention in the title are Ryan Harley and Shaun MacDonald, who have both left the club permanently. Harley left for Brighton for an undisclosed fee, while Shaun MacDonald made the move to Bournemouth for £150K.
MacDonald was never going to force his way into the first team, so the move was probably best for his own career. One thing: I am glad we never got to see him play in front of the Sky cameras – I don't think the world was ready for Shaun MacDonald in High Definition, let alone 3D! Best of luck to him anyway.
Ryan Harley's departure, however, was a little more disappointing. He seemed to be an interesting prospect for the central attacking midfielder role back in January, though his immediate return to Exeter on loan allowed Stephen Dobbie to claim the position as his. With Premier League promotion and another helping of new signings able to slot into the role, Harley was left fighting one too many for the position.
He played a wonderful game for Brighton in the Carling Cup by all accounts; a 1-0 win against Swansea's next opponents, Sunderland. He might not have had first team football on tap in Swansea, but games similar to the one against Shrewsbury might have seen Harley able to push his case forward. Again, good luck to him.
So, onto Sunderland, who Swansea play this Saturday at 3:00pm in the Liberty Stadium. It's a game full of opportunities: to get a much needed first goal (especially for Danny Graham), to get another point or three on the board and to claw back a little respect from the fans after the woeful display in the Cup.
What do you need to know about Sunderland? They are currently 13th in the Premier League, with one point. They lost 1-0 to Newcastle at home last week, though pushed Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Anfield in their opening game. They've recently lost players such as Welbeck and Bent, though still have one of World Cup 2010's stars, Asamoah Gyan who is quick, clever and very exciting.
Swansea are actually favourites against last season's top ten team, currently 7/5 (PaddyPower). If I was betting on this one (...who am I kidding, I am betting on this one), I'd put a few pound on Sunderland to win as they are priced at 2/1; seemingly generous odds, all things considered. However, I predict another draw, albeit a score draw – my money is on 1-1 (currently 5/1).
Monday, 22 August 2011
Fans across social networking and message boards describe the system as “a shambles” “disgraceful” and “shit”. At the present moment this seems to describe the scheme perfectly!
Even those who managed to get tickets are unhappy with the way the club is running the scheme, and rightly so. It's embarrassing for a Premier League club to have to settle for Conference levels of organisation. There was ample time in the pre-season to iron out the wrinkles, so what's going wrong and leading to the backlash from loyal fans?
I was initially dubious as I signed up back in July - however the vague rules and benefits were not enough to put me off if it meant an edge when obtaining highly-sought after tickets.
My “making sense of the scheme” blog that I knocked up in July is here, but even to this day I'm still not 100% sure if it's accurate. I'm not sure anyone is.
Where is the information that states, in black and white (and orange), whether season-ticket holders have priority over those without a season-ticket but with membership to the Jack Army scheme? When do the priority points kick in and how many do you get? When are they awarded? If one person has 15 points but doesn't have a season-ticket does he have priority over the season-ticket holder with 13 points? Confused? Welcome to the club - 20,000 and growing.
These aren't hypothetical questions by the way. I may have missed a vital page or six on the official site, but I would actually like to know the answers!
A further slap in the face is the fact that so many fans have handed either £10 or £25 over for, essentially, nothing. I think I've somehow lost the initial email containing my membership number (which makes me wonder whether they actually sent an email out?). This leaves me without login details. For £25 it might have been nice to see a membership card, similar to the season-ticket card, to welcome you into the club. A certificate even. Just some evidence that you are involved.
Ultimately we are left with a club that, like it handled the season-tickets, Wembley tickets and various other events in the past few months, let itself down with poor organising.
I think it's time to either abolish the system and refund each member's money or sort it out properly – full list of who gets priority in what order, what the procedure is for buying tickets and what benefits we will actually receive for our money!
The media's focus should be on the attractive football Swansea produce, not the ugly organisation.
I'll end with some comments that I've lifted from Twitter and Facebook, from a range of Swansea supporters.
“Total shambles! Fixtures not there (online) to start, then showing members inactive!”
