Thursday, 2 February 2012

Match Preview, WBA v Swansea City, PL, 4.2.12

Boing, boing, boing..........

After Tuesday's exciting draw at home to Chelsea, which, in retrospect, most of us enjoyed, despite the pie-in-the-face frustration of a late, late equalizer, the Swans get to travel to the nearest (geographically) fellow PL Club.

West Bromwich Albion, nowadays under the guidance of the experienced Roy Hodgson, also play at the Hawthorns - English League Football's highest (above sea level) ground, at some 551 feet or 168 metres. Put some thermals on, trust me, it's cold - even in the sunshine!

Hodgson was feted last year for keeping the Baggies in the Division, because when he took over they were looking shaky, and his organizational approach was sufficient to keep the Club up.

This year, despite his disciplined skills, the side has a record that's better away from the Midlands than at Home. Their record reads W2 D2 L7 at their own ground and W5 D3 L4 on their travels. On 26 pts, they sit 1 place below us in 15th place, so the fixture is a crucial one again - although I've yet to see a single game in this Division that is otherwise.

WBA have made a habit in the recent past of confirming their identity as a "boomerang" club, managing to flit both up and down between the Championship and the PL on several occasions, though their fans will tell you this time they're here to stay.

After their copycat 1-1 draw Away at Fulham on Wednesday evening, Hodgson's team will be looking to improve their record at our expense. Can they do it? We'll get to see.

This is one of the few games in the PL where both managers could exchange pleasantries in several languages if need be, because as a Coach, the much travelled, multi-lingual ex-Liverpool & Fulham man (most recently), has seen service all over the world, and , much like our own BR, finds no difficulty in communicating with a genuinely cosmopolitan and multi-national dressing room.

He has a reputation as an "Organizer" as I've hinted, and is well known for his repetitive "drilling" of his troops, much like the Military suggestions of the word, in order that his team retain their shape always - with a 4-4-2 pattern his system of choice.

In that game against Fulham, they went with this line up.........
West Bromwich Albion
01 Foster, 03 Olsson, 20 Shorey, 23 McAuley, 30 Tamas,07 Morrison, 17 Dorrans, 21 Mulumbu, 24 Odemwingie, 31 Cox ,
32 Fortune
13 Fulop, 25 Dawson, 05 Tchoyi, 12 Reid, 16 Allan, 27 Mantom, 29 Thorne

The 4-4-2 was interesting if only because unlike his Fulham lines-up in a previous life, it was not a "straight lines" set up, but a "diamond" variation, with Mulumbu anchoring, Morrison at the tip, and Dorrans right with Odemwingie left. The formation is interesting enough - first, let's look at the players.

Ben Foster, the first choice keeper, is, of course, the ex Man Utd graduate who ultimately failed Fergie's trust, and was shipped onward. Sound familiar ? (Whither David De Gea ?). He has also famously told England he's "not available for International Football". Well I never. The proponent of several prominent Goalkeeping Gaffes, he can veer from excellence to abject clunkiness still. Almost, but not quite, as being embarrassed by a Barnsley fan.

Cover is from the experienced Hungarian International Marton Fulop, ex Sunderland and Ipswich.

At LB, Nicky Shorey, the ex Reading and Villa defender is a lesser version of Leighton Baines at Everton, good skill, and fine pushing forward, less so defensively and shaky under pressure. Ripe for Nathan Dyer to give him a bad day. Wayne Routledge too, perhaps.

The other 3 defenders at Fulham were Gabriel Tamas, Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson, who are all CB's by trade. Tamas played at RB, leaving McAuley and the left footed Olsson in the middle, and whilst all 3 are strong in the air, all are vulnerable to pace. A Hungarian, a Northern Irelander and a Swede, again they are do-or-die types, and are equally adept at set pieces at either end.

Youssouf Mulumbu is the Congolese anchor at defensive MF. People generally under rate this role, but we know how important Leon Britton is to us. He is their Leon, just not as effective, one hopes. A hard tackling, competitive battler, who can also create.

James Morrison, at the tip of the diamond, is a two footed, skillful attacker who started his career as a wide man. He has a fearsome shot with either foot, and is often the scorer of spectacular goals. A graduate of the famed Middlesbrough Academy (as is our own DG), he has, since his move to WBA been capped for Scotland and continues to develop.

His fellow Scot, Graham Dorrans, plays toward the right of MF in this system. He is a tricky, skillful technician who has a habit of scoring key goals and again is not afraid to shoot. On the left side this time at the end of the game they used Peter Odemwingie, the Nigerian flier signed from Lokomotiv Moscow last year. Often used as an out and out striker,and he started this game up front, he is a quick, two footed finisher who has settled to the PL decently.

The two front men at the end at Craven Cottage were the late used sub, Somen Tchoyi and Marc-Antoine Fotrune. Tchoyi had replaced Simon Cox, who can also play up front. Ex Swindon , he had started on the left and has attracted many clubs reportedly (including us, in rumour), and although he has taken a while to settle at this level, his use more frequently under Hodgson suggests he has the Gaffer's confidence. Fortune, the French-Guyanan forward, is in his second spell at the club, their having re-signed him from Celtic, and although capable of some surprising misses (aren't all strikers?), his greater involvement this season has shown him to be able to pressurize defences.

