Thursday, 29 March 2012

Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City, Match Preview, 1/4/12

Goin' down the Lane

In this Division we've had the privilege of travelling to several of Britain's more iconic grounds this season, and it's been one of the more pleasurable experiences of a fantastically rewarding time.

So this Sunday, when we visit Tottenham Hotspur, who are themselves enjoying a season that's seen them challenge for the very top, and, even now, after a frustrating blip in form sees them turn more to consolidating a Champions League place, it'll be both a delight and pleasure to re-visit a ground that can realistically be qualified as one of England's "proper football grounds".

I think you'll know exactly what I mean.

White Hart Lane, like Tottenham themselves, will forever be associated with some of the better things in British Football, from the honour of being the first modern Club to complete "the double", to the recent excitement of seeing Gareth Bale, that son of Wales, rip Maicon, Brazil's first choice full back a "new one" in recent European adventures.

All Swans please - Just ask yourselves : how good you feel about our performances to date this season, and then consider that it's been nothing other than excellent. Their year has been even better. Particularly after their 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge last week, where, to general consensus they were unlucky to not win, so think how good it must feel for them to be in the mix for another CL adventure, and , that, some may consider they could even be doing better! I think most of us would settle for that, in spades.

After all, it's only because of that recent form "blip" leading to several disappointing results that they seem to be no longer in the mix for the Title itself , and, it should be remembered, this is the team that's played some of the most attractive football over the length of the season to the great pleasure of their discerning fans and the broader football audience. Football that not only like ours is pleasing on the eye, but gets positive results to boot.

They've achieved this over and above their popular Gaffer, Harry Redknapp, becoming the red-hot favourite to take over the reins at the England National Team gig in the wake of the FA's clumsiness in losing the once highly regarded Fabio Capello in the wake of "TerryGate", and despite @arry's admirable protestations to the contrary, it's hard to imagine that this hasn't had some effect in contributing to that aforementioned "blip".

From our point of view, I believe that we couldn't be going to the Lane at a worse time, in a sense.

Mainly because after our besting by David Moyes's tactically astute Everton at the Liberty last week, Tottenham will see us as a legitimate chance to get back on course as it were, by delivering a solid winning performance that keeps them on track for that CL push. Far better for us, surely, if they were just coasting to a comfortable berth that matched lesser expectations. Still, I'm not complaining - this, after all, is what we both wanted and expected from the PL- hard, tough,competitive, consistent testing. Most would say we've done pretty well to cope thus far, and I'd agree.

Tottenham's squad has not changed to a great degree since our first meeting, previewed prior to their Lib visit, so again I'll touch today on the differences and changes from that previous meet.

On Tuesday last they played an FA Cup resumed tie at the Lane after the previous occasion had been called off for the Fabrice Muamba tragedy, and both their fans and all within Football wish him well in his recovery. Tottenham's medical staff and all who contributed toward the Bolton player's transfer to Hospital deserve and are offered our highest respect. It must have been hard for both teams to re-convene for the playing out of the tie.

The locals saw Spurs go with the following team
Cudicini, Bale, Parker, Adebayor, van der Vaart, Modric, King, Walker, Livermore, Assou-Ekotto, Nelsen

with the following bench
Subs: Friedel, Kaboul, Saha, Dos Santos, Defoe, Kranjcar, Rose

....ostensibly a 4-2-3-1 set up with Walker, Nelsen, King and Essou-Ekotto across the back, Parker and Livermore sitting, with van der Vaart, Modric and Bale ahead, and Adebayor leading the line. That, however, puts aside the flexibility, where the front 4 and (less so) the sitting 2 rotate constantly, and Bale, Modric and van der Vaart were all equally free to go into any and all available slots.

Ryan Nelsen, the long toothed Antipodean CB acquired from Blackburn in the Transfer window started, and the team also had Louis Saha, the fragile French forward brought in from Everton on the bench.

Two big changes there, then. With Sebastien Bassong gone to Wolves on loan, Nelsen's addition was almost a cushion against defensive frailty, and Saha has showed in his performances that when fit he is still a real talent, even keeping the Club's top scorer Jermaine Defoe out of the side on several occasions, to the Londoner's (and many fans) puzzlement. Interesting times ahead, methinks, since Defoe is unlikely to see this as anything other than a block on his legitimate claim to play every week.

No matter, the scorers in that Cup Tie were Nelson, Bale, and Saha, on as sub, and Totttenham advanced to a meeting with arch rivals Chelsea in the semi-final as most of us thought they were capable of achieving. This tells you all you want to know about the success of their season.

Not only are they challenging for that long desired CL slot, they are now in the semi-final of the FA Cup and you have to think that if it were not for some key and unfortunate injuries would be doing even better.

The squad assembled, as I've said before, is both well balanced and exciting- Tottenham's fans demand no less- as this is a Club that has always had a reputation for push and run football, from Arthur Rowe's (pre Bill Nic even) through to the current day. Please read the history, it's worthwhile.

Looking at their remaining League fixtures they have us, Norwich, Blackburn and Fulham at Home, with Sunderland, Bolton, QPR and Villa Away, so Harry will be targeting some consolidating wins to ease the path over that recent blip.The consolation for us (if it's that) