Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Pre-Christmas Away Days. No 1.

Swansea City's game at Newcastle 17/12/11 in Preview.
At this time of year the games come thick and fast.

With two difficult Away fixtures within the next week, Swansea City and the travelling JackArmy will have clocked up considerable mileage before we and they get to unwrap some Christmas presents.

A long, cold journey North is in the offing.

Of course then later, we, the fans, will happily and post-prandially take in the Home Boxing Day clash with QPR, the better to clear our holiday excesses and bid good cheer to our Team, all of whom will be in the middle of a slightly more controlled and moderated Festive season.

Last Saturday's rewarding win over Fulham saw us confirm our good run of Home form, and the question now turns to the still under-rewarding matter of getting better material results Away from the Liberty. Brendan Rodgers knows as well as we do that it's imperative that at some stage we turn the performances on the road, which have ranged from sublime to disappointing, into points.

He will, no doubt, have calculated and targeted an overall picture of reward, but not to the extent of doing more than approach each individual fixture with a plan that suits THAT particular game. We armchair strategists meanwhile also have targets in our heads, but perhaps we OUGHT to keep them to ourselves, lest we REALLY get egg on our collective faces.

What, no spilling the beans whatsoever on what we think? Where's the fun in that ?

Awwh, go on then, just a teensy-weensy bit, otherwise there'd be no point in my doing this piece. Some may say that anyway, and they're perfectly entitled to, but it's not going to stop me since it's cathartic for me, and I enjoy it, too. So here we go. To the first of those fixtures.

It's a well known fact of Climatic record that the mean Temperature in Newcastle is some 5 degrees colder than that of Swansea. At this time of year it can also be considerably damp and gloomy, which led Lindisfarne, initially, and numerous others (including the legendary Geordie Toonster Paul Gascoigne), to regale us at one time or another with a chronic lament. "The Fog on the Tyne..", is, indeed, as Alan Hull claims ".....all mine, all mine", and he's welcome to it. Dig the retro football shirt, Man,....groovy!

Pack a warm coat. In 2009/10 at Mike Ashley's "Sports Direct Arena at St. James' Park"(sic), I sat in the Gods and wished I'd brought opera glasses as well, as Newcastle beat the Swans 3-0 in a view that put me in mind of the shots you get at big matches from the Goodyear Blimp. I swear the air was thinner at the top of the stand : oxygen masks would have helped I'm sure.

Whatever the view, you can be sure that Newcastle on the field have improved since then too. Mind you, so have we.

Their record up until 3 recent defeats has been excellent, but injuries and squad depth have begun to have an effect, particularly disrupting a previously constant back 5.

Tim Krul in goal has ensured he's now the No 1 ahead of Steve Harper, and Geordies will tell you his form has been Vorm-like. They also have Fraser Forster on loan at Celtic, and Rob Elliot, on the books.

Disruption at CB, where Steve Taylor's ruptured achilles tendon injury has put him out for the season and Fabio Coloccini has been injured too, with a thigh strain. The Argentine, first signed for a big fee a couple of seasons ago, and who seemed like an older version of David Luiz (in Gary Neville's delicious phrase...." like a PlayStation Player controlled by a 10 yr old") in his early games for the Club, is nowadays confirming far more legitimate Argentina CB form - granite hard, technical efficiency and buccaneering (goalscoring occasionally) leadership.

With both CB's out injured in their recent losses, Danny Simpson, nominally a RB/RMF, and James Perch, signed from Forest as a versatile Defender, have been covering in a less stable manner. They also have the Hungarian rookie Tamas Kadar signed, but he has not yet got a squad number.

Ryan Taylor, the right footed LB is a renowned free kick specialist, and the club in the close season signed the LB Davide Santon from Inter, a highly rated Italian International.

Mike Williamson, another strong CB came from Portsmouth after an initial loan period but has struggled with injuries too this season (a broken arm and ankle strain amongst them), but he is at least back in training.

The squad also lists James Tavernier, a youth academy graduate CB primarily, and Shane Ferguson, acquired from Derry City, who has always played thus far as a MF.

The injuries have stretched the depth of defensive capability, but in Midfield they have genuine quality, if again tested by the knocks, bumps and strains of the modern game.

The players are Yohan Cabaye, Danny Guthrie, Hatem Ben Arfa, Jonas Gutierrez, Sylvain Marveaux, Dan Gosling, Cheick Tiote, Mehdi Abeid, Alan Smith, Gabriel Obertan and Haris Vuckic, a truly cosmopolitan range.

5 French, 3 English, an Ivorian, an Argentine and a Slovenian, the Midfield mix gives a clue to their revamped (from previous days) scouting system.
In the past they had a reputation for signing big name, big money, often disappointing older players. Nowadays they go for lesser known, younger, cheaper alternatives, and have had and are having better success from it, utilising Ligue1 in France particularly.

Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Marveaux, creators all and both technically excellent and young, are full French caps. So is the winger Obertan, ex Man Utd, gangly physique and all.

