Breakdown, Preview and Predictions for Swansea City's 2012-13 Season
Swansea City shocked the English Premier League last season with its style of play and ultimately results.
The team possessed the ball and played attractive football, finishing 11th in its first season after being promoted to the Premiership.
The Swans' success drew attention from other English teams and like vultures they started to pick away at the squad's pieces. Swansea's ability to reload and continue executing modern tactics at a high level will be scrutinized as I preview their 2012-13 campaign.
Here is a complete run-down of their upcoming season.
Transfers In, Transfers out
|Transfers In||Transfers Out|
|Miguel Perez Cuesta||Joe Allen|
|Jonathan De Guzman||Gylfi Sigurdsson|
Miguel Perez Cuesta, more commonly known as Michu, had a fantastic goal-scoring record from the center of the pitch for Rayo Vallecano in La Liga last season. The 26-year-old played the No. 10 role and sat behind the strikers, terrorizing defenses for 15 goals.
The team shelled out £2 million for the Spaniard—a smart, but also necessary, signing.
Michu will certainly hit the back of the net several times, but he still may not be enough to replace the quality center midfielders who left the Swans this summer.
Adding Spanish players for £2 million was a bit of a trend for new manager Michael Laudrup this summer, as he paid the same amount to shore up his back line.
Steven Caulker went back to Tottenham after his loan ended and Laudrup made Chico, a 25-year-old Genoa center back, his first signing of the summer. He is an ideal addition who will fit with the possession-oriented tactics while bolstering the defense.
The 22-year-old rising star followed departed manager Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool after the Reds sent £15 million Swansea's way.
Rodgers was absolutely giddy about taking Allen with him, telling the Telegraph's Chris Bascombe, "This boy, when you see him play, you'd think he was a Spanish player, a real European player. I would have paid many more millions for this kid."
Unfortunately for Swansea, this evaluation is completely accurate and Allen is a special player who will be sorely missed.
Sigurdsson dazzled when he came over on loan from Hoffenheim, scoring seven goals and dishing out three assists in 18 appearances. The 22-year-old Icelander was devastating in an attacking central midfielder role.
He left a hole after signing for Tottenham, but Michu's arrival will help fill the void.
Still, the Spaniard will not able to make the Swans' supporters forget about Sigurdsson's brief time in Wales.
Biggest Matches and Full Schedule
The full Swansea City schedule can be found via the team's website. Here are the must-see matches.
Vs. Liverpool, Saturday, November 24
Brendan Rodgers' return to Liberty Stadium will surely be thrilling to watch.
The departed manager will be desperately trying to prove that he can succeed at one of Europe's biggest clubs, while Michael Laudrup will be eyeing this as a match to prove that he will continue where Rodgers left off.
This contest will be hugely important to both managers, and they will try every motivational tactic they know to get their players to perform.
At Arsenal, Saturday, December 1
This match will be entertaining to watch given the quality of football that will be on display.
Rodgers had the Swans keep the ball on the ground and emphasized possession, and Laudrup will do the same. Arsene Wenger has been famous for having Arsenal play this style since his arrival in London.
Last winter, Swansea shocked the Gunners with a 3-2 defeat late in the season, so it may not be an entirely one-sided affair.
Regardless of the outcome, this will be a display of modern tactics in English football.
Vs. Manchester City, Saturday, May 4
The final stretch of games will be remarkably difficult for Swansea, as they finish the season with matches against Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, then one final chance to earn points against Fulham.
Another one of the Swans' incredible upsets last season came when they defeated City 1-0 in March. Swansea may get its best chance at a victory in its final matches by blind-siding the Blues once again.
Dropping so many points near the end of the season could be extremely detrimental to the team's place in the table, so any match in which they can avoid a loss will be a massive result.
When team's play the possession game, it all starts with the center midfielders. Britton may be feeling a bit lonely when the season starts due to Joe Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson's departures, but the veteran will need to continue his fine form.
Britton completed a remarkable 93.5 percent of his 62.7 passes each game, according to Whoscored.com—executing Rodgers' tactics to perfection.
While Allen brought the youth and talent, Britton contributed experience and consistency. He must continue to make intelligent passes while getting more active in the middle this season.
