Tailor-made suits, an air of confidence beaming with a lustrous mane, Swansea City manager Michael Laudrup could easily be mistaken for soccer’s very own 007 James Bond.
Laudrup’s verve and experience dates back to his playing days with Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Denmark. Laudrup remains one of the hottest prospect of the beautiful game, even years after he last kicked a ball in a competitive match.
The Swansea manager has spent the last few weeks quashing speculation linking him to the previous managerial vacancies at Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.
Swansea’s catapult to the Premier League is nothing short of a fairytale. Flashback ten years ago and they were lying in the obscurity of the third division thanks to the bankruptcy they found themselves in. Next week however they will be playing in one of the highest echelons rubbing shoulders with the big boys of European Football. The Swans play Malmo in the Europa League on Thursday. How times change.
With Laudrup in charge, the Welsh side stepped up to find another gear last season, playing dazzling football with eye catching moves and flashes of brilliance overall.
Now with the addition of Ivory Coast striker Wilfried Bony, who signed from Vitesse Arnhem for a club record £12m, the Swans have a perfect player to complement Michu. While Jonjo Shelvey can be considered as a superb signing for £5m, Jonathan De Guzman’s yet another season-long loan has also been confirmed.
Laudrup, however, says he wants to add another chunk in his armor up front. With Bony and Michu taking up the attack, a different kind of a goal poacher up front would decisively turn matches on its head when required. Someone like a Shane Long who has good movement off the ball and pace on the turn would be a brilliant addition. Having said that though, Long isn’t the best of finishers. Twenty-one year old Northern Irish striker Rory Donnelly, who has impressed greatly in this summer’s preseason matches, might be used as an option from the squad. Udinese’s striker Matej Vydra might be a prospect for Laudrup’s loan bid and this would be an absolute steal given the Czech’s attacking prowess.
Last season, the Swansea flourished thanks to a superb cutting edge and ruthlessness in front of goal. While the wing backs were allowed to utilize spaces in and around the wingers, Michu as a false nine was used to great effect. De Guzman and Ki were superb in central midfield and this season with Shelvey in the mix, expect the Swans to play like Barcelona in a look-alike Real Madrid shirt. Pre season has been great as well, with a 5-1 win followed by a 2-0 stroll in the park against Exeter City. Nathan Dyer looks sharp already as the new signings look to grow familiar in Laudrup’s effective system. Reports also claim that the Dane is planning a £7m swoop for top Mexican centre-half Hector Moreno from cash strapped Espanyol.
Laudrup is the best asset that the Welsh side have in the current set up. He will not ask someone to play like a Messi or a Ronaldo, but he would ask to play a ten yard pass and that if mastered can lead to the optimum success as far the Swans are concerned.
So what to expect from Swansea this season? As far as I can figure out this could be the starting line up in a classic 4-2-3-1 formation:
I would love to see Swansea carry off from where they left from last season. Laudrup is expected to field a 4-2-3-1 formation with two wing backs, two central midfielders in the mould of Shelvey and De Guzman. Dyer and Pablo Hernandez are expected to man the wings (with Wayne Routledge available as depth) with Michu will play in the hole behind Wilfried “Daddy Cool” Bony.
Shelvey and De Guzman in midfield will provide the much needed solidity and crux of the team. Shelvey is more than a good passer of the ball and his ability to be in the right position at the right time will be hugely beneficial for the Swans. De Guzman however loves to stray here and there, making his feet do the talking.
Wilfred Bony is a clinical finisher and possesses great aerial threat. Even though he might not be the fastest, he has an eye for the goal with two strong feet and ferocious ball striking ability. Michu, as we saw from the last season, loves to play narrow and prefers to be in the central areas of the pitch making runs behind the opposition defense. This benefits the Laudrup system as the Dane wants his wingers to be narrow and to help with the ball retention. This will free up Michu and Bony up front. Michu’s winning headers could also be used to set up players up front, while the build up play is definitely expected to improve. This is evident from the following heat map of Michu against Manchester United last season.
Now comes the dirty and the strenuous work, winning back possession. Last season we saw in quite a few matches that all of the eleven Swansea players were in their own half to win back the ball and make intelligent runs off the ball to quell the opposition threat. This means whenever the Swans had the ball back again, they were quick off their blocks and a quick counter attack was on in a matter of seconds.
When all is said and done, I can’t wait until August 17 when Swansea City kicks off their third-consecutive Premier League season with a home match against Manchester United. Subduing this well-balanced Swansea side will take quite a job this campaign.
Playing in the Europa League will be a different ball game altogether, as the exertion from making long trips to various corners of the continent may stretch the squad to the limit, but with the canny head of Laudrup, Swansea can find the right balance and rightly establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with, both domestically and in Europe.
As the saying goes, “It’s easier to go down a hill than up it but the view is much better at the top.” A moment of truth awaits the Welsh side and it looks that failures are far, far away.