Oh Swansea, my Swansea. Well, they’re not my team, though they have been adopted as the favored squad of most Premier League neutrals. Silky smooth, yet flamboyantly frustrating, the Swans pass the ball around the park, only for it to be intercepted when Nathan Dyer entangles himself with six yards of the goal.
Nobody can deny that Brendan Rodgers’ side can play. Mini-Barcelona, as they are now known, have done well in replacing last year’s beloved Blackpool, then dubbed mini-Arsenal. In a rare Friday fixture, the promoted team — looking to become the first since West Ham in 2006 to finish in the top half of the table — welcomed the black and white stripes of Tyneside.
Listed as a 4-3-3, Pardew had his side press into a 4-2-4, early on, by pushing Cabaye up front alongside Cisse, Ben Arfa, and Ba. The Magpies front four shuttled in and out, pressuring both Steven Caulker and Ashley Williams who spent the majority of the game knocking the ball back and forth. Newcastle’s tactic worked with just five minutes gone, when a swift move between Gutierrez and Cabaye occurred. The latter slotted a delicious through ball to the in-form Papiss Demba Cisse, who can, “score when he wants.” The man from Senegal has taken compatriot Demba Ba’s spot as the team’s lead striker, since his transfer to the club in January. Then, Newcastle went silent — at least for the next 64 minutes.
The game’s flow saw the aforementioned Ba drop into the left of midfield, while Ben Arfa did likewise on the far right, thus Newcastle bunkered down into a 4-4-2. Swansea showed their virtuous patience as they systemically pushed into the half of their opposition. This was in large part due to Luke Moore’s hold-up play, as himself, Joe Allen, and Wayne Routledge took turns getting open for their two centre-backs. Angel Rangel took his usual spot on the right flank’s touchline. However, while he got paint on his boots, Dyer was dropping back to receive the ball. Nathan was bright in the final third, as his stunning foot skills allowed him to get into the box several times, though he lacked a final touch. His teammates followed his lead throughout the match, as that important final ball alluded them.
On the edge of the 18 yard box, Swansea wanted to play quick one-touch passes, to complement their intricate style of play, but knocking the ball about in small areas was nearly impossible for them. Much credit to the Newcastle back four of Santon, Williamson, Perch, and Simpson, who kept on the backs of Swansea’s attackers, denying them the space to induce that little bit of magic necessary to draw level, before the two outfits broke for halftime.
Ryan Taylor checked in for Tiote (hamstring) to keep a ball-winning midfielder on the pitch for the Magpies. Newcastle’s shifty formation seemed out of place as Gutierrez, Cabaye, and Ba were all in strange positions to compare with past outings. Jonas was the highly-intelligent wing-back, Ba the classic striker, and Cabaye in the middle partnering with Tiote, granted his recent return to the first team. Today, it was Cabaye at forward, Ba on the left, and Gutierrez in the middle. Nevertheless, Pardew’s strategy worked. His men put in an industrious shift chasing the ball for 77% of the match. Gutierrez and Taylor must have killed a couple bottles of 5 Hour Energy, as they admirably stayed alert all afternoon. Here, the similarities with the Catalan come into play. Forget the possession stat, Swansea, out passed their counterparts 4 to 1. The first Welsh side to enter the Barclays Premier League completed 835 balls to one another, to the famous black and white’s pathetic 181. There is a reason why Swansea are still “mini,” and that one reason is due to their troubles in the finishing department. That is what separates them from Barcelona, who live and breathe on playing in tight spaces before using a fatal run which leads to a goal.
Co-commentator Efan Ekoku harped on Swansea for their unused possession and rightly so. While Swansea is in fantastic form, at the moment, the only that stat matters is the one in the upper-left of your television screen. Possession soccer is beautiful to watch. However, it can be counterproductive, which it proved to be for the Swans, as they lost the ball 21 minutes from time. Thus, Cabaye picked out Cisse once again for a goal, to let Song and Van Persie know, anything Arsenal can do, Newcastle can do better. The Senegalese’s finish was sublime – a lovely chip, over Michel Vorm, and into the upper 90, despite the striker‘s off-balance positioning, which saw him fall over after flicking the ball over the line. Not to take away from the phenomenal composure of Cisse, but the brace for the new signing came at the hands of Ashley Williams. The defender was caught back-pedaling with his frame squared, allowing Cisse to gain the extra inches he needed to execute from 12 yards.
Dyer looked to be Swansea’s only attacking threat. He was replaced moments before his side went 2-0 down by Scott Sinclair, part of a double-swap, which saw Danny Graham check-in to the match as well. Sinclair picked up where Dyer left off. He put shots on target and dazzled defenders attempting to get Swansea level. A goal never came though, as Swansea were left to bask in their possession-based game.
Shockingly, the score-line was just. Newcastle was the better side, even though they were out-passed severely. Football is about making the most of your opportunities. The world’s best get one chance in front of goal, before sticking the ball into the back of the net (see RVP’s two against Liverpool or Stoke‘s economic approach). Graham has done well this season, but one must wonder what Swansea could do with a clinical striker. Would they challenge for a Champions League spot? It is entirely possible, as Rodgers has built his side from the back, a tell-tale sign of a coach with a long-term plan for success. From that, Rodgers, it must be said, can be ruled out of contention for the job at Stamford Bridge, as the EPL’s hedonist-in-chief would not approve of such an obscure doctrine.
Should Aston Villa collapse, which they deserve according to those tuning-in for entertainment value, Darren Bent might be a viable option for Rodgers. Bobby Zamora could draw his ‘Get out of London Pass’ when the inevitable occurs to Queens Park Rangers. With Zamora or Bent up top, could Swansea remarkably enter become a top-side in Britain?
We will find out soon enough, but you’ll have to subscribe to FOX Soccer Plus to find out because “You’re missing the whole Swansea season” without it. Therefore, seeing Rodger’s rise to the top could take a bite out of each soccer fan’s wallet, which would almost be as frustrating as seeing the Lilywhites control a match, only to lack the proper dose of venom in front of goal.