While Swansea may dazzle with its passing, it still needs a center forward to score goals. Graham led that effort by hitting the back on the net 12 times in 36 Premier League appearances.
Much will be expected of the 26-year-old once again and if he is not able to equal or surpass last year's effort, it will be a disappointment. He will be in the lineup nearly every match and will be expected to get on the score sheet in most of them.
Swansea's scoring record as a team was not impressive, as they had the 14th-best offensive output in the league. Graham will be looked at to improve that mark.
Dutch goalkeeper Vorm was outstanding last season. The 28-year-old was not expected to stand out last year, but he will be counted on to continue his heroics in Swansea's 2012-13 campaign.
The goalkeeper was almost never out of position, turning in one impressive performance after the other. His consistently high level of play inspired confidence in the defense, and the unit went on to have a successful season.
Vorm will significantly help his side if he is similarly solid this year.
This point has been harped on throughout the preview, but possession is the key to Swansea's success.
The team held on to the ball for 57.6 percent of its matches, which was third behind Arsenal and Manchester City. The Swans also completed 85.7 percent of their passes, ranking second in that category behind City.
Swansea was able to retain possession by connecting short, safe passes with maddening pace and frequency. Their 497 short passes per game was third in the Premier League, again behind Arsenal and City.
Brendan Rodgers helped teach this style of play, and Michael Laudrup—one of the most intelligent passers ever to play—will continue to instill this strategy in Wales.
Note: statistics courtesy of Whoscored.com.
Executing a game-plan that heavily emphasizes possession requires a team to have complete faith in its goalkeeper.
When the man between the post starts to look shaky, defenders often drop deeper to compensate. This destroys a team's shape, which is vital to the the flow of passing.
In addition, maintaining constant possession requires keepers to spend long stretches of time without ever seeing any action, then be forced into a situation where they have to all of a sudden make a save.
Michael Vorm was consistent, reliable and constantly vigilant in the net. He earned the confidence of his players and was there to make a play—even when he had not seen the ball for many minutes. Saving a few penalties also helped him stand out.
Creating Scoring Opportunities
For all of Swansea's possession, they did not score nearly enough goals or take the necessary amount of shots.
Despite having the ball more than their opponents in most matches, the Swans' 12.4 shots per match with 3.8 on target ranks 16th in the Premier League.
The team is excellent at finding each other in the midfield, but lack the ability to make piercing and decisive passes to get players into dangerous positions. While they rank up with Arsenal and Manchester City in possession statistics, pass completion percentage and short passes, the two English giants average eight through balls per game while Swansea averages just three.
This must be an area of focus for Michael Laudrup. His team already knows how to maintain shape and knock the ball around. The Dane must get his team to connect passes in tight spaces near the opponent's goal, or the scoring output will once again be underwhelming.
Note: statistics courtesy of Whoscored.com.
New Faces in Important Places
Brendan Rodgers was monumentally important to Swansea, while Joe Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson were arguably the team's two best players this past season. All three are now gone and it will be difficult for their replacements to hit the ground running.
It will be an adjustment for Laudrup to come in from La Liga and achieve under high expectations in wildly different surroundings. This will be even more difficult without Allen and Sigursson, who were vital to the team's success.
Michu is talented enough to do an adequate job in Sigursson's role, but they still need to find sometime to try and fill Allen's void. Mark Gower seems the best option to step in at this point, but Laudrup will certainly be exploring other options.
Laudrup, Michu and whoever ends up playing alongside Leon Britton will have serious amounts of pressure on them. How they deal with it will dictate how Swansea's season goes.
Prediction for 2012-13
Swansea have simply lost too many important pieces from last season to equal its success.
The style they play can yield catastrophic results when the team abandons its shape due to frustration and the manager is unable to set things right.
Brendan Rodgers had the confidence of his players and showed the ability to keep the team on course.
It will take time for Michael Laudrup to get the complete attention of his players and it will be a rocky start to the season. Unfortunately, the Swans play the top six teams from a season ago in the last 11 matches of the season—and they will not be able to make up much ground late in the schedule.
Still, Swansea will narrowly avoid relegation and Laudrup can only hope that will be enough to save his job.