Swansea City: A Look at the Swans' Phenomenal Return to Form
The Premier League season may only be three-and-a-half months old, but the folks in South Wales have already experienced more thrilling highs and crushing lows than the average football fan does in a full term.
Swansea City were very much Britain's in-vogue club for a short spell in August—the trendy kids on the block who seemed to have fused a sexy style of playing with a winning efficiency.
Managed by the legendary ex-player and real gentleman Michael Laudrup, the Swans' first two league games saw them outscore opponents QPR and West Ham by eight goals to none.
Summer signings Michu and Chico, bought for a collective £4.4 million, were already beginning to look like two of the bargains of the century.
Laudrup was also getting the best out of established Swansea players like Nathan Dyer, Leon Britton and Neil Taylor.
The Dane quickly earned the reputation of a player's coach—upon signing, loanee Jonathan de Guzman spoke of his previous experiences working under him as the key reason for his move to Wales.
Veteran defender Alan Tate revealed to TalkSPORT in August that Laudrup was the "best player in training."
His description of the manager's methods was, "more laid back. He gets his point across quietly and he's got respect because of how he was as a player."
On the sidelines the man seemed to exhibit an inner confidence and calm during games—no histrionics, no drama—he seemed to suit Britain's top league to a tee, an antidote to the Tony Pulises and Andre Villas-Boases of the game.
But three weeks after Swansea's first loss of the season—a 2-0 defeat at Villa Park—reports began to emerge that all was not well behind the scenes.
On October 10, the Daily Mail ran with a story that claimed that a cadre of the club's players were on the brink of rebellion:
Swansea players have been angered by Laudrup's demands for a change to their tactical approach and are reluctant to adopt his methods.
Jenkins is also considering complaints from players that Laudrup's training methods are not as advanced as those of the previous coach, Brendan Rodgers.
For naysayers, the Dane's unsuccessful stint at La Liga side Mallorca was referenced as reason for his impending doom in Wales.
An old report from local Spanish paper Diario de Mallorca was dredged up that claimed that he never had much influence over his players, couldn't motivate them and was tactically incapable of getting the team to play good defensive football (h/t The Daisy Cutter).
A far cry from de Guzman's comments—the two having worked together on the Balearic island.
Though there were voices from within the Liberty Stadium that dismissed such claims, it was impossible to deny that the club was in turmoil.
Since winning their first two games of the season, Laudrup's side only managed to pick up five league points from a possible 21 through September and October.
The team's tactics seemed to change as well.
No longer was the team playing stylish, free-flowing passing, but looked laboured in their attacking intent without the same energy and enthusiasm.
Deadline day signings Ki Sung-yueng and Pablo Hernandez were taking time to settle in, while the players who had previously made all the difference found themselves rotated in and out of the team and in unfamiliar positions when they did play.
Laudrup seemed to be struggling to decide on one definitive starting lineup, as well as lacking a clear plan tactically.
When Michu did play during this period, he was often dropped back into more of a marauding box-to-box midfielder behind an advanced Hernandez.
Danny Graham—a man born to play up front, was shifted out to the wing against Stoke City and unsurprisingly failed miserably in the position.
Then came a trip to Anfield in the League Cup and, for the majority of Swansea's players, a reunion with former boss Rodgers.
Liverpool were in the midst of a slump of their own at the time—a game that saw two teams on a slippery slope downwards collide.
Swansea won 3-1 on the day and haven't looked back since.
This past weekend two late Michu goals (once again playing in the role that typifies the number 9 on the back of his shirt) gave the Swans a remarkable victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
Through the delirious celebrations, there was an air of relief etched across many of the players' faces as the Spanish forward sealed the win in stoppage time.
For a team that appears capable of reaching thrilling heights, but also of suffering crushing lows, Saturday was very much a peak.
The team seems willing to graft again—to fight for points even when the passes aren't always hitting their targets.
A more consistent, structured tactical approach has led to a more succinct style of football—perhaps not as sexy as it once was, but one that will be far more effective over the course of a full term.
The team has thrived against some of the league's toughest opposition, and will certainly not be afraid of upcoming clashes with Tottenham Hostpur and Manchester United.
Oh, and Laudrup has got his team playing good defensive football too, something the Spanish press thought impossible.
Swansea have conceded only six goals in their last eight matches, keeping their opposition from scoring twice during a single game in that span.
They currently sit in seventh in the league standings, three points behind Chelsea in third, and four ahead of Liverpool in 11th.
Dark days may still lie ahead at the Liberty for Laudrup and his group of players. But the point is that they're now working together and picking up deserved points.
That's really all that matters.
What have you made of Swansea's recent return to form? Will it last?
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