THE STRENGTH OF THEIR SPINE
With the season fast approaching most clubs (excluding Arsenal as usual) have done a lot of very shrewd business in the transfer market and have all but completed their pre season matches. The summer transfer window looks for clubs to build on what they achieved the previous season and with this particular club, a Carling Cup victory brought little old Swansea City from Premier League newbies to stars of ITV4 and involved in a competition graced by teams of much greater prestige than themselves.
The question on many people’s mind at the end of last season was in fact whether Swansea would have not only the squad depth, but also the quality to match their great performances in all competitions last year and also now produce it on an international stage. To give a brief answer to that question, I believe they have, and the rest of this article will pick up on some key reasons why I think this as well as some specific appraisal of their ever improving squad. But firstly, Swansea’s performances on ITV4 in conjunction with the signings they have made are the main inspiration in writing this article and the first part of my article will be talking about how their quality in central areas, I believe will be the cornerstone to any success they may have this year.
Everyone was blown away by the performances of Michu last season who joined the Swans with no one knowing the full extent of his capabilities and I am sure everyone is expecting similar fireworks this season. However, despite these performances my opinion that he was much more effective when playing with someone ahead of him, which unfortunately was perhaps Swansea’s weakest area. The lack of a prolific and/or physical presence upfront meant Michu found himself the furthest man forward last season, especially towards the end. This subordination of Michu meant his greatest attributes were not maximised due to the lack of spontaneity and freedom the centre forward role allowed him as well as a reliance on him to lead the line, rather than provide moments of creativity and flair. This brings me on to the purchase of Wilfried Bony, a player who will not only improve the Swansea side, but bring out the best of their Spanish superstar.
The Ivorian comes with an impressive goal scoring record and an even more formidable physical presence, thus being, I believe, the perfect signing for Swansea as his attributes epitomise exactly what they were missing in the final third last season. Watching Bony in the Europa League qualifiers has confirmed my initial assumption to how he would be used at the Liberty Stadium, with his role centred around his immense physical strength and ability to hold up the ball. Swansea’s style of play lends itself towards possession football, yet this does not mean a complete dismissal of the ‘long ball’, a tactic which becomes a useful weapon when considering Bony’s introduction to the Swansea side. His style of play allows Swansea to diversify their playing style, using his presence to retain the ball higher up the pitch and move the whole team forward much quicker than last year. Wilfired Bony’s exceptional control with his chest will be quickly recognised by watchers of the Premier League as the occasional switch up in passing range sees the ball fired into the final third, with a universal expectance of their new striker to absorb the longer pass and offload it to a teammate (usually Michu), something which he seems to often succeed in doing.
This new facet to Swansea’s style of play means they now have the ability to retain the ball in more dangerous areas, but in Bony, Swansea have not only found the right player to provide a rigid spearhead to their otherwise fluid attacking system, but also someone adept at doing so, providing his teammates with more freedom and space, especially their all important number 9.
Michu could fall into either one of the categories already mentioned as he will have a major part to play in both phases of Swansea’s game plan. However when considering their central midfielders, the most important players are those that will sit deep and control the game, allowing those in front of them to attack without any inhibitions.
Leon Britton and De Guzman were used in this role last year, with Ki also making appearances when Michu was deployed further forward, with a chain reaction leading to De Guzman finding himself further up the pitch. Yet the reason I believe Swansea’s spine is their strength is because the likes of De Guzman are top quality players and by retaining his services especially, for another year at least, is perhaps the second most important piece of business they have completed.
De Guzman’s technical abilities and comfort in playing the deep lying playmaker role, synonymous with the ubiquitous 4-2-3-1 formation of modern football, immediately makes him an extremely player for Swansea. He has a superb ball striking ability, and coupled with his intelligence and vision, the knack of playing ‘killer passes’ too. Yet the most underrated of his qualities, but probably most important, is the fact that he has the required intelligence and discipline to embrace his more attacking talents whilst remaining committed to his more defensive role as part of the two holding midfield players. For example, as an Arsenal fan, Aaron Ramsey’s transition to a deeper lying midfielder has been a frustrating process as his relentless pursuit of the ball and genuine enthusiasm for going forward is detrimental to the team despite positive intentions, whilst De Guzman has managed to reign in his attacking instincts and quell them, maintaining an equilibrium between attack and defence throughout the team, something only a few players manage to do successfully.
