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Premier League Preview: Swansea City’s Michu has options all over the pitch!

Swansea: More than just passing through


As he pressed the flesh of pretty much everyone in sight at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, there was a sense that Brendan Rodgers was a little more bothered about his return to Swansea City than his old club were.

Already faced with the embarrassment of seeing his Liverpool side lower in the table than the club he left for the Reds in the summer, Rodgers seemed determined to greet old friends with a fixed smile on his face, hugely laudable behaviour of course but perhaps also that of a man who was desperate to show that he had left for greener pastures in the summer whatever the league table says.

Ultimately Rodgers’ Liverpool were the better side in South Wales, particularly in the first half, and if anyone was going to claim the three points then it probably deserved to be them, but once again Swansea showed just what a valuable addition to the Premier League they have been since their promotion under Rodgers 18 months ago.

Luis Suarez still had his moments but ultimately he was shackled by Chico Flores and Ashley Williams – perhaps the Uruguayan’s unofficial biographer – in a more impressive manner than anyone has managed in the past six weeks, and if it makes a change to start off discussing a Swansea performance by focusing on their defence then maybe that will soon change if the centre-back pairing and full-backs Angel Rangel and Ben Davies continue in the manner that they have been.

That the focus so often shifts further forward is down to Swansea’s vibrant attackers and their protection of the ball of course, with Michu and Pablo Hernandez looking lively and Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer troubling Pepe Reina with a fine shot and a boot to the face respectively.

That was a rare ugly moment in a match that the purist would have loved had there been any goals, and one which again showcased Swansea’s commitment to possession.

In this day and age of endless tactics-based debate it is quite uncommon to find a club who are solely committed to playing a certain way regardless of who the manager is.

There is nothing revolutionary about the way that Swansea have gone about their game in recent years – although at times Rodgers would have you believe there is – but instead their approach symbolises a club who are comfortable with their pleasing image and want to stick to it.

Football pub bores will go to great lengths to tell you that it was of course Roberto Martinez who started off this Swansea culture of possession being nine tenths of the football law, which would be quite interesting if everyone didn’t know that already.

Under chairman Huw Jenkins, the Swans have protected this philosophy through the promise of Martinez, the wobbles of Paulo Sousa, the results of Rodgers and now the current regime of Michael Laudrup, perhaps the most laid back manager in the Premier League and certainly the one who can boast the best playing career.

Whilst that alone doesn’t guarantee success in the top job of course, a healthy eye for a good player certainly does, and Laudrup has demonstrated that in abundance during his brief tenure with the signings of the likes of Michu, Hernandez, Ki Sung-Yeung and Jonathan de Guzman.

Stationed in the top half of the table ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with the still upwardly mobile West Brom, Swansea appear to be perfectly placed to continue with the rapid progress they’ve made during their time in the top flight.

They’ll have their tough times of course – not least with trips to Arsenal and Tottenham and a home game against Manchester United before Christmas – but Swansea certainly don’t look like becoming involved in a relegation battle at any point this season, something that they were tipped to do under Rodgers and even under Laudrup by some.

The current Liverpool boss will have his own moments in his still new job, but the side he left behind will go on enjoying themselves for some time yet.

Swansea are doing much more than just passing through the Premier League.



Second season syndrome? Part II

Having already had a look at five players who’ll be looking to impress in Yirma for a second year running, it’s time to cast an eye over five more regulars on last season’s teamsheets who’ll be worth considering again.


Michel Vorm, Swansea, Goalkeeper – Fantasy Price tag £5.5m

That odd scratching sound that you heard every Saturday morning for 38 weeks was coming from those Fantasy managers lucky enough to start the season with Vorm as their substitute goalkeeper.

However, the noise of fingernails over forehead grew quieter and quieter the longer that Vorm’s debut Premier League season went on, and suddenly the expensive, big name keeper you’d bought to start for your Fantasy team could be sold off to raise funds that were needed elsewhere. The big Dutchman would do just fine.

The former Utrecht goalkeeper impressed everyone as Swansea’s last line of defence last season, keeping 14 clean sheets and only conceding two goals in his side’s first eight home league games of the season.

