In the 20 years that I’ve followed the Premier League, this season has been the most unique for me. In previous years, I watched the league with an unbiased lens, able to dish out criticism and laud players and teams with praise without letting club bias get in the way. But this year has been different for me because my team, Swansea City, are in the top league.
It’s completely changed the way I go into a Premier League weekend. I still try to watch as many games as I can, almost all of them live, but my weekend schedule now revolves around when Swansea City kicks off their weekly match.
The other thing it’s changed is that it has given me a unique perspective regarding which teams are the best and worst in the league. The easy way to find this out is by looking at the league table, but that’s not always a good barometer of how good a team is, or whether they’re punching above or below their weight. For example, I’ve had the chance to watch every single club in the Premier League play Swansea this season. Based on those performances, it has given me a different perspective on each team that I wouldn’t have had in previous seasons. Previously, I would seen one team against another, but it would have been more at random. With Swansea, I’ve had a chance to see each opponent play against a level playing field, i.e. the Swans.
So what have I learned by watching each team?
Arsenal: Arsene Wenger’s side has faced Swansea twice this season and, not surprisingly, they’ve been a Jekyll and Hyde team in both games. In January, Swansea beat them 3-2 at the Liberty Stadium, but Arsenal showed flashes of brilliance, particularly from Robin van Persie. When the teams played in September, Arsenal was again inconsistent in the 90 minutes, flattering to deceive at times and only winning 1-0 after a mistake from Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm. But there were moments in that match where Arsenal was in total control. Arsenal is too inconsistent throughout seasons, and even in matches.
Aston Villa: Ugly, too defensive, lacking creativity and a dire side to watch. And that’s the positives for Aston Villa. Defender Alan Hutton is an animal who shouldn’t be playing at this level, while the sooner Alex McLeish gets the sack, the better it’ll be for Villa fans. Swansea drew Villa earlier in the season 0-0 in a game that no one wanted to play. At Villa Park, Swansea comfortably beat Aston Villa 2-0 in January at Villa Park.
Blackburn: Just like Arsenal, Blackburn is far too inconsistent. At times they look like they’re relegated. But there have been flashes of brilliance throughout the season such as their 4-2 win over Swansea in December. Personally, I think Rovers have pretty much given up but maybe it’s that inconsistency that’s just plaguing them now.
Bolton: Without a shadow of a doubt, Bolton has been the worst team that Swansea has faced all season. They were absolutely pathetic when they lost 3-1 against Swansea in October. And I haven’t seen much reason to believe in Bolton since then. I would be very shocked if the Trotters find a way to stay up this season. How Owen Coyle still has a job, I do not know.
Chelsea: Swansea have played Chelsea home and away this season, and the games against the Blues give a good indication of the club’s status. Earlier in the season, Chelsea was unstoppable when they beat Swansea 4-1 in September. Torres scored, and Villas-Boas side were purring. But when Chelsea came to South Wales in January, the Blues were awful. Nathan Dyer made Ashley Cole look mediocre, and Chelsea was very fortunate to get a 1-1 draw after an injury time own goal rescued a point for Chelsea.
Everton: Swansea changed tactics and played a very defensive game against Everton at Goodison Park in December. The strategy backfired when Everton scored to make it 1-0, and Swansea then were unable to break down this physically and mentally tough Everton side.
Fulham: Out of all of the teams that Swansea has played this season, the toughest opponent has been Fulham. Even though Swansea beat the Cottagers 2-0 in Wales, it was a closely fought match that Fulham could have easily won. I’m not looking forward to Swansea’s visit to Craven Cottage next week.
Liverpool: The biggest observation for me from this 0-0 game was the way that Swansea often outplayed Liverpool in their passing game. Liverpool has a strong team of excellent footballers, but they don’t play that well together as a team. They’re definitely the unfinished article.
Manchester City: The sheer depth of Manchester City’s squad is something that is awesome. Against Manchester City in August, Swansea gave an excellent account of themselves in the first 20 minutes. But when City brought Sergio Aguero on in the second half, that automatically raised City several different levels above Swansea — to a level that is completely out of reach for even the hardest working side. That was a clear indication to me that the Premier League is really two leagues in one.
