Swansea City: Why Swans Can Actually Compete for a Top Spot in Premier League
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Swansea City's 3-0 victory over West Ham put the Welsh side temporarily on top of the Premier League.
More significantly, it symbolised a shift in footballing values in the Premier League—and it's a shift that will see the elegant Swans thrive.
Swansea impressed last year in their top-flight debut, but many feared their second season would prove difficult.
Last season, manager Brendan Rodgers garnered deserved plaudits for instilling the team so successfully with a strong footballing identity. Their emphasis on an attractive, fluid passing game drew only half-ironic comparisons to Spain and Barcelona.
It even emerged that Swansea midfielder Leon Britton had the best passing accuracy rate in Europe, surpassing tiki taka master Xavi.
It's a style that depends so crucially on how the team works together that any change in management or personnel can threaten to disrupt the flow.
So when Rodgers signed on to replace Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, eventually taking influential midfielder Joe Allen with him, Swansea's chances to continue their Premier League success suddenly dimmed.
They also lost defender Steven Caulker, returning to Tottenham after his loan spell ended, and Gylfi Sigurdsson, whose tremendous form earned him a lucrative move to Spurs. Then the season started with doubts hanging over Scott Sinclair, agitating for a move to Manchester City.
But the Swansea board was determined to stay the course Rodgers had set, and named Michael Laudrup manager.
Laudrup, a European legend who played under Johan Cruyff at Barcelona, has relatively modest managerial experience. His most notable achievement was at Spanish club Getafe, where he fostered the free-flowing style favoured at Swansea. His one year in charge saw minnows Getafe reach the 2007-08 Copa del Rey final and UEFA Cup quarterfinals.
Still, questions over the young Dane's ability to replicate Rodgers' success remained. As the 2012-13 season got underway, Swansea were tipped by many for relegation.
Two games into the season, it is a very different story.
Swansea have not only retained the effectiveness of their passing style, they look to have improved on it. The addition of Michu, bought by Laudrup from Spanish side Rayo Vallecano, could well be the signing of the season. The dynamic midfielder's debut, scoring twice in Swansea's 5-0 annihilation of QPR, certainly banished any worry about losing Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair.
But opening day thrillers aren't always indicative of how the season will unfold—especially against sides as inept as QPR looked. After all, in last season's opener Bolton thumped the same team 4-0 away, and wound up getting relegated.
West Ham were expected to provide a sterner test at the Liberty Stadium. Intriguingly, it was a matchup that could be seen as pitting the "new" passing style of Swansea against the "old-fashioned" physical style of Sam Allardyce's West Ham.
The verdict was emphatic. West Ham looked static and bereft of creativity; Swansea were fluid and confident on their way to a 3-0 victory.
Swansea will certainly face less-obliging opposition, but their eight unanswered goals to kick the season off prove that they have been able to retain their attacking finesse as well as—equally important—a tidy defence.
It is a style that should prove as effective as it is entertaining, and could well put Swansea in contention for a top-six Premier League finish.
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