The second, but by no means less important aspect to this complex midfield composition is the more anchor like midfield player, perhaps again what Swansea may have been lacking last season. Yet, their early business in the transfer market has seen another one of their problems solved with the acquisition of Jose Alberto Cañas, a player I have been very impressed with on the few occasions I have seen him. He seems to be a natural in this ball winning role and despite lacking in any real physical presence, typical of Spanish midfielders in this mould, is an expert in reading the play and predicting the opposition players’ next move. I see him as the perfect accompaniment to De Guzman in the centre of midfield as I think he possesses more quality than Leon Britton and is more of a robust midfielder than the tiny 2 yard pass specialist.
But again, strength isn’t just apparent in the starting lineup, but my point is Swansea have bought in better players in order to develop from their success last season, and with the acquisition of these players means that less of a burden is placed upon the likes of Michu and De Guzman as not only have they been married up with some perfect partners in their positions but those on the Swansea bench are now also players of relative quality and should provide their own benefits to the team throughout the course of the season.
The Defence and Goalkeeper
A team such as Swansea will always have their season decided by how they defend and despite their attacking talent, their ability or at times inability to defend properly may cost them precious points at times or in fact win them games, specifically away from home and especially now abroad. I had written the first part of this article before the start of the season and was only unable to finish writing due to my laptop needing to be repaired. I disclose this information because I had planned to applaud both Ashley Williams and Chico Flores, as well as Michel Vorm yet after seeing them let in 4 goals today, I may look silly in doing so.
However, my original point before their spanking today was that Swansea’s strength down the centre is very much a feature of their defence as well as their attackers. Williams’ ability has attracted reported interest from Arsenal and Liverpool and also seen him pick up the captain’s armband for both Swansea and his national team. These responsibilities are very much a reflection of his attributes as a defender but also his mentality and attitude towards the game. Williams is the perfect mixture between culture and aggression, making him a similar player to the likes of Rio Ferdinand, and someone who not only has a fair amount of pace and strength but also the composure and mindset to defend intelligently whilst also looking comfortable with the ball at his feet.
Furthermore, the presence of Chico Flores as Williams’s centre back partner is yet another reason why I believe Swansea have the solid foundations to do well this season. Flores, like David Luiz, is more of a flairy central defender with a similar attitude to that of Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny in which he will stop at nothing to win the ball. This persistent, albeit sometimes erratic style of defending though provides the perfect compliment to the calm and composed leader figure Swansea have in their captain Ashely Williams. Chico Flores has that extra spice to his game and as already mentioned, despite having a detrimental effect at times, I believe Swansea should maintain this centre back partnership as through the both of them they have all the required attributes necessary to prevent the conceding of goals in the Premier League and even when they have their off days, they usually have a very reliable and impressive last line of defence.
Michel Vorm had an excellent season last time out and was among the top goalkeepers in the league, something particularly impressive when you consider the array of goalkeeping talent that was on show last year. Vorm’s distribution was always considered fundamental to Swansea given their style of play and now with the introduction of Bony, the range of this skill will now be tested, and subsequently utilised meaning that again Laudrup’s summer signings are benefitting those already within the squad by asking more out of them. I believe no team can be truly successful without someone decent between the sticks, as often the one save and commanding presence can instil and inspire confidence amongst the whole team and despite criticism of his size, I think Swansea have their perfect number one in Michel Vorm as what he lacks in height, he makes up for in agility and speed making him another vital component of Swansea’s squad.
N.B. This article has also omitted the wide players completely however this is not to say that they will have a small role to play. Also, the focus placed on the central areas was meant to have undertones implying that due to the strength in the middle, Swansea’s wide players will have more freedom and therefore also benefit from Laudrup’s assembling of an impressive group of players. The likes of Dyer, Routledge and Pablo Hernandez will blossom in the company of Bony and Canas, as Bony will add more of a threat upfront thus increasing the potential for assists, whilst the anchor role played by Canas means that the wide players can gallop forward with little worry about defending and also be supported even more by their full backs.
All in all, the point I have been trying to make is that what some teams competing for similar positions may lack, Swansea definitely do not. Last year we bore witness to evidence that they did indeed have a talented group of players signed on at the Liberty Stadium and with the influx of Laudrup’s knowledge of La Liga, they managed to surround this strong spine with more talent. This year again has seen their astute manager tap into his extensive knowledge of Spain as well as other less reputable leagues to further develop his Swansea team and by creating such a strong core of players whilst also signing players who well and truly flourish in each others’ company, this Swansea side is full of carefully composed mini partnerships, in which each player in the squad is complimented perfectly by a teammate and this in itself is the main reason I believe Swansea will again be overachievers this Premier League campaign.