With a pre-season tour of the United States now complete, Swansea City return to South Wales with manager Michael Laudrup declaring himself ‘pleased’ with what he’s seen from his squad. Aside from the main objective of increasing fitness levels for a gruelling premier league campaign (T minus 15 days as I write this!) The Dane and his staff have set themselves the task of trimming the squad down to a core unit of around twenty-three professionals. Testing fixtures against MLS opposition Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes, with a friendly against Ventura County Fusion sandwiched in between, provided the perfect opportunity for Laudrup to assess the squad he has inherited from Brendan Rodgers. One win, one loss and one draw will certainly have given Laudrup plenty to think about as we enter the final weeks of pre-season before our Premier league campaign kicks off on August 18th.
When Laudrup first revealed his preference to work with a more compact group, the idea of having a squad of just twenty two professionals did not sit well with me. The demands of a premier league season can have a massive impact on the squad and it’s important to have enough bodies to cope with the league campaign coupled with our presence in two cup competitions. My original thought was that he wanted to work on the basis of having two ‘teams’ with a first eleven as the front line with 11 players directly behind them who could step in to fill any gaps/injuries seamlessly. There are many examples of occasions where a team can lose all its senior cover and be left with no option but to pick inexperience. Arsenal turned up at the Liberty last season missing a number of senior defenders like Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna, Andre Santos and Kieran Gibbs who in normal circumstances would have been first choice. However Arsene Wenger was instead left with no option but to play the inexperienced Ignasci Miquel at fullback against a rampant Nathan Dyer who not only won a penalty, but having given the young Spaniard no peace all evening then scored himself to put his mark on a famous win in our maiden campaign.
With the performance we put in that night I firmly believe we would have beaten anyone and in hindsight Arsenal were a little unfortunate to come up against us in that kind of form having lost nearly all their senior cover. That game against the Gunners is a fair example of the situation you can find yourself in without strength in depth and I would hate for it to happen to us. However, having considered this project of trimming the squad I have come to the conclusion that while it could leave us a little vulnerable it would also have its merits.
It’s clear that Laudrup feels he will be able to work more comfortably with a streamlined squad. A smaller unit will enable him to work closely with the players that will make up the match day sixteen. That should benefit us when it comes to working at set pieces and allow him to spend more time on individual players improving their game and passing on his experience. Laudrup has always been clear on this stance so it should come as no surprise to the Jack army that he is looking to pursue a new look squad list.
Having already brought in three new players with the possibility of more the manager’s attention must now turn to the players he wishes to move on. The benefit of a smaller squad will be the knowledge that the twenty two considered good enough to form Laudrup’s first team should make us strong in every position with perhaps a few more acquisitions. Sadly this strengthening process comes at a price. I am a sentimental fan, and am often sad to see players go but there are members of our squad who will be casualties of this makeover.
The signing of Michu has clearly been made to fill the hole left by Gylfi Sigurdsson and likewise Chico for Steven Caulker. The acquisition of John De Guzman however casts a shadow of doubt over the futures of Mark Gower and Stephen Dobbie who could find opportunities under Laudrup limited. Couple that with a new two year contract for Dutchman Kemy Agustien and the competition in that area looks very stiff indeed.
While the midfield looks reasonably strong it is in the forward positions where we could use a little more. There are still rumours of Venezuelan forward Miku who could be the subject of a bid in the coming weeks before the transfer window closes at the end of August. For me Danny Graham would still be the obvious first choice ahead of Leroy Lita and Luke Moore, fourteen goals last season and his sheer work rate make him our number one upfront. It will be interesting to see whether or not Laudrup opts to run with four strikers or looks to release one.
Defensively we have a first choice back four of Taylor, Williams, Chico Flores and Rangel with Vorm our undisputed number one. I saw Tremmel at Stoke last season and I can’t envisage him pushing Michel for that number one jersey on the evidence of that performance alone, so perhaps a goalkeeper to provide some real competition would be useful but not essential at this time. With his squad trim in mind Laudrup may have an eye on the older members like Garry Monk and Alan Tate who could find themselves on the fringes. They have both been wonderful servants to our club but it seems Laudrup prefers younger players to fill the void should senior players become injured or suspended.
Laudrup has a history of favouring younger players at the clubs he has managed. He revolutionised the system at Brondby which led to a league and cup double in 2005 by letting experienced older players go in favour of all action attacking players with talent from their youth system and it appears he has a similar agenda here. Laudrup spoke of the need to encourage the young talent:
“If they see 25 players in the first squad they think it is very difficult to break into it.
“But if it is smaller and you have three or four injuries, one or two of the young players can come into the first-team squad and they will be happy that it’s not impossible to get there”
We do have a good crop of youngsters at Swansea City that could make the transition into the first team. The likes of James Loveridge, Curtis Obeng, Kurtis March and Lee Lucas all showing promise, especially the latter who spent some time on loan at Burton Albion last season and won great acclaim for his composed displays in the Brewer’s midfield. In our recent pre-season friendlies centre back Darnel Situ earned rave reviews along with Henry Jones who has been described as ‘Bodde esque’ with his range of passing. Laudrup clearly has them in mind and would prefer to encourage their transition into first team regulars rather than see them become frustrated with the lack of opportunities at the club. There are those who would question this approach as I’m sure there were those who questioned Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund when he elected youth over experience. Klopp was vindicated as Dortmund went on to win the Bundesliga and German Cup thrashing rivals Bayern Munich 5-2 in the final, hopefully our youngsters will prove their worth when presented the opportunity to impress.
With these reasons in mind suddenly Laudrup’s bold plans to restructure our squad do not seem too outlandish. Naturally Laudrup cannot force players like Monk and Tate to leave Swansea if they decide they want to stay and fight for a place (and I have no doubt they will) but there will be those who elect to leave in pursuit of first team football if it becomes clear they are not part of his plans and I won’t blame them for that. There is still plenty of preparation to be completed before our opener at Queens Park Rangers, so the great Dane certainly has plenty to think about.
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