With a fairly comfortable 6-3 aggregate win against Petrolul Ploiesti in the Europa League last Thursday under our belts, we head to the Hawthorns this Sunday to take on West Bromwich Albion, one of the founding members of the Football League. It’s a 1.30pm kick off (will we ever play at 3.00pm on a Saturday afternoon again!?), however after Cardiff it’s probably the shortest away trip for most Swans supporters, so the boys will be backed by a good following, despite the earlier start.
After two Premier League fixtures against tough opposition in Manchester United and Spurs, we are pointless. That said, the pragmatists amongst us know that it’s a long season and the results will come, with this being the sort of game where we need to be looking to put some points on the board.
West Brom finished last season in 8th position in the Premier League, one place and 3 points above the mighty Swans. Manager Steve Clarke did an exceptional job, marshalling a side which on paper was not full of superstars, but on the pitch was well organised and hard working. However, this season they will be without highly rated centre forward Romelu Lukaku, who has returned to his parent club Chelsea following a season long loan at the Hawthorns last year.
Since reaching the dizzy heights of the Premier League, our away matches against the Albion have been eventful to say the least. In February 2012, we came from behind to grab a superb 2-1 victory in blizzard conditions, with goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Danny Graham. Then in March 2013, we were undone by referee Lee Mason who bizarrely disallowed a late Roland Lamah equaliser for offside when the ball clearly hit both defender Gareth McAuley and goalkeeper Ben Foster before reaching big Roland. Incidentally, the referee this Sunday is none other than Mike Dean (need I say any more, it’s already looking like another season without a penalty)!
West Brom opened their 2013-14 Premier League campaign with a 1-0 home defeat to Southampton, followed by a 0-0 draw away to Everton last weekend. They also defeated Newport County on Tuesday night in the second round of the Carling Cup, though as one would expect Albion made wholesale changes for the fixture. Albion appear to have been astute in the transfer market over the Summer, making a handful of signings but without spending a great deal of money. Nicolas Anelka was recruited on a free transfer from Juventus, while former Swansea favourite Scott Sinclair has joined from Manchester City on loan, with the deal looking likely to become permanent at a future point. They also signed 21 year old Czech Republic international striker Matej Vydra, who contributed a very healthy 22 goals for Watford in the Championship last season, though he is injured for the game this Sunday.
As for the Swans, the last few days have seen a number of developments, some positive, others less so. Welsh international left back Neil Taylor picked up a thigh injury in the first leg against Ploiesti and will be out for up to six weeks. However, Dutch international Dwight Tiendalli has returned to the club on a three year contract, offering vital cover to both full back positions, while also giving scope for Angel Rangel to push up into midfield if needed. On Thursday evening, in the return leg against Ploiesti, we saw “gentleman” Leon Britton sent off for two bookable offences. However, on the plus side, young Rory Donnelly played a full 90 minutes up front and Roland Lamah scored his first goal in a Swansea City shirt, with a well taken volley having come on as a second half substitute.
Hopefully, this Sunday will be the first league game where Michu and Bony will start together. Early indications are that there is a potent partnership in the making and it has been frustrating that due to injuries and international commitments, we have not seen the two players for a full 90 minutes in the Premier League. Of course, we still need another striker to support these two and indications are that something should be sorted out before the close of the transfer window on Monday, however it is clear that there will no new names on the team sheet in time for Sunday.
We appear to be carrying a few injuries. Neil Taylor will definitely not be available for Sunday and Nathan Dyer may join him on the sidelines. Ashley Williams, Wilfried Bony and Jonjo Shelvey all missed the trip to Romania this week, but indications are that all three will hopefully be fit to start against West Brom if selected by Laudrup.
Which players Swans boss Laudrup chooses to go with in central midfield will again be intriguing. However, based on who played on Thursday, it looks like Canas, Shelvey and Michu may be the preferred choices.
The possible teams for this game are as follows:
Swansea City: Michel Vorm in goals, joined by Rangel, Davies, Williams and Chico at the back. A central midfield of Canas, Shelvey and Michu, with Hernandez and Routledge occupying the wide positions. Bony up front. Assuming that Nathan Dyer doesn’t fully recover from injury, the substitutes are likely to be selected from the following: Tremmel, Richards, Amat, Monk, Tiendalli, Britton, De Guzman, Pozeulo, Ki, Lamah.
West Bromwich Albion: With Ben Foster out for 3 months, Welsh international keeper Boaz Myhill is expected to deputise. Olsson, Ridgewell, Mc Auley and Jones are likely to start in defence. In midfield, one or two changes from last Saturday’s line-up against Everton are possible with Scott Sinclair perhaps getting a starting spot. The midfield will therefore be probably be Yacob, Mulumbu and 2 out of Dorrans, Morrison and Sinclair. Albion tend to play two at front, with Shane Long and Anelka likely to start. Young striker Saido Berahino is beginning to make a name for himself, scoring a hat trick against Newport in mid-week and winning a call up to the England under 21 squad. He will probably be on the bench.
Finally, I’ll share with you my first memory of seeing the Swans playing away at the Hawthorns way back in 1982 in the old first division days when Tosh was in charge. The Swans were trailing 3-0 after 70 minutes, but Leighton James launched a memorable Swansea rear guard, scoring one and having a hand in the two other goals from Jeremy Charles and Robbie James. Final score 3-3, come on the Swans!