On the back of two disappointing performances from the national side against Belgium and Serbia, we can now turn our attention back to Swansea City, and the Premier League.
This Saturday sees Michael Laudrup’s men travel to Aston Villa. Last season Swansea arrived at Villa Park still looking for their first away win of the season and a goal in each half was enough to secure it. An early strike from Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge’s first premier league goal doing the damage. Swansea were excellent on the day, and a similar performance will be required if they are to continue their excellent start to the current campaign.
I think we’ll find The Villains a different proposition this time around, where there was real discontent under Alex McLeish, we now face a side that despite a disappointing start to the current campaign, hold a real sense of optimism following the appointment of Paul Lambert, who made the decision to swap East Anglia for the Midlands to play his part in the summer of managerial upheaval
Lambert took over at Norwich in 2009 having thrashed his future employers 7-1 on the opening day of the League one season that year while manager of Colchester. He led the Canaries to back to back promotions, and an excellent first season in the Premier League. As a manager the Scot operates with a sense of purpose, an honest hard-working manner, and his teams always exhibit the same qualities. This sense of hard work and effort bore fruit, as his Norwich team survived the drop comfortably along with ourselves, and surprised a few critics along the way. Despite all this success he has made an inauspicious start to life as manager of the Villains, his side have yet to win a game this campaign and are looking a shadow of the side that only two season ago reached a league cup final and finished in the top six of the premier league.
Swansea on the other hand, have been in scintillating form under Laudrup at this very early stage in the season. While many had predicted a long hard season after the departure of Brendan Rodgers, the club has gone from strength to strength. A more expansive attacking mantra been has imposed on the side and coupled with some shrewd acquisitions in the transfer market, have seen the men in white take seven points from a possible nine. Early success has not only raised not only spirits in SA1, but also expectations, and coping with those expectations will be important if we are to overcome a side desperate to put points on the board in the league. And a visit to Villa Park, one of the great grounds in British football, is never easy, nor should we expect it to be.
The current Villa side is a young one, and Lambert has brought in a number of players in an attempt to strengthen his hand. The Scot snapped up Joe Bennett and Ashley Westwood, both 22, and Christian Benteke and Jordan Bowery, both 21, in the days before the window shut as he looks to inject the ‘hunger’ that was spurred his Norwich team onto great success into his new charges. It will not be an easy transition for the Midlands club however; injuries to the likes of Mark Albrighton will not help matters, while Villa fans will no doubt be sceptical that these young men have what it takes to make an immediate impact at the highest level. One thing is for sure, you can bet that Lambert has done his homework on these players and will be confident of getting the best out of them and players with a point to prove often present tough opposition.
In terms of style Lambert has always favoured a 4-4-2 diamond formation, and they may look to win the ball back high up the pitch and pressure us into making mistakes in dangerous areas, while also looking to exploit the counter attack at every opportunity. There is pace out wide for him to utilise in Charles Nzogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor, and with the possibility of new signing Dwight Tiendalli making his debut it could prove to be a real baptism of fire for the Dutchman, although Ben Davies did enough against Sunderland to convince me he is capable of providing cover there, at least in the immediate future. Swansea should line up with the same team that has started the first three premier league games this campaign, with the exception of Neil Taylor who will miss the rest of the season after breaking his ankle in the draw with Sunderland. Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge should both keep their places out wide despite the arrival of Pablo Hernandez, who could play some part in the match, but it’s likely to be from the bench.
For me, the key Battle could be between the returning Darren Bent and Alan Tate. With Chico Flores suspended and the likes of Kyle Bartley and Gary Monk injured it is likely the gap at centre half will be filled by Tate. A key factor in Villa’s miserable start to the campaign has been a lack of goal threat; Darren Bent should solve that problem for Lambert. The England international has failed to recapture the form he exhibited at Sunderland which saw Villa part with around £24 million for him but he’ll still be a major threat. Tate missed the majority of last season following a broken leg, while always an able deputy; he will need to be at his best.
The trip to Villa is another challenging test for Laudrup and Swansea, but it is a challenge we are more than capable of rising to. Against Sunderland we showed we had substance to go with our style, and we will need both in equal measure to come away with the result we want on Saturday. It should be a cracking encounter.
Come on City!