“I think having no physical proof of membership is wrong. My Girlfriend signed to a similar scheme with Cardiff Blues and has a card”
“They need a good kick in, due to the fact that b*****ds who don't even support the Swans have got tickets!”
“They had better get a real internet company in and sort the system out as its only gonna get worse”
“Its a disgrace, the way they are treating the fans, absolute disgrace”
Sunday, 21 August 2011
Ultimately both teams will see the draw as two points dropped instead of one gained, especially Swansea who dominated possession for the first hour - 70 percent heading into half-time for the second game running show Swansea won't find the ball hard to come by in the next few months. However, no goals to show for their possession highlights the cutting edge is still not there.
Wigan warmed up in the second half which didn't help Swansea's case, with two strikes bouncing off the woodwork. It looked like the Latics would take the lead in the 72nd minute after Ashley Williams brought down Jordi Gomez in the box, however the resulting penalty, taken by Ben Watson, was expertly saved by The Penalty Killer, also known as Michel Vorm. The only downside to Vorm's display seems to be his authority during corners and set pieces, sometimes looking unsure of himself. Still, the penalty save alone sees him retain his hero status without a doubt. £1.5 million very well spent – THE summer signing.
While I mention summer signings, is it me or did Danny Graham look slightly uncomfortable? His few chances came early in the first half, but he seemed quiet from then on. Despite Graham only starting two competitive games, I'd like to see Lita start the next one. Starting Routledge with Agustien and Britton was a relatively untried midfield and that worked very effectively, so changing the starting striker may also prove a worthwhile move for one game. Would it knock his confidence? Maybe, but then again he was brought to the club as a striker, not the striker. Just a thought.
Routledge and Agustien worked hard in the centre and probably impressed me the most in the first half, as well as Nathan Dyer, who claimed another deserved man of the match award. Ashley Williams, even though he gave away a penalty, had a good game, as did Steven Caulker who looked very comfortable in the air. Scott Sinclair looked more alive this game than against Man City, with some exciting runs, while Neil Taylor showed his strengths in attack.
Substitute Stephen Dobbie, again, looked out of place. I'm sure he will eventually find a way to fit into this slightly different looking Swans side, but made some decisive errors in attack, while his corner taking didn't work as planned.
Overall a very deserved point for Swansea - if they can just be more punishing in front of goal, games against the likes of Wigan will end more comfortably.
They play again on Tuesday away to Shrewsbury in the second round of the Carling Cup, though it's not a game worth killing players over. In fact, the sooner they exit the Carling and FA Cups this year the better. It's going to be a difficult enough season without risking injuries and fatigue in cup matches. A trophy or a nice run is nothing to be snubbed, usually, but all concentration should be on staying up this year.
Friday, 19 August 2011
Wigan are, again, amongst the pundits and bookies favourites to face relegation this season and it's up to Swansea to help make that happen by taking all three points on Saturday. In the Liberty Stadium, with the twelfth man advantage, the Swans can't afford to miss out on this occasion.
Naturally the Roberto Martinez factor will also play a part on Saturday – his return to the place he once called home is significant and he is probably, quite rightly, expecting a frosty reception, but this match should be more than just getting one over on the man who dumped the club for better things.
Garry Monk and Neil Taylor are both likely to return to the squad, easing the pressure on defence – the weakest area in Swansea's opening fixture against Man City. I can assume Alan Tate will be dropped to the bench to allow Taylor and Sinclair to play their effective left wing game. Taylor will probably take part in his first competitive game since that heart-stopping evening back in May and will have to put in a good performance to impress those he offended with the Newcastle-gate scandal in the summer.
Again, Sinclair and Dyer are expected to start up front with Danny Graham, though I have a suspicion that Leroy Lita may take the starting striker position. Even if he doesn't, it could be a good move as his pace, combined with Dyer and Sinclair's, would make a dangerous front line. It also shakes things up a little and shows strikers like Graham that they have to work for their place, no matter how much was paid. Whoever takes that starting position will be looking to grab the club's first Premier League goal.
