With Swansea’s impressive 3-1 victory Wednesday night against West Bromwich Albion, in a game where the Swans completely outplayed the Baggies, especially in the first half, Michael Laudrup’s side has now reached 20 points — halfway to Laudrup’s goal of getting 40 points to ensure another season in the Premier League.
With only 14 matches played, the Swans are well on their way to a top ten finish after last season’s 11th place position. Twenty four matches still remain for Swansea City this season, but the team has yet again exceeded the expectations of most pundits, many of whom picked them (once again) as dead ringers to get relegated.
So what has been the secret to Swansea City’s success so far this season? The main reason has been that there is now a lot more competition for first team places at Swansea City.
Last season, the Swans luckily suffered very few injuries, which helped then manager Brendan Rodgers to field a consistent side throughout most of the season. This season has been a different story. The Swans lost Neil Taylor, Michel Vorm and Danny Graham to injuries (or a mystery illness, in the case of Graham). Last season, those injuries to the team’s three key players would have killed the team. But goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel has been extremely confident in goal, while Swansea youngster Ben Davies has improved by leaps and bounds in his left back position. Up front for the Swans, last season’s leading goalscorer Danny Graham has been replaced by a new system employed by Laudrup, which is a hybrid of a 4-6-0 or 4-2-3-1 with Michu up top.
Midfield has been the part of the pitch that has seen the most competition for first team places where Swansea have been blessed with a plethora of gifted footballers. Laudrup has the difficult choice of choosing between Leon Britton, Jonathan de Guzman, Michu, Nathan Dyer, Wayne Routledge, Pablo Hernandez, Kemy Agustien, Ki Sung-Yueng and Mark Gower. For the first time this season, Laudrup managed to move his squad around to play three wingers last night with Dyer, Hernandez and Routledge, fitting them in to his starting 11. The result was the best performance by Swansea this season.
Pablo Hernandez had his best game of the season last night, cutting and darting past WBA defenders. His form and confidence has been improving throughout the season, and despite initial reservations, he looks likely to become a key player for Swansea during the remainder of the season.
Wayne Routledge is one of the many reasons why Swansea are so exciting to watch this season (the 0-0 draw against Liverpool excepted, where the style of both teams canceled each other out). At Swansea, Routledge has been able to finally show the Premier League how gifted of a footballer he is, with his silky skills, but he’s also shown far more composure and better positioning this season. Routledge seems like he was born to play at Swansea, fitting perfectly into the side and showing his physical side of the game, when necessary.
Dyer has been explosive when given the playing time. He’s one of the midfielders who hasn’t played as much as he would like, but it’s been hard to fit him into the team with Hernandez and Routledge playing so well. But with De Guzman suffering a hamstring injury yesterday, it gave Laudrup the perfect opportunity to start the trio of Dyer-Hernandez-Routledge. Hopefully Laudrup will have noticed the improved football from Swansea.
I haven’t been a big fan of de Guzman so far this season. He has possesses great ball control, but he slows down Swansea’s attacks far too much for my liking, and he can be careless with the ball when in midfield. A far better midfielder for the Swans has been Agustien, who is one of my favorite players to watch in this Swansea team. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get much playing time. But he has the ball control that De Guzman has, but the differences with Agustien is that (1) he’s a superb passer of the ball, often cutting opposition defenses wide open, and (2) he’s far stronger in his tackles when breaking down opponent attacks.
The competition for first team places has helped the side when there’s been a dip in form from players, which happens with even the best footballers. This newfound depth in Swansea’s side, coupled with Laudrup encouraging his wingers to tuck in closer to the boxes instead of tugging the touchline, has led to a more clinical Swansea team in front of goal.
There are still areas that need to be improved in this Swansea team. But when they’re on song, and when they’re not playing a physical side that they have difficulty playing against (Stoke and Everton are their two bogey sides), it’s incredibly exciting to see this team flying around the pitch.
Such are the improvements that Swansea have made this season that I was honestly disappointed that the team wasn’t able to defeat Liverpool last Sunday. What a difference that makes from the decades watching Swansea play, knowing that they were probably going to be on the losing end again on a cold night in Oldham, Barnsley or other lower league clubs.
Next up for the Swans is an away match at Arsenal, which will be a good test for both teams. Swansea narrowly lost the match last season due to Vorm’s error that let Andrey Arshavin sneak in a goal. Saturday’s match will be a good indication of how the Swans have improved since last year.