Thursday, 3 May 2012

Man Utd v Swansea City, Match Preview, PL

To the Theatre of Dreams.

When you see pre-season interviews with Staff, Fans and Players of newly promoted to the PL Clubs, particularly, they are always asked which fixtures they're looking forward to.

Unsurprisingly, the answers are almost always the usual suspects, varied only where there's a major geographic or personal link.

So Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal and their ilk crop up time and again for a visit to their own Home, and Anfield, Old Trafford and the Emirates are similarly cited for a visit Away.

Having been to the first and last of that trio, this weekend we get to go to the big one in the middle. Namely, Man Utd's temple of football, Old Trafford, regularly tagged with the sobriquet, the Theatre of Dreams.

Fittingly, for the persistent and regular Champions of the PL since its inception, the ground, with a capacity of 75811 , has been regularly updated and improved to make it a truly fitting setting for serial winners, and, short of some of the more spectacular new builds, is a genuinely impressive setting.

To make the game even more thrilling , last night Man City, the increasingly louder "noisy neighbours", bested SAF's defensively set up effort by thrillingly winning 1-0 to climb above the Red Devils on goal difference. So, with 2 games each to go, Fergie's boys have us this week and finish with a visit to MoN's Sunderland. Citeh, meanwhile, have a tricky visit to Newcastle, before they come back to the Etihad to thrash the drowning QPR.

Roberto Mancini, Citeh's cute Italian manager, has been brave enough to not only take on the blessed SAF on the field, he has even ventured into the realms of the fabled "mind-games" that the Tabloid press seems to worship the red nosed one for. His comments that Utd must still be favourites, because they have "easy games v Swansea and Sunderland" whilst his teams face "2 hard fixtures v Newcastle and QPR" are patently designed to annoy.

The suggestion is that both we and Sunderland will feel somewhat slighted, thereby lifting our game and giving Man Utd the finger, almost in "now take that" mode. I've even seen it suggested that he's already written the team talk for both clubs, and you must admit it's at least amusing to see a competitor at least offer some resistance to SAF's supposed supremacy by not toeing the Tabloid party line.

Well done Robbie M say I, and thank you for making me smile.

Of course from Swansea's perspective it not only does well to look at what Mancini said - there's also the suggestion that Man Utd will want to tear back into the race by winning by a goal-difference score. Hey Alex, chill, that ain't happening.

Despite the terrifying 4-4 draw at the Lib last week, when Wolves proved that if they'd played like that season long they wouldn't have gone down, we, Swansea City, are unlikely to be so open, and will certainly revert to a 4-3-3 more familiar with success than last week's experimentation.

It's hard to argue against another suggestion I've seen, that Utd are a team in transit. For all their remarkable ability to still compete for the title, there's evidence of a need for change.

The astounding Paul Scholes has indeed been influential in winning games where they otherwise would have struggled, and drawing games they might have lost, but on Monday evening, Yaya Toure showed SAF he'd better splash the cash next year if he wants a truly dominant MF'er.

Similarly, Ryan Giggs, for all his excellence, is at 37 well past his sell-by date. And the one paced Michael Carrick, control apart, simply isn't dangerous enough.

The team still has fantastic talent.

Antonio Valencia, Luis Nani,  and Ashley Young are as good as any wide men in the League. The threat up front centrally is often provided nowadays by the ever improving Danny Wellbeck, likely to lead the line for England in the Euros, at least until the suspended Wayne Rooney is again available, although Wellbeck took a hit from the competitive bruiser Nigel de Jong on Monday.

Rooney, meanwhile, is having a seminal season, his 26 League goals and no bookings testament to the controlled temperament vs foolish flippancy argument of yesteryear.

Since we're at the front end of the team, let's stay there. Almost forgotten by seldom use, they still have the rapid Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, who showed in our Home fixture how to snaffle a theft of a goal that won the game. Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, and England's Michael Owen, two big stars of the past, are almost forgotten men nowadays.

Before we look deeper, let's consider the other MF and Forward options.

In MF, the side has missed the Scotland Captain Darren Ferguson, laid low by a serious bowel illness, and Tom Cleverly, the young English talent utilised early season, has missed serious time due to foot injuries, leading to the necessity of calling back the reserve team coach (Scholes) from retirement.

I'd argue that that's MU's biggest problem this season, a lack of depth in the Middle. Others will point out that the only game they lost (prior to Monday and subsequent to Scholes reinstatement) was when he didn't play - against Wigan.

Still, at least Citeh put that one to bed. Hooray. This, I think, is their Achilles heel. They miss also the injured Brazilian Andersen, leading on Monday to their using the limited Park Ji Sung, who struggled throughout.

The problem has always seemed to me to be one of tempo.

With both Scholes and Michael Carrick in MF, the team seems to stutter and struggle, particularly if the opposition does plays at an increased pace, allowing both Scholes and Carrick no room to dictate at their own , inevitably, laid back tempo. No problem with that unless, of course, the opposition is strong enough to take advantage of this laid back style - and Citeh, and several other teams this year, were, and are.

At the back, other problems persist.