The middle three are, as usual, the only uncertain spots in the starting eleven. Leon Britton had a good game against Man City, as did Kemy Agustien. Stephen Dobbie was a little too quiet in the Eithad, though will have more space against the Latics and, with Swansea needing goals, may be the best to start. Joe Allen instead of Leon Britton? Or instead of Agustien? It's good to see Agustien is now more than just a bench warmer and his inclusion against Man City has added another incentive for all midfield players to perform well in training.
Vorm had a terrible game against Man City, stupidly letting in four goals - he should be dropped... I am, of course, joking. He was Swansea's stand-out player in Manchester and has surely sealed his place between the posts for the season.
My team to face Wigan?
Rangel Caulker Williams Taylor
Dyer Allen Dobbie Britton Sinclair
So what about Wigan? They are an attacking team albeit without a consistent goalscorer to put chances away. Still, they've had six consecutive seasons in the Premier League and will pose a similar threat as the likes of QPR did last season.
Wigan's first three matches are against the three Premier League newcomers, all games they were expected to take all three points from. However, dropping points against Norwich means Wigan will be desperate for all three at the Liberty.
Still, this isn't enough for the bookies, who place Swansea as favourites to win in the 90 minutes. I'm predicting 2-0 to Swansea (9/1 PaddyPower). It's a realistic scoreline and one which they need to be achieving – they won't be favourites against many teams this season, so Saturday is about making it count!
Tuesday, 16 August 2011
If you weren't aware, Swansea lost 4-0 to Man City, with goals coming from Silva, Dzeko and two from debutant Aguero (including one shot that no human could have saved!). However, the hefty scoreline of this historic match only tells one side of the story.
Swansea went to the Eithad to play their usual brand of attractive, attacking football and did just that. Their first half was very reassuring; they passed well and looked calm and composed. Possession was not a problem - the Swans retained 70% of the ball with 20 minutes gone, although they were unable to create much more that a couple of off-target shots.
Eventually Man City began to warm up and Michael Vorm finally got his hands on the ball for the first time in the most dramatic way possible, after David Silva's rocket of a shot in the 23rd minute. This was the first I had properly seen of Vorm and was instantly impressed. Apart from Gianluigi Buffon in goals for Italy, never have I been more comfortable with the sight of a ball heading towards the net. The 4-0 scoreline was not fair on the Dutch keeper who put in a shift well worthy of man of the match. He stopped it ending in complete embarrassment and will be a great asset this season. Dorus De Who?
Brendan Rodgers emphasised in his pre-match conversation with the Sky pundits that Alan Tate would captain his side in their first Premier League game, after being with the club through League Two, League One and the Championship. It is an honour Tate really deserved, certainly for his loyalty. He put on a brave face, though the nerves were showing as he led the team onto the pitch and a shaky first five minutes followed. He seemed slow in closing down attackers and gave too much space to the likes of Johnson, but made blocks when necessary.
Overall defence is the area Swansea have problems in. I dread to think what would've happened had one of the defenders taken a knock and had to leave the field – with only Monk and Taylor the other feasible options, Swansea are very scarce in that department. On the field the four fit defenders had a decent game all things considering, but signing another capable defender is crucial before the transfer window slams shut.
Apart from Vorm the positives were obvious to anybody watching – Swansea were able to frustrate a big team, possibly scare them at a few points, and kept true to their passing style: completing 486 passes according to statisticians - more than any other side in the Premier League over the weekend and 144 more than Man City. However, as we have seen with the likes of Arsenal, more than passing is needed to win games and Rodgers will have to take a look for better ways to penetrate in this tough league.
A word must go to the travelling supporters: I was watching at home, but it felt like Wembley with the recognisable songs booming through the speakers. 2,000 sounded like 40,000 so well done to the Jacks who made the journey!
Against the lower rated teams, the Swans should have no problems in picking up vital points. Before their next daunting away trip to the Emirates Stadium to visit struggling Arsenal, Swansea will face Wigan in the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, where three points will almost be expected against Martinez's men.
Friday, 12 August 2011
The game on Monday is basically the big spenders against the little spenders. Both teams have very different Premier League aspirations this season. One team are aiming for their first Premier League title... and the other is Man City.
Jokes aside, the bookmakers price Swansea at 12/1 to win the 90 minute match with the majority of football fans believing Swansea will leave the Eithad Stadium a broken team, being smashed 7-0.
