Even though it took 20 years of waiting to see my team Swansea City play its first game in the Premier League, it took only 90 minutes to bring home the realization that England’s top league is really three divisions in one. There’s the mega rich, the also-rans and the clubs battling to avoid relegation.
Of course, I knew this already. It’s one thing to write about it, but it’s something entirely different to feel the pain when your team gets hammered four-nil away on a wet Monday night in Manchester. While I was incredibly proud of Swansea’s performance, sticking true to their principles, I experienced how it must feel for fans of other clubs who have their hopes raised but then see them being dashed with a defeat against a top six side.
The simple reality for me is, as a Swansea supporter, that there’s no way for a team like mine to compete against a club like Manchester City. Hence, the “real” Premier League season starts tomorrow for me when the Swans play at home against Wigan Athletic at the Liberty Stadium. It’s a game that not only offers parity, but it should be a more open and entertaining affair featuring two clubs who are on the “same level playing field.”
For most soccer fans around the world, the fixture between Swansea and Wigan is of little to no interest. But on a weekend where we have the prospect of looking forward to Arsenal against Liverpool, the Tyne-Wear derby between Sunderland and Newcastle, as well as Manchester United versus Tottenham Hotspur, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Swansea versus Wigan game end ups as being one of the most exciting for these 7 reasons:
- The return of Judas. When Swansea City manager Roberto Martinez left the club to join Wigan as manager in the summer of 2009, Swansea fans were incredibly upset especially since we sat on the precipice of bigger and better things under Martinez and, more importantly, Martinez had promised not to leave Swansea unless he was “forced out.” The Spaniard went on his own will but reassured Swansea supporters that he wouldn’t take any players with him to Wigan. Martinez then went against his word and took Swansea players Jason Scotland and Jordi Gomez to the Latics. Not surprisingly, there will be portions of the Swansea crowd on Saturday who will be voicing their disapproval at Martinez. But there will be many, myself included, who will have appreciated everything he did as not only a manager but also as a footballer at the Welsh club.
- Home crowd advantage. The atmosphere at Swansea’s ground tomorrow should be intense. It’s the first time a Premier League match has ever been played outside England, and the Welsh crowd will be in full voice. It’s also a great opportunity to hear songs sung at football matches that you typically don’t hear such as Land Of My Father or others.
- Attacking football. If you watched the game against Manchester City on Monday, you will have seen some flashes of attacking prowess from Swansea. Most of them were extinguished by Manchester City’s steel wall at the back made up of Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany. However, Swansea will have a chance to break free down the wings and be more attacking with their 4-3-3 formation against Wigan. Expect to see a lot of speed and frenetic ball movement as the Swans hurtle down on Wigan’s goal.
- Don’t underestimate Wigan. While the Latics were unable to win against Norwich at home last weekend, the game was an entertaining one to watch with both sides creating plenty of chances. While I would hope that Swansea has enough firepower to beat Wigan, it’s quite possible that this game may end up being a high-scoring match between both sides. Wigan have a leaky defense as we saw on countless occasions last season, but up front we’ve seen Victor Moses and Franco Di Santo begin to mature, while Ben Watson is always a threat (he hit the post last Saturday against Norwich). Hugo Rodallega, meanwhile, is doubtful for tomorrow’s match.
- Michel Vorm. The Dutch goalkeeper made his debut for Swansea against City and, despite making 11 saves, Swansea still lost 4-0. Despite that, he was without a doubt Swansea’s player of the match. I’m looking forward to seeing how many points he can win for Swansea this season with his incredible goalkeeping.
- Football played on the ground, not in the air. An interesting dynamic on Saturday will be how the two teams play. We know that Swansea will play the ball on the ground for most of the game, starting with Vorm rolling the ball to his defenders and building up the attack that way. But Wigan, despite being considered a team that likes to play a better brand of football than their Premier League rivals near the bottom half of the table, mix it up a bit more. So will Swansea, who play the way that Martinez taught them, teach Wigan a lesson in how football is played? We’ll have to wait and see.
- Martinez versus Rodgers. Which manager will end up victorious on Saturday afternoon? It’ll be a true test of the capabilities of both managers. Rodgers inherited Swansea’s style from Paulo Sousa who inherited it from Martinez. But can Rodgers beat Martinez at his own game?
If you’re watching live Premier League games on Saturday, you may want to watch Swansea against Wigan instead of the other two games that are being played at the same time — Aston Villa versus Blackburn Rovers, and Everton against QPR.
For viewers in the United States, Swansea against Wigan will be shown live on FOXSoccer.tv at 10am ET on Saturday. If you don’t have a subscription, sign up for the 7-day trial today and watch the game (and many more) for free.