This year's keeper, the exciting David de Gea, has found it difficult to live up to the standard of the retired Edwin Van der Saar. After a rocky start, he has made brave inclusions in keeping opponents out. This week, the Guardian did a fantastic job in linking De Gea's look to an Alpacca ...enjoy........

As said, despite a rocky early start, he has come back to confirm his talent, but, remains one who can be tested in his first season at the front line.

At FB, the positions remain bizarrely flexible. There is, as yet, no successor to the retired Gary Neville, Sky Sports' best analyzer.

Rafael and Fabio de Silva had first shot, but injuries and form limited both. Last week, Phil Jones slotted in, and Chris Smalling went to CB, but it could have been more profitable had this choice been reversed. Both are capable and talented, but both are young and inexperienced, and you get what what you think they can achieve - either way.

For all their success, the back 4 have been problematic all season long. Having lost the hugely influential Nemanja Vidic to leg-knack, the slowing Rio Ferdinand has struggled to cope without his first choice partner, and whilst Johnny Evans has had some good performances, his limitations still haunt. Further, he too is reputed to be currently injured. Rio's fading pace is sad to see in a previously outstanding CB.

Coupled with that, the previously reliable Patrice Evra has been more than susceptible to out and out attack, and Nathan Dyer will surely fancy his chances one on one.

This is such a talent rich club that there are several players we haven't yet considered, but patience please, we'll get at least close.

The key, of course, is how SAF reacts after the very disappointing loss at the Etihad, where, to neutral eyes, it almost seemed like Fergie for once ceded the attack to the opposition by selecting a side designed to "not lose" despite his denials, and the chickens came home to roost, with a more vibrant Citeh able to take advantage.

The stinger for us is that as a result of that outcome, the fabled "hair dryer treatment" is likely to have been employed, and the team will want to tear at the opponents (us), with a view to putting as many goals on the board as possible. Dangerous, fractious times.

Talented players abound in this squad, and we would be foolish to forget the aforementioned Ashley Young, and Antonio Valencia, who has a genuine attraction to being the best wide man in the Division.

Young's recent citations for accentuated diving/going over shouldn't detract from his real talent, and he will give our full backs a test if chosen. Valencia seems to have both advanced and physically flourished since his move from Wigan and a nasty ankle break - since coming back he has a real argument to being the League's best provider, having set up Rooney and others time and again.

And there we mustn't forget the man who came runner up to RVP in the Football Writers poll - the man now/ boy then Wayne Rooney. Say what you like about his tabloid excesses which get further and further away by the month, this is a player who's in the top 5 in English football. A fantastic player who can play, literally, anywhere. You get the feeling that if he took De Gea's gloves, he even then wouldn't let anyone down.


It's been mentioned, but not explored how playing Utd at this time right here right now might affect us - and I have to say I think it makes a difference.

Swap the fixture 10 or 12 games ago, and both of us might have been considered to be consolidating - MU for their annual run toward the title, and us, in our first season, an attempt to convince wider than our Home crowd that we were good enough to be here on merit. As it turns out, both suggestions were about spot on - the problem now lies in our respective positions.

Last week's zany 4-4 draw against the already relegated Wolves saw us clock up the point that made our tenure mathematically secure. Meanwhile, Man U's equally bizarre 4-4 v Everton saw the first sign perhaps of a crack in their ranks, as Everton, Marouane Fellaini and Stephen Pienaar particularly, would just not lie down and go to bed. Nikica Jelavic, too, kept ringing the bell.

Coupled with Monday's loss to Man City, SAF's troops have now gotten 4pts from 12 on a run that saw them lose 1-0 to Wigan who'd never before taken even a point off them.

It's opened up the destination of the PL trophy, with MU having to both stuff us, and win away at Sunderland to even get close to Citeh, presuming they win their 2 at Newcastle and home to QPR.

We'll see, but we can be sure that Utd will be fired up, at the least, and will be seeking to increase their goal difference.

This is a side, and Club, forged by Ferguson over and above the monstrous wrangles of their ownership structure travails of the last few years, where, since the Glazers takeover, some half a billion dollars has been spent on servicing the debt that they put on the club. Hard to believe, but true. Read it and weep.

From our perspective what's up ?

The seeming coincidence last week of an unfit Angel Rangel saw BR experiment with a 3-4-3 formation that led to wonderful attacking freedom (we overloaded on them ) combined with an equally despondent vulnerability (they overloaded on us- particularly wide), so I'll be glad to see our cute Manager revert to the 4-3-3 that's stood us in decent stead.

No changes from the normal side is what I'd expect.

Now then, it's time to respect where we are,briefly, and where we've come from, coupled with what we've achieved.

So here goes.

Almost 9 yrs to the day, a James Thomas hat trick in the crucial 4-2 win v Hull kept us in the Football League. We can only wonder what would have happened if it had not.

Since then, we've been on a corkscrew ride that sees us line up against Man Utd and Liverpool as our last 2 games of this fantastic season. Let's be honest - we'd have all taken that as an outcome - and the wonderful prospect is that it can get even better.

So, a huge huge thank you to all that have made this possible - Team, Staff, Board, Fans and the rest - a real family.

This week, the fabulous JackArmy goes to the Theatre of Dreams.

Onward , Swansea City.

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