Rodgers – a welcome in the hillside ?
But how quickly that sparkle has dulled.
The scene was set for Brendan Rodgers to lead his resurgent troops across the Severn Bridge to cross swords with the Liberty heir flying high on his conferred momentum.
However, lines quickly began to be fluffed, on one side quicker than the other.
More than once on this site, I’ve written that the summer’s “not wanted on voyage” labels hung round both Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll were both premature and unhelpful. Nothing I’ve read or seen since has changed that opinion.
The aspirational Merseysiders greet October’s conclusion at 14th place in the EPL table. They’ve scored just three home league goals this season, and that lack of striking depth was placed into sharper focus this week. Fabio Borini’s broken foot injury on Italian duty now effectively leaves just Luis Suarez to lead the line for much of the nine weeks till the next transfer window opens.
Despite brave talk of a January swoop for Celtic’s Gary Hooper, that prospect will be far from appetising for the Kop—and who can blame them? The Reds, meanwhile, are already eight points adrift of the final Champions League slot. The fact that fourth place is currently occupied by flourishing Stanley Park neighbours Everton must be additional grit in the eye of many an Anfield fan.
Further unpicking of the stitches came after the recent Europa League defeat to Udinese. Even laying aside the second-half capitulation and leaking of three goals, manager Rodgers broke cover from his usual measured comments post-match.
At his previous clubs, public player censure had been at a premium if not invisible. Here, however, a third straight home defeat had him label them as “lazy" (via the BBC). Meanwhile, captain Steven Gerrard’s statement that “it’ll be a miracle if we win the title before I finish” scarcely generates public confidence as to the ongoing "project" (Sunday Times, via the BBC).
And so to the Liberty Stadium. I wrote here this month that the "team" ethic so carefully nurtured by bosses Martinez, Rodgers and even Sousa could be in jeopardy. That was after defender Alan Tate said the home defeat by Everton saw them play as 11 individuals and not a team. Swansea’s only point since then was the comeback from two down at home to winless Reading.
According to a press report this week, the players have been disenchanted with the manager’s tactics and training methods, and the UK Daily Mail newspaper maintained that Swansea Chairman Huw Jenkins was made well aware: "The chairman noted their observations and has held further meetings with players, without Laudrup’s knowledge, to assess the situation" (via Daily Mail).
However, the very same day, the chairman told BBC Sport, “No doubt from time to time outside forces beyond our control will make attempts to unsettle our football club and we have to accept that."
One could be forgiven for arguing that such ripples are in the unavoidable DNA of EPL life, but it’s something that’s been happily absent from Swansea City life for a considerable number of years. Fans will remember acutely the footballing soap opera of the late '80s and early '90s that surrounded Vetch Field life. That period saw the headlines awash with headlines about managerial changes and, at times, near farcical boardroom intrigue.
Life at the Liberty, marked by the start of the Martinez managerial reign, has thus far extinguished such distractions.
That’s something home supporters have become proud, even protective, of, and even this one such ripple on the pond will raise many a disapproving frown.
And so, the perfect all-round buildup to a potential marquee fixture? Most definitely not. But both sets of supporters will fervently hope the recent portents are misleading, and perhaps it will be a game that can press refresh on both their campaigns. The alternative is a fixture to prove whose fingernails have the firmest grasp on survival.