Abeid, the French Algerian, capped at U18 level, came from Lens. Tiote is the ball winning mainstay of the Ivory coast, Internationally, and came from Twente Enschede in Holland.

Jonas Gutierrez plays wide left or right, and as a member of Diego Maradona's Argentine WC team of the past, has added a grafting work ethic to his attacking verve, and the crowd love it.
Vuckic, recently called into the full Slovenia squad for Euro 2012 qualifiers, is an attack minded link.

The three English representatives range from the ageless Alan Smith, who started at DirtyLeeds, controversially kissed the badge and went to Man Utd on his journey to the North, to the young Dan Gosling, snaffled from Everton at the end of a contract and since capped at England U21 level.
Along the way we get also the workmanlike Danny Guthrie, ex Liverpool and Bolton, who, if they're wearing short sleeves, displays a fine example of the penchant from some modern footballers for the like of the Tattooist's Art.

Up front, they choose from Demba Ba, Leon Best, Peter Lovenkrands, and the brothers Shola and Sammy Ameobi.

Ba, attracted from West Ham last year (after being reportedly rejected by Stoke due to a gammy knee), has been scoring for fun. He got both in the 4-2 defeat at Norwich, and now stands on 11 for the season, behind only RVP's 15 at Arsenal.

Leon Best, ex Coventry, had always been considered a second-tier jouneyman, but has scored profitably and regularly since coming to the club, and has earned 5 RoI caps from Trapp.

Lovenkrands has 22 Danish caps, and the left footer is both pacey and tricky.

The two Geordie brothers, Shola and Sammy Ameobi, are hugely popular local lads-made-good in a City where the Centre Forward (and No 9) has always been revered. Think Shearer and Jackie Milburn. Think of the Robledo brothers. You see what they've got to live up to? The burden is heavy, indeed.

Shola, the elder brother, has been in the first team squad since Bobby Robson's days but his languid frame has caused him to miss time regularly over the years from injuries, many and varied.Has scored over 50 goals for them.

Sammy , the younger sibling, came again from the Academy, and broke into the squad against Chelsea at the end of the 2010/11 season. He is trickier, slightly quicker than his brother and is fast becoming a fans favourite.

They are managed nowadays by Alan Pardew, the shrewd ex-West Ham gaffer who took them (WHU) to the Premier league, and who was appointed by the still reviled Owner Mike Ashley in replacement of the popular Chris Hughton who, in his turn, had plotted the Toon's re-entry to the Prem.

Tactically, their shape is likely to be 4-3-3, 4-1-3-2, sometimes even 4-4-2. It depends on fitting personnel to the system (ie who's fit, who's not) and he will change within games as well. They ARE that flexible.

Pardew had to do a lot to win round the justifiably fickle Toon Army but he seems to be succeeding. Seen as a track-suit manager in the modern idiom, slightly David Brent-esqe in his use of Management-speak and motivational messages pinned to dressing room walls ( eg .. "Touching base" , "pro-active NOT re-active" etc....), his style obviously struck a chord with the owner and his "mission to enhance the Customer Experience" at The SDA. Although to be perfectly fair, the Geordies DO seem to be enjoying themselves more than they have at some times in the recent past.

Whatever, this is a difficult fixture, although the first of several where we will hope to get those elusive Away points.

My feeling with regard to our line up is this.

Given that the back 5 kept another clean sheet last week, I feel it would be a major surprise to us if there were any changes there. It's the rest of the team that sets the puzzle.

I know you'll excuse me these tactical musings, but in a week where we saw Guardiola, in ElClasico no less, go to 3 (maybe 3.5) at the back, well illustrated by Jonathan Wilson here, it doesn't half make you think.

Kemy Agustien made a difference on his timely introduction last week but Joe Allen is available again. In my head I've toyed with the idea of a 4-1-3-2 shape, meaning that Agustien could anchor as the 1, thus providing defensive
security ahead of the Centre Backs. I'm conscious of the notion too that Ash Williams has done that role previously for both us and Wales, but on reflection it's probably a step too far.

An anchor would allow us to include Leon Britton, Joe Allen AND Mark Gower but the weakness of THAT argument is that one of the wide men has to be sacrificed, and I can't see BR going that route. So, since Joey didn't play v Fulham, and since our more usual 4-3-3 is our Identity, KA, MG and LB would be the 3.

That leaves the front 3.

As the wide men in possession, Wayne Routledge and Scott Sinclair would hold their places, with Nathan Dyer on the bench. And, harsh as it would be on Leroy Lita, I feel a fully fit Danny Graham gives us just a little extra. At the end of the day, it's all about Chemistry.

I am just very glad that the ones making these decisions are Brendan and his staff.

Whatever line up he chooses, I guess it's fair to say that most of us Swans will go with that, and although I won't be there in person, I will be in spirit, (and live,too, Internet stream allowing).

Good luck Swansea City.

No comments: