Cliche or not, there’s no other way to describe them; the Swans have been flying this year. Tomorrow’s opponents are coming into the game having taken the considerable scalp of City last week at home, courtesy of a 1-0 win, and while tight scorelines are sometimes a bit devious there is no doubting that Swansea didn’t just match City, they outplayed them. They play a lovely brand of football, developed by Brendan Rogers over his years working under Jose Mourinho and studying the style of play of, among others, Barcelona (infact his visits to Spain were so frequent he can speak fluent Spanish). The result is a style of play that is quite comparable to Bilbao; they love taking care of the ball, so much so that their possession and passing stats are some of the best in Europe, but if necessary their considerable pace on both wings means that they also offer a direct threat on the counter, if need be. Swansea have won many admirers, including me, for the way they’ve adapted to the league this season, and Brendan Rogers has put together a young, hungry and talented squad. He is certainly destined for big things in management.
As for us, well our record stands at 9 points from 12 thanks to that blip at Villa last week. We too have been doing very successfully on the pitch in recent weeks, and I believe we are in the top 3, certainly not far off, based on 2012 form alone. The departure of Zamora appears to released the shackles on the team in a sense, as we are finally playing what you would consider to be the free flowing football Jol would like us to, although perhaps not as consistently as one would like. Even still, our home form especially has been impressive, 5 wins in a 6 match unbeaten run at Craven Cottage, and that combined with Swansea’s dreadful away form (polar opposite to their home form, where have we seen that before?! although it’s worth mentioning they beat Wigan last time they played away) would, you imagine, make us favourites for a win.
Teams news for us is quite disappointing. Sa picked up a hamstring injury in a recent Development Squad game ruling him out for up to a month and Sidwell has had a similar set back on account of his troubling hernia, he too is out for 3-4 weeks. Hughes returns however, and following his performance against Wolves I’d like to see him back in, but Jol seems to like Kelly. Aside from that it is as it was. Swansea have a key player in Nathan Dyer missing for tomorrow’s game as he serves the second of a three match ban which is great news for us, Dyer has been very impressive this season and his understudy Routledge, who is of course familiar to many of us following his year spent here on loan, will be hard pressed to match his performances. Augustien remains out, as does Orlandi, so expect the same team from Swansea which conquered City last weekend.
Both sides enjoy playing attractive football, so if you’re on the front row don’t expect to be looking up at the sky trying to pick out the ball too often. Swansea, as I say, have notoriously been precious in keeping the ball and tend to dominante possession in matches, even against higher quality opposition (against Tottenham they had 56%, for example), so it’ll be interesting to see how we match up. We can either play this in one of two ways; sit back and let Swansea take the initiative or push up and close them down high up the pitch and I imagine we’ll try the latter since we are at home. The pace that both Sinclair and Routledge offers on the wings concerns me, although through the middle they don’t off so much threat with Graham, so we will have to stay disciplined and make sure our offside trap is on song.
We musn’t forget either that we are a very good passing team, one of six in the league who can say they average over 50% possession a game, and while as a cohesive unit their defence is generally pretty solid, it is definately greater than the sum of its parts so if we stretch play and isolate defenders we can have a bit of joy. Playing quickly will be important because of the 4-3-3 that Swansea play, it can easily drop back into a 4-5-1 congesting the midfield area and maybe we will struggle to exploit the few spaces they leave. As you might expect from two passing teams the battle will be won and lost in midfield so hopefully the movement and pressing of our front 5, anchored by Danny, will give us the presence we need in the area to win it. Expect Andy Johnson to be key in this as he drops back to do a number on the deeper Swansea midfielders. I think that Pogrebnyak will help put pressure on the centre halves so they don’t find it so easy to pass out of defence. Dempsey might have to stay out wider than he normally does too, to push back the adventerous Swansea right full backs and so that we dont get overloaded on that side if they come on the counter and their full back surges up the field.
In an attacking sense I really hope Ruiz plays, we have seen how he relishes playing against these kind of sides. Pogrebnyak will be up against another two imposing centre halves in Caulker and Williams so hopefully he can put his subdued performance against Collins and Dunne behind him. With a deeper midfielder in their side Swansea would rather play against Zamora, who can get screened, than Pogrebnyak I’m sure, so while I don’t think he will get many touches I reckon Pogrebnyak will have an impact on the game. Swanseas central midfield trio aren’t especially quick so I think Dembele can get a fair amount of joy running at them from deep, and I imagine that Swansea won’t press all that high up either, giving Murphy a nice bit of space to orchestrate things in the middle.
I do think though that because of the way both sides play the team that gets the momentum behind them will take the win, and if we start brightly with a fast tempo and aggressive closing down then we can take victory over our opponents.
My Prediction: 2-0