But we know this will not be the case.
Swansea have had a comfortable pre-season, with highlights being wins over Celtic and Real Betis, and have strengthened an already solid team with the likes of Danny Graham, Wayne Routledge and Michael Vorm. The travelling Swans will go into the game confident that they can function as a slick unit, though will be aware that they are massive underdogs.
Swansea's defence is probably the weakest area as it stands going into the first match, with Garry Monk ruled out due to an ongoing foot injury and Neil Taylor still serving his three match ban thanks to the sending off against Nottingham Forest in May. Ferrie Bodde is another, almost permanent feature on the injured list, though this should come as no surprise.
With the exclusions in the squad outlined, my team to face Man City would be:
Rangel Caulker Williams Tate
Dyer Allen Dobbie Britton Sinclair
I'm sure this won't be much different to what many of you would want to see and very close to the actual team Brendan Rodgers will field, perhaps using Agustien or a third holding midfielder instead of Dobbie for added defensive strength. However, without Dobbie Swansea have sometimes struggled to create, so dropping him may not be wise if the Swans want to look for an opening win, or a draw should Man City score first.
It's certainly going to be Vorm between the posts; even though he has had little experience with the team, he is a highly capable keeper and will boost team confidence. The wings pick themselves and Danny Graham is the natural first choice striker, finally getting his first goal in a white shirt against Real Betis last week.
As Man City go, the influential goalscorer Carlos Tevez is not expected to play on Monday, though breathing a sigh of relief is not advisable with the likes of Balotelli, Silva, Santa Cruz, Dzeko, Clichy and other World Class talent ready to test Alan Tate's men. It's a high quality side which is finally looking more of a unit than a miscellaneous group of primadonnas. The FA Cup winners will accept nothing less than a win to kick off their potential Premier League winning campaign.
Despite a defensive blip in the Community Shield match against Man United last week, City are strong at the back. Led by midfielder-turned-defender Vincent Kompany, Man City conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League last season (joint with Chelsea) and, with the England number one, Joe Hart, in goals, scoring against City will not be easy.
With all this in mind, my prediction is a 3-1 win to Man City. Naturally, as a Swansea blogger, I hope I am drastically wrong, with Swansea grabbing a tight 1-0 victory, though the odds of this happening are 25/1 (PaddyPower). If you do want to bet on this game, it may be advisable to put something on Swansea, as the odds are generous and we all know the start of a new season can throw up many upsets. 1-0 to Swansea, with Scott Sinclair as the scorer is a huge 150/1! Being a realistic scoreline and a realistic scorer that's a bet certainly worth a pound!
Silly-odds-checked-so-you-don't-have-to: Alan Tate to score first and Swansea to win 9-0 is 4000/1. Don't.
From Wembley to the Manchester, Swansea City are about to prove there is one Premier League team in Wales!
Saturday, 6 August 2011
It was another game with very little long-term significance, though the win, combined with the one against Celtic, does wonders in boosting overall confidence ahead of the first Premier League challenge against Man City in just over a week.
The Celtic match worked like a can of WD-40 on some of the players, with Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer both looking less rusty against Betis. Sinclair attempted a few more darting runs, while Dyer made a nuisance of himself, in both attack and defence.
Swansea had the better share of chances in the first quarter, including a wonderful move in the 12th minute: a long, cross-field ball from Williams to Rangel on the right wing, who started a lovely one-two with Dyer before whipping it into the area for Dobbie to send rocketing over the bar - a wasted chance, but wonderful to watch!
Real Betis were not without their chances; in fact they looked to scare Swansea several times in the first half, mainly thanks to Jefferson, the young Ecuadorian winger, causing endless trouble to Rangel.
I'm actually genuinely surprised Betis didn't score, especially as Jose Moreira had a less than convincing time between the posts for the Swans. He spilled a few too many shots and opted for the more Mediterranean method of punching the ball out instead of catching when he could. He'll be a good second option, though it highlights the need for a first choice keeper before next week (at the time of writing, the deal with Dutch international keeper Michael Vorm looks to be going ahead, so problems could be solved).