Manchester United: This is one of the weakest Manchester United side in several seasons, but give them half a chance and they’re absolutely clinical in front of goal. This is the type of United side who continue to patiently wait for their opponents to make mistakes, and soon as they do, they pounce on the weaknesses. Not surprisingly, United beat Swansea 1-0 in September after a rare mistake at the back by Brendan Rodgers’s team.
Newcastle United: When Swansea went up to St James’s Park to grab a 0-0 draw against Newcastle in December, it was an indication that any side, including Newcastle, can have a bad day at “the office” every once in a while. Newcastle lacked that bite in front of goal in a game where Swansea went for the nil-nil draw and achieved their goal.
Norwich City: The home and away victories by Norwich against Swansea this season illustrate how hard the Canaries work under manager Paul Lambert. The side absolutely did their homework before both matches to isolate Swansea’s weaknesses, and then executed their plans to perfection. Norwich is the side that I wish Swansea was more like especially the way they have more than one way of playing depending on who the opposition is (Swansea plays one style, and only one style).
QPR: Swansea played Queens Park Rangers in December when Neil Warnock was still in charge, and I wasn’t impressed. I’m still convinced the only reason the match ended 1-1 was because of Warnock’s constant bickering at the referee, which — perhaps — was the reason the ref didn’t award Swansea a penalty later in the game after QPR blatantly fouled Danny Graham in the box. I wasn’t impressed by QPR that day, and I’m still not.
Stoke City: Stoke City is the type of team that Swansea does not like playing against. The 2-0 win for the Potters in February was a result of hard work, discipline and punishing Swansea’s weaknesses. No matter whether you like Stoke’s style or not, it can work. Instead of playing their own way, they tend to nullify opposition teams and eke out wins. It reminds me of the Bolton of old under Sam Allardyce. Not pretty, but effective.
Sunderland: A tale of two teams. Earlier in the season under Steve Bruce, Swansea should have beaten the Black Cats but the Swans were going through their stage of not being able to score. Thus, the match ended nil-nil. When Swansea traveled to play against Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland in January, Swansea was again the better side but tactically Sunderland played much more wisely under O’Neill and scored two incredible goals to win 2-0.
Swansea City: Obviously we haven’t played ourselves, but the Swans have given an extremely good account of themselves throughout the season. They’ve learnt a lot, and the best indication of that may be this Sunday when they play Manchester City at the Liberty Stadium. As you may recall, Manchester City were Swansea’s first opponents in the league this season. Let’s see how they’ve progressed since that 4-0 demolition.
Tottenham Hotspur: Swansea had to work incredibly hard to earn a 1-1 draw in December against a Tottenham side that has talent shining throughout the pitch. I, for one, am not looking forward to the return leg at White Hart Lane in April!
West Brom: Roy Hodgson’s side is another hard working team, although they do have their weaknesses. WBA is one of the few teams this season that Swansea was able to do the double against, winning 2-1 and 3-0. But West Brom is the type of team that Swansea loves to play against — a team that likes to play football and isn’t negative. Perhaps the Baggies need to develop a tougher side to their team, just as Swansea does?
Wigan Athletic: Roberto Martinez’s side is not as bad as their league table position implies. In both games against Swansea this season, Wigan has given a good account of themselves. In August, Swansea was lucky to draw 0-0 after Vorm saved a penalty. Last week, Wigan had a couple of golden chances to score but failed to beat Vorm. Overall, what Wigan lacks is that killer instinct in the last third of the field.
Wolves: I’m really looking forward to playing Wolves at the Liberty Stadium later this season for a little bit of payback after the way that Swansea capitulated against Wolves earlier in the season during the 2-2 draw. Wolves is a side that can’t play football well, but they have a few players who can turn nothing into something. Footballers such as Kevin Doyle, Steven Fletcher and Jamie O’Hara. They have a few of the right players in place, but need a complete overhaul in the summer and a new footballing philosophy in terms of how they play. That is, if they avoid relegation.