The 2012/13 Barclays Premier League season has begun a few weeks now and so have all the other major leagues in Europe. As most fans are saying these days, ‘Football is back!’. As football fans we gravitate to big name clubs and high profile players most of the time. This may cause us to overlook the smaller teams that face more obstacles to success. They have to compete with larger clubs who are heavily financed and have bigger fan bases. The smaller football clubs have to depend on proper youth programs and meticulous scouting networks to enhance their player pool. I would like to highlight a ‘new kid on the block’, Swansea City of the English Premier League.
Debut 2011/2012 season
Swansea City is the only Welsh club to have played in the Premier League since it was formed in 1992. The ‘Swans’ as they are nicknamed finished their debut Premier League season(2011/12) in 11th position. This was certainly a creditable performance for a promoted club in a tough league and they played the game with style and some substance. Northern Irishman Brendan Rodgers has been responsible for Swansea’s success and his football philosophy has meshed successfully with the club and its players. Rodgers is a proponent of the ‘tiki taka’ style where maintaining possession and working the ball through various channels is emphasized. High pressing was also adopted by Swansea to stifle the opposition, win back the ball and launch attacks. Rodgers has been able to develop Swansea’s talented players and some of them enhanced their reputations during the 2011/12 season resulting in moves to bigger clubs. Rodgers himself was snapped up by Liverpool after they sacked club legend Kenny Dalglish. Outstanding players were goalkeeper Michel Vorm, Joe Allen, loanees Gylfi Sigurdsson and Stephen Caulker, winger Nathan Dyer and rightback Angel Rangel. Swansea were difficult to beat at home in their Liberty stadium and racked up one of the best home records in the league. They were one of the most technically gifted sides in the Premier League and neutral supporters were attracted to their brand of football. Swansea had the 6th best passing accuracy in Europe(85.2%) and midfielder Leon Britton(93.3%) had the highest passing accuracy for any player beating ‘passmaster’ Xavi of Barcelona.
This season Swansea has had to make adjustments due to the departure of Brendan Rodgers and high profile players Scott Sinclair, Gylffi Sigurdsson, Joe Allen and Stephen Caulker. Rodgers was replaced by Dane Michael Laudrup who tweaked Swansea’s style but more on that in a bit. The club has recruited quickly to fill the void and Jonathan de Guzman, Ki Sung-Yueng, Michu, Pablo Hernandez and Chico have been signed. Swansea have started with a bang, registering a resounding 5 nil victory over Queens Park Rangers, 3 nil victory over West Ham and a 2 all draw with Sunderland. This club is clearly on the up and they are being called ‘ the Welsh Barcelona’ by sections of the media due to their silky style.
Laudrup’s philosophy, tactics and early influence
There were fears that Brendan Rodgers’ departure would have led to a fall off in Swansea’s success and style. This has not been the case under Laudrup who has had modest success in his managerial career so far. He has maintained the neat passing game that Swansea have had even before Rodgers’ reign but added a bit more directness. The wingers Dyer and Routledge have been encouraged to tuck inside and link up closer to frontman Danny Graham. This has given license to fullbacks Rangel and Taylor to get forward into advanced positions. La Liga recruit Michu is less of a playmaker than Sigurdsson who he replaced but has already scored 4 goals in three games. He reminds me a bit of the Frank Lampard of old, ghosting into the penalty area with well timed runs and scoring. Late recruits Sung-Yueng and Hernandez are yet to play but both add to the depth and quality of Swansea’s squad. Laudrup also seems to have instilled more discipline into the team defensively and their shape without the ball reflects that organization.
Can Swansea maintain this run, establish a top 10 position and even make a run at a European place? Time will tell, but they are fast becoming everyone’s second favourite team and are leaving a big impression.