In the second half Gerhard Tremmel looked as comfortable in goals as he did against Celtic and, should he end up signing for the club, may prove to be more of an asset than Moreira.
Danny Graham was given the Man of the Match award, though I didn't feel he was the obvious choice. He looked a little static at times, but he did score the goal and, in a game where Swansea put in a good team performance, he might have been the easiest one for the sponsors to pick. Generally everyone had a good game; Rangel, although struggling against the speed of Jefferson, was ambitious in attack and had a decent shot at goal (he does enjoy a few pre-season friendly goals!) and Tate, Taylor and Williams looked fine at the back.
Wayne Routledge was handed his debut in the second half and really impressed, with speed, power and a few nice flicks. He was playing a central role for the majority, so whether he is going to be in direct competition with Dobbie for the coming season is up for discussion. I'm not sure where this leaves Ryan Harley, who wasn't in the squad today – maybe the signing that shouldn't have happened?
In addition to highlighting Swansea's strengths, the game also showed the need for another good quality defender; the bench looked scarce without Caulker – Alfei was the only defensive option, which isn't a confidence booster with the season opener just a week away. When Monk and Caulker return and if no defender is injured for the rest of the season, Swansea probably have enough options to see them through to Christmas, though football is never that kind – another defensive option would make many fans happier.
The Swans next take the field on Monday 15th August (8:00pm KO) for the mouthwatering (if slightly daunting) game against Man City. Only then we'll see how ready Swansea really are!
Thursday, 4 August 2011
During the first ten minutes it was actually quite nice to see a flare from the Celtic fans, momentarily turning the Liberty Stadium into the Stadio delle Alpi, before the stewards got involved for obvious health and safety reasons. Something different!
The resulting cloud of smoke had cleared up by the time the first goal was scored - Scott Sinclair took an edge of the area free kick which was on target but saved, though the spilled ball was mopped up by Rangel who made it 1-0 in the 63rd minute.
20 minutes later, a nice 20 yard run from Mark Gower set up substitute Stephen Dobbie who scored the second.
Like many fans, it was my first time seeing a number of the new players in action, including Gerhard Tremmel, who was in goals for the first half. Not officially a Swansea City player as he's still on trial, though he definitely took a step closer to signing after a solid performance between the posts, including a wonderful leaping save from a powerful Kris Commons strike on the 20th minute.
Up front, Danny Graham looked very hungry and strong, though not able to convert a few good chances into goals. Elsewhere, we only saw a little of Ryan Harley, though he looked keen enough while Steven Caulker looked a good pairing with Ashley Williams.
Moving onto the familiar faces, and the starting centre three of Allen, Britton and Agustien worked well in the first half, with opportunities being made, though the link play Stephen Dobbie usually creates was missing. Scott Sinclair looked a little rusty with his usually dazzling runs fizzling out to nothing and a one-on-one against Dominic Cervi on the 25 minute mark saw Sinclair try to poke the ball past the keeper a little too slowly and nothing came of the opportunity. He'll be back to his usual self by next week I'm sure.
Nathan Dyer was quieter than usual, though made some nice plays and showed good control and defensive ability at times. Nearing the end of the first half we saw him waltz past a few defenders before taking a shot, though this was saved too easily – when he finds out the how to score consistently, Dyer will be the best winger in the Premier League.
I know I am usually Luke Moore's biggest critic, but he looked fine when brought on for Dyer and made a good run towards the end of the match, before poking it through to Swansea's newest signing, fresh from Middlesbrough, Leroy Lita. Lita didn't have a great deal of time on the field, but showed strength in attack – I hope to see him start on Saturday.
Alan Tate had a great game, making sure he was always in plenty of space and went on a handful of good runs, as well as making a crucial defensive block. He captained the team well, and showed he will still fight for a place in the Premier League starting eleven.
Kemy Agustien impressed, with a good head at goal in the first half, though his temper got the best of him when some arguing saw him awarded a yellow card. He looked better than last season - a little faster and leaner - though no substitute for Stephen Dobbie's creativity up front, who kicked a little more life into the second half with purposeful runs and sharp vision.
