The two-week International break is in some way unwelcome because it calls a temporary halt to the promising start we have made. But, it does give the chance to draw breath, take stock and review the earliest stages of our return to this level after such an agonisingly long time away. What have we seen so far?
· A loss to set piece goals having been the better team at Charlton
· A convincing win by the ‘B team’ in the cup
· A comprehensive dispatch of the big spending, but actually very poor, Forest
· A hard fought and fully deserved away win at Plymouth
· Our ‘B team’ staking a claim by seeing off the Premiership new boys
· And a winning performance undone by failing to convert our chances versus Wednesday
So, what does the first early term report say about us. Well, not many will complain that we sit in a healthy 7th place in the League. We have played attractively and received compliments from those who have seen us. We have strength in depth and options. Overall then, ‘ a good start, but could do better’.
Now, had you offered me that before the season started I would have bitten your hand off. But, having now seen the division a bit more close up, and so far having seen nothing to fear, maybe we should not be too satisfied at all. Had we sorted out the set piece defending and been more ruthless in front of goal then we would have at least 10 points and be sitting right up there!
And, with a much tougher month of fixtures ahead of us, we may rue the points we have not gained in this early period. Arguably, we have a golden opportunity ahead with Palace, followed by Derby and Burnley at home, in quick succession.
None of those will hold big fears now, but we all know there are no ‘gimmes’ at all in this league. We may not be able to afford the luxury of slip ups in those three, because after that, and the pleasant distraction of reacquainting ourselves with our ‘friends’ up the road, a real test comes with Reading and Preston away, followed by Wolves at home. Those three look like a stern examination of any team and so, at the time of the next mini break in October, we may have a much clearer picture of what our season may hold for us, and where we actually do fit in the pecking order.
A reasonable question to ask now is, ‘What are the priorities to work on in the next fortnight?’ I mean other than the obvious of a keeper and conceding less and scoring more.
In terms of formation we have seen 4-5-1, 4-5-1, and…….. that’s it. Maybe that isn’t a surprise as we stuck to this shape game after game in Spain, even when we did not have the personnel fit to play it at our best. The Senor was certainly getting us ready to play that way. We only switched to 4-4-2 once I think and that was in the second half against Barca. Didn’t we score three times then? So does this suggest that the time is coming for us to show a little bit more ambition, and play in a more cavalier style?Does the selection of Butler and Gower reveal our approach so far has been conservative? Experience over youthful exuberance, and solidity over flair?
That’s quite understandable whilst we find our feet in this division, but how long will the stars in waiting be patient: Orlandi and MacDonald have done well and will wonder what more they have to do; Pintado when fully fit will want more game minutes; Serran and Bessone will want to have their chance before mid-winter is upon us; Brandy will not be happy to be overlooked for long periods; and Gomez looks a very expensive decoration if all he does is warm the bench until the closing stages.
There is no doubt we have an abundance of riches and fitting that lot into a team which is already attracting plaudits from all sides will be a real challenge. So far we have avoided serious injury (other than Bessone who might benefit from watching a few games anyway), and suspensions have not cut in (other than Monk’s which was used up cheaply). So, as the season advances events may ‘help’ the Senor decide his best team, but for now he has to find a way through these tough choices.
Perhaps we will see a number of teams and formations emerge after this break. 4-5-1, 4-4-2 and even 4-3-3 although we lack a bit of pace out wide to go for that last one. Will the Senor ring the changes depending on the opposition? Pick a team to beat the way the opposition play? Rotate the squad and keep them happy and involved? Or, is the plan to stick with 4-5-1 and the list are merely back up and they need to get used to the idea?
What a glorious set of difficult questions for the Senor to face. Who amongst us would feel confident that they have the answers? More importantly who does not have confidence that the Senor is the right man to have at the helm to answer those questions now?
I feel that I am living through a period of real significance for the Swans. One that may go down in history and be retold in years to come. There are many components to this not least the stadium and our directors, but of course the most important factor is Roberto Martinez.
The start and the potential we have shown suggests that he can walk on the Tawe, can turn lead into gold, and can even turn wine into water (in the players glasses anyway). Long may his reign continue I say.
I think we might just about be ok this season!