The question of whether or not Vorm can sustain that form is like everything else that surrounds his club since the departure of Brendan Rodgers though – unknown.

New boss Michael Laudrup is sure to bring in the type of expansive, stylish football that Rodgers favoured, but with key men potentially leaving then results could well be mixed, meaning that trusting the big Dutchman to start for you this time could prove a hasty decision.


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal, Midfielder – Fantasy Price Tag £7.5m

What do Arsenal want Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to be? A very good player for them, obviously, but Arsene Wenger’s summer signings hint at another season as an impact player for the youngster who fleetingly impressed for England at the Euros.

For someone who only turns 19 next week that isn’t such a bad thing of course, but there were glimpses towards the end of last season that showed ‘The Ox’ could maintain a strong hold on a first-team place if given the chance.

Will he be given that chance though? The signing of Lukas Podolski has placed one of the most internationally experienced top level players in Europe squarely in Chamberlain’s position, whilst Santi Cazorla only increases the already vast midfield options available to the Gunners. Jack Wilshere might even be seen at some point this season too.

The belief amongst many is that Wenger is grooming former Southampton youngster Chamberlain to become a more effective version of former Southampton youngster Theo Walcott, and whilst that is all well and good, for as long as Walcott is at the club – which admittedly might not be for much longer – then it is difficult to see Chamberlain making a sustained impact.

This could be a frustrating campaign for the youngster and those who pick him.


Jose Enrique, Liverpool, Defender – Fantasy Price Tag £6.0m

Much like Liverpool as a whole, Enrique’s league performances steadily got worse the longer last season went on.

He’d started well, but like everyone at the club he’ll be looking forward to putting that league campaign behind him, and the arrival of Brendan Rodgers will have invigorated a squad which was in dire need of a spark.

Enrique was Liverpool’s third top points scorer behind Luis Suarez and Pepe Reina in 2011/12, and whilst Rodgers is sure to change a lot about his new club’s style of play he is likely to have found the two first choice full-backs he inherited at Anfield to be to his liking.

Liverpool will look to use those full-backs in attack as much as possible in 2012/13, and whilst a personal preference would be to choose the added goal and assist threat of Glen Johnson (£6.5m), if you haven’t got the extra cash then a move for Enrique could prove a shrewd one if he starts well again.


James McClean, Sunderland, Midfielder – Fantasy Price Tag £6.5m

Yes, he’s down as a midfielder again.

McClean’s haul of 101 points last season wasn’t bad at all for a player who didn’t start a match since New Year’s Day, and the Irishman again looks likely to start on the left of Sunderland’s front three.

Things have been remarkably quiet around his club all summer – at the time of writing only Carlos Cuellar has joined for first team duty, but interest remains in Steven Fletcher – and with that suggesting Martin O’Neill is more than happy with the squad at his disposal, the Sunderland boss looks set to go with the same again as he starts his first full season with the club.

McClean’s impact on Sunderland last season saw him quickly become a mainstay in the team, and he’ll be raring to go again after only sampling 14 minutes of action during the Republic of Ireland’s disappointing Euro 2012 campaign.

He’ll get far more time in the Premier League, and could once again prove to be a terrific addition to any midfield – if a more expensive one this time around.


Ashley Young, Manchester United, Midfielder – Fantasy Price Tag £8.5m

It was an up and down debut season at Old Trafford for Young – up as he ran towards the penalty area, down when he got int it – and both the arrival of Shinji Kagawa and consistent form of Antonio Valencia could make this a difficult campaign for him.

Nani is still around too of course, and with the rumours surrounding Robin van Persie refusing to go away then the vacancies in the forward positions at Manchester United could soon be even scarcer than ever before. We haven’t even mentioned Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez yet. Oh, and Dimitar Berbatov too.

All of which leaves Young in danger of being squeezed out, and even if he does start matches he is unlikely to finish them due to the vast resources available to Ferguson.

He’s been far from a failure at United of course, but his impact tends to come in short bursts, and he might have to prolong those if he is to hang around in Ferguson’s team, and yours.



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