Swansea City Twitter Page (@SwansOfficial)
If I were to poll the question to Premier League fans in England and the world over, from San Francisco all the way to Japan and back again, with this simple question: “Which team was the biggest surprise last year?” The answer would unanimously be Swansea City.
Swansea City, the Welsh club who many predicted last year prior to the season to return to the Championship, became the darlings of the Premiership by holding their own against the heavy hitters in the league, playing some of the most fluid and entertaining attacking soccer seen from a smaller club, hoisting the Capitol One Cup (League Cup) their first taste of silverware in their 101 – year history, and boasting the signing of the season in the versatile attacking midfield monster known simply as Michu. After securing a respectable 9th place finish in the table, Michael Laudrup’s side, more so than Brendan Rogers’ team, is on everyone’s radar. Along with this added target, Swansea will have the added pressure of competing in the Europa League, a competition that the Swans are in the midst right now and cruising. After earning a spot in the qualification round through their Capitol One Cup triumph, Swansea demolished Swedish side Malmo last week 4-0 to take control of that tie. Laudrup knows as we all do that this competition and the soccer calendar in general is marathon by all accounts, but you can bet that he will be eager to improve on what already has been an impressive start at Swansea.
In between the posts is Michel Vorm. The 29 year-old Dutch international is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated keepers in the Premiership. Of course you have your marquee men like Joe Hart and Petr Cech, but Vorm has proven in his two years in the Premiership that he is more than capable of being spectacular, particularly during penalty kicks. When Vorm is not smothering penalties, the Swans’ number one, has all the qualities you look for in an imposing keeper, aerial reflexes akin to a cat, an astute reading of the game, and the temerity to impose his physical built when duty calls. His clean sheet record with Swansea is impressive, although it dipped in his second year from 14 in 2011-12 to half of that last season, albeit conceding less last year.
Chico Flores (@SwansOfficial)
In front of Vorm is a defense that will feature familiar faces in Laudrup’s squad, but also rotations. Gary Monk, the Swansea veteran center back has handed over the captaincy to Ashley Williams. Monk, 34, saw his time limited last year to only 15 appearances after Laudrup favored the central defensive pairing of Williams and Chico Flores. Monk will most likely feature in Capitol One Cup games and possibly Europa League encounters. He has been at the club for what will be his 10th season and has been with them in all four divisions, so this last hurrah for Monk will be limited but not short of emotion. As stated, the preferred central pairing of Williams and Flores will feature primarily for the Swans this season and should provide steel in the back with steadfast results. Flores proved to be a revelation after coming on for just £2 million, he has proven to be arguably Swansea’s most reliable defender and should continue to be so this season. New Spanish signing, 21 year old Jordi Amat will find regular playtime difficult in the center of defense, although he could find use once matches, suspensions, injuries, and general season wear and tear take their toll.
Moving to the fullback position the only questions remains on the left hand side of the field. On the right, Spanish born Angle Rangel, has all but secured his place after last season’s solid performance serving astutely in defense and in attack. Rangel has showed fans that he can cruise forward and take his chances at goal and develop play with Nathan Dyer rather efficiently. And even after Dyer was absent in some cases, Rangel found himself in that position too. Laudrup will be hoping to field both players for the vast majority of this season though as they constitute a capable attacking threat on the right side. On the other end of the field at left back, Neil Taylor will face competition with Ben Davies. Davies, one the youngest members of the squad, at age 20, filled in nicely after Taylor went down with a season ending ankle injury. With Davies being a dependable replacement and leading the team in tackles last year, be sure to watch for this roster battle that will either the Swans spoiled for choice or leave Laudrup with a headache of a balancing act. At the very least either man can suit up for the Welsh club, be it Premier League weekend or Europa League midweek.
Now we get the best part of Swansea, their midfield. With roughly thirteen options to choose from in the middle of the park, Laudrup will need to strike the perfect harmonic chord to provide his side with the same free flowing attacking play we all witnessed last season. And with the selection it will be hard not to.
Returning is Swansea’s central cog in front of defense, Leon Britton. And in front of him will be either the stalwart Jonathan de Guzman who caught they eye of his international coaches last season with his reliable distribution in the midfield. De Guzman, who is Dutch, also featured in Britton’s role when called upon and sometimes further up the field when Laudrup saw it was necessary to play Ki Seung-Yeung in a deeper, central role. On the wings, the Swans bring back the option to field three wingers at time if they feel so bold. And with Pablo Hernandez, Nathan Dyer, and Wayne Routledge, stretching the field and cutting in behind the striker, don’t be surprised if you see Swansea fans foaming at the mouth from having multidimensional formations at their disposal. New signing from Liverpool, Janjo Shelvey is steadily making a name for himself on the team after a solid performance against Malmo. The level of competition in the Premiership is a different animal entirely, but the Swans’ summer acquisition can provide an extra threat with his long passing. Throw in two more new faces, the Spanish duo of Jose Canes and Alejandro Pzuelo, and Swansea are not short of youthful options in the midfield. Speaking of Spain, did I forget to mention Michu?
Michu Twitter Page (@Michuoviedo)
The Spaniard who traditionally plays as attacking midfielder, but shined as a striker, led the club last year with 22 goals. After transferring from La Liga’s Rayo Vallencano for a sum of £2 million, Michu’s play exceeded his transfer fee by a mile. The man proved to be an enormous threat in the Premiership with his excellent awareness and top notch finishing. More of the same will be required from Michu to abate challengers this season, but unlike last year where the marksman was forced to play off the meager Luke Moore, Michu can link up with a potential double-digit goal threat in Wilfried Bony.
Bony, who is of Ivorian descent but played for Dutch side, Vitesse Arnhem, will be the biggest question mark this season since Laudrup and company plopped down a club record £12million for the stiker’s signature. But Bony is no slouch, he scored a devastating 31 goals in 30 Eredivisie games, leading the league in goals and taking home the Dutch player of the year award. I doubt that Bony will replicate close to that number in his English debut, but he brings plenty to the table along with top rate finishing. He can hold the ball up which is key in the Premiership, drop deep when the tactics call for it, and has the ability to score with this head. Only time will tell if he makes the transition into the Premiership smoothly, but if he does and creates a fluid partnership with either Michu behind or alongside him, Swansea can have one hell of an attacking pair.
Michael Laudrup (@SwansOfficial)
With a complete bolster of the squad, in both new arrivals and returns, Laudrup’s men are not lying down this season one bit. They will just need to be consistent. Last year they got off quickly, had a few bouts with form, and then frankly got picked apart in the league after their Capitol One Cup title. This season already brings pressing challenges from the onset. Europa League matches will ensure that the side want to stay competitive continentally but must also serve to buoy their domestic exploits. And for Swansea the season starts with a bang. They begin August by hosting Manchester United in the season opener and then follow that with a road trip to White Hart Lane. After facing Tottenham they await Liverpool and Arsenal in September.
Swansea captivated audiences last year and with their added depth and restoration in team chemistry we could be in for more dazzling soccer in 2013, surprise free.