The full list of Senior players in their PL squad is this.............
Ben Foster (HG), Chris Brunt (HG), Simon Cox (HG), Graham Dorrans, Marc-Antoine Fortuné, Gonzalo Jara Reyes, James Morrison (HG), Youssouf Mulumbu, Peter Odemwingie, Jonas Olsson, Steven Reid (HG), Paul Scharner, Nicky Shorey (HG), Gabriel Tamas, Somen Tchoyi, Jerome Thomas (HG), Shane Long (HG), Marton Fulop, Luke Daniels (HG), Zoltan Gera, Gareth McAuley, Billy Jones (HG)

That list does not include the U 21's with squad numbers who are eligible to play in the PL. The squads for all Clubs in the division for the second half of the season can be found here.

Amongst the subs earlier this week Somen Tchoyi, the muscular Cameroonian MF/Fwd, came on to score the equalizer, and this powerful player, acquired from Salzburg scored a blazing hat-trick in last season's closing game against Newcastle, pulling his side back from a 3-0 deficit to earn a spectacular draw.

The top class NI International MF Chris Brunt is a Grade A PL Player with a fantastic shot. Predominantly left footed (with a perfectly capable right too), he is, unfortunately, out for some weeks due to an ankle fracture.

Stephen Reid is a right sided defender, who has also played in MF, and the powerful ROI International drives forward to good effect and is a threat at set pieces.

Craig Dawson is a highly rated young English defender who came from Rochdale. Scott Allan is another youngster, a Scottish playmaker/creator, ex Dundee Utd. Sam Mantom is a technical MF'er developed from within, an England U 17 Cap. This group of young English players is completed by yet another U 17 Cap, George Thorne, and I think we can discern that this is a Club with a realistic pattern to develop their own players.Some locals prefer Thorne to Mantom, although both are decent, and support the develop-from-within hint.

Further notable senior players are Jerome Thomas, Shane Long and Paul Scharner. The mazy dribbling winger Thomas took an ankle knock recently but is, fitness permitting, now available. The engaging and popular Austrian Paul Scharner, ex Wigan and the proud wearer of cool Designer specs (off the field) is back in training after an Achilles problem. A grafter in MF nowadays, he started as a CB earlier in his career, but has always had the knack of scoring influential goals.

Finally, there's Shane Long, who will always have a place in Swans' hearts for scoring the key goal in his Reading days that put Kerdiff Sittee out of the Play-offs. He has suffered recently from both back and gastric problems, but if available, is the Clubs' leading striker- a genuinely talented and dangerous opponent, who, earlier this year, was the recipient of one of the worst unpunished fouls, from Aston Villa's thuggish Alan Hutton, I've ever seen.

Deadline day signings recently were both Liam Ridgewell, the left sided CB bought from Birmingham, and Keith Andrews, the scheming ex MK Dons and Blackburn Rovers Mf'er, who had fallen out of favour, but is a highly regarded ROI Cap nonetheless.

So that's the players we'll likely face, and it's a squad that has strength in depth, in a ground that always has a raucous and committed atmosphere, well known for the Boing Boing Baggies performance from the Home crowd.

As I've said, Roy Hodgson has a reputation within Football as a very capable and able Coach with a vast amount of experience, which includes several Continental and International spells, so he is guaranteed to have prepared meticulously for the visit of the Swans. He is also one of the most grounded and rounded characters in the FantasyLand that is the Premier League. He has interests outside Football and is always honest and realistic when interviewed. In that sense, he's much like our own Brendan Rodgers.

And that's the other point I'd like to make about the Club we're facing, WBA. We could do worse than follow their model. They've been through what we're getting to see now - ie, a first season in the Premier League. And even though they've also suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous relegation - they've "Boing-Boing" bounced back.

After another excellent performance against Chelsea, our own BR will consider the make up of the starting XI for this game from a more or less fully fit squad, subject, I guess, to any knocks and strains from that game.

The back 5, as we know, is probably a lock. On a personal basis, I'm not so sure about the rest, although I concede that even after an exhausting game against the Londoners, he will not want to make any more than 2, max 3, changes.

All six of the Middle and Forward players worked their socks off, the front 3 particularly, so perhaps Wayne Routledge will come into consideration for one of the widesters. Also, my feeling is that at some stage, Leroy Lita is surely due a game in the League, although Danny G's immense appetite for hard work, and his superior finishing skills make him so hard to sit down.

In the middle our DNA suggests we go with Leon Britton and 2 others. Kemy Agustien's muscle for this game, as it's away, would, for me, make me plump for him ahead of the wonderful Joe Allen. And I'd be tempted to stick with Gylfi Sigurdsson as the playmaker - I feel that his fitness is improving with every game.

So now you know what I think.

Still, thank goodness that it's not up to me. Our opinions are usually interesting, but fortunately we've got BR and his Staff to make the decisions.

I'm so looking forward to this trip, live this time. WooHoo, bring it on.

Onward, Swansea City.

## Some Swans have suggested that this venue, in the centre of Birmingham, is an option as a watering hole.

The Old Contemptibles
As always, click on the highlighted text for details.
It is right beside Snow Hill Station. £2.00 day return to The Hawthorns journey time 7 minutes. Trains leave every ten minutes at 14.03, 14,13, 14.23 etc.
I can't vouch for any Parking Advice etc., so I mention it purely as information. Have a good day.

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