Entertainment rating: an enjoyable game at times, though understandably had the slowness and flat points expected of a pre-season friendly: 5/10.
Kudos to the Celtic players, who gave it a go with a weakened team - Samaras and Brown impressed me. The Celtic fans were loud and proud, with aforementioned flares, green smoke bombs, odd Man City-esque dancing (Edit: the Celtic Huddle is what it's called! Thanks to the Celtic fans for setting me straight!) and plenty of song - a shame for them that their biggest cheer came from hearing Rangers were out of the Champions League qualifiers!
Saturday (against Real Betis) will be another, slightly different test for Brendan Rodgers' men and the last chance to tinker before the squad head to Manchester!
Monday, 1 August 2011
Admittedly, these matches don't impact the club much in the long run, but they have their importance. It'll be the first time many fans will see the likes of new recruits Leroy Lita and Wayne Routledge, as well as the other summer signings such as Danny Graham, Steven Caulker and Jose Moreira, if they didn't attend the friendlies in Neath, Port Talbot and Afan Lido. It might also be one of the only matches in the Liberty some fans will see if they weren't lucky enough to get a season-ticket / don't want to queue over night next season.
The three friendlies I just mentioned, as well as the two abroad (including a loss to the UAE Olympics team) were nice warm-ups for the team and more of a chance to stretch their legs, practice playing with new team mates and an opportunity for the reserves to play what will probably be their only games in a Swans shirt this season.
The games against Celtic and Real Betis are the final two opportunities for Brendan Rodgers to try out anything new and look towards what starting eleven he'll field against Man City in just under two weeks time. However, these are big name teams so there is a little more attention and hope on winning these two than there was at, say, Neath.
Swansea first play Scottish giants Celtic on Wednesday (7:00pm) at the Liberty Stadium, in the first game there since that euphoric night against Nottingham Forest back in May.
Oddly enough, Celtic have already begun their 2011/12 SPL season with a 2-0 win against Hibernian but their new season took an immediate break to play a series of friendlies. Within the last week they have lost 2-0 against Wolves and another 2-0 loss against Inter Milan so will be looking for a good win against a Premier League side, especially a Welsh one after their efforts, along with Rangers', to break into the Premier League were unsuccessful.
In reality Swansea have nothing to lose, though Cardiff may think differently. I heard an amusing theory a few days ago: Cardiff lost 1-0 to Celtic in a recent friendly, so, should Swansea lose by more than a goal to Celtic, do Cardiff have one-up on the Swans? I don't see it being much of an issue. Cardiff fans have been uncharacteristically quiet recently, and I don't think their friendly successes (or lack of) will be much to cheer about. They now have bigger problems than Swansea.
Moving onto the match against Real Betis (Saturday 6th, 3:00pm) and we encounter a team I actually don't know too much about.
Last season they won the Spanish Segunda División, achieving promotion to La Liga, so Betis are effectively in the same boat as Swansea – a team gaining promotion and wanting to build confidence against a top tier side from another country. Swansea will get to sample some high quality European football, while Real Betis will get good practise for playing Barcelona if Swansea continue their quick passing, high possession game!
Real Betis will not be an easy team to beat and will be up for showing Swansea why they were champions last season. Recently the Spanish side hammered Havant and Waterlooville 7-0 and, while the H&W Hawks are not really at the same standard as the Swans, it shows that Betis will want to grab as many as they can from what may be a relatively new Swansea side.
So on to my predictions, where I foresee a calm 1-1 draw against Celtic, before a more energetic 2-1 win for Swansea against Real Betis.
Whatever happens, I'm sure these will be fun games to watch and interesting for fans to see how Swansea cope against teams they may not encounter again for a while (maybe not until Swansea leap into the Champions League... give it a few years though)!
Sunday, 24 July 2011
- the Swansea City away kit and the lack of design ambition
- transfer market gossip
- your questions from Twitter (including Bodde's return and over ambitious fans)
- and, of course, Challenge Matt!
Enjoy the last in this series of podcasts, we'll be back with a new, improved format in a few weeks! Follow me on Twitter for announcements @ForzaSwansea!
It wouldn't happen in Swansea - Podcast - Episode 6 by ForzaSwansea2
Saturday, 23 July 2011
After the Wembley hangovers settled, we said our amicable goodbyes to the likes of Cedric van der Gun and Albert Serran, as well as our “I-honestly-forgot-you-were-playing-for-the-Swans” farewells to Kerry Morgan and Jamie Grimes early in June. Shortly after went Darren Pratley, which was no surprise after the on/off season he'd had, followed by the shocking move of Dorus De Vries to Wolves (read my full thoughts on his departure here).
With Fabio Borini having already left for Italy, Swans fans were delighted to learn that a capable, goal-hungry striker was on his way to South Wales: Danny Graham. Luke Moore and Craig Beattie might have adequately fulfilled their roles last season and have impressed in the pre-season friendlies (though playing against the likes of Port Talbot and Afan Lido, can you expect anything less?!), but the club needed to aim higher than the combined seven goals those two brought last season. The arrival of Graham took the “striker needed” advert out of the Liberty Stadium window for a while, though another one or two would be ideal before mid-August.
With one purchase secured, the club were able to look at strengthening other vital areas, with no position more needy of a fresh face than the goalkeeper. A number of names were thrown around but, so far, only Jose Moreira has fallen into the “for keeps” bag. Moreira helped Benfica win the Portuguese League Cup last season and will no doubt prove an asset for the Swans who are struggling in that area – Ma Kalambay is not up to Premier League standard, the same going for David Cornell. It seems another keeper is in Brendan Rodgers' cross-hairs, with a loan bid going in for David Stockdale and an unconfirmed bid for Nottingham Forest's number one, Lee Camp. Another keeper would be desirable.
Looking at the defence, Neil Taylor signing a new four-year deal is good news, though the celebration was blemished after his alleged threats to sue the club after they made his Newcastle move difficult, which has certainly lost him some support (his agent seems to be the main cause of this fiasco, though Taylor must carry some of the blame). He'll have to ensure a great season in the Premier League to convert those disgruntled fans back to full support.
Alan Tate and Garry Monk are staying put, though may see themselves playing secondary roles as Ashley Williams and, new loan signing, Steven Caulker look likely to start in the centre next season, though I'm sure both Tate and Monk will get plenty of game time as the season goes on. Garry Monk signed a new three-year deal, which will no doubt see him end his career with the Swans.
Midfield wasn't a burning issue at the start of the summer with Gower, Dobbie, Allen, Britton, Orlandi and a newly fit(ish) Bodde available, though Senna and Gudjohnsen both stole headlines after Swansea were linked with them. Now they aren't coming, I can get off the fence and say it probably wouldn't have been the best move for the Swans. Yes it was refreshing to see Swansea linked with such high quality players who ooze experience, but high wages and an already large midfield roster would mean someone would suffer.
Let's not forget Ryan Harley, who signed back in January this year. He'll be one to watch, though not holding my breath for immediate wonders – bypassing the Championship and starting in the Premier League with a new team after playing in League One last season may prove a little too much straight off for Harley.
Out wide Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair will be relied on for their pace and skill, though another winger is desperately needed to provide cover for injuries. In an idea world, Swansea would get a winger who is capable of pushing Dyer and Sinclair onto the bench, but this isn't an ideal world so a cover winger would suffice. Marvin Emnes has been consistently mentioned and, at the right price, would be great forward/wing cover, though Middlesbrough won't want to see him go. I know Luke Moore can play out wide, but it's not a mouthwatering prospect is it?
Were Swansea to play their first Premier League game of the season tomorrow, things may look like this:
Rangel Caulker Williams Taylor
Sinclair Britton Dobbie Allen Dyer,
Just joking with the Pintado bit; but substitute Pintado for Graham and it's not a bad looking team, with a nice mix of youth, speed and experience. No doubt Swansea will be linked with a few more possibilities between now and then (when I started writing this blog they were dead certs to sign Mariano Pavone, though as I go to publish it the move is definitely not happening – I can't keep up!)
Staying in the Premier League will be no easy task, but with a little more strengthening it's not impossible. Another three weeks and we'll be very close to the first game against Man City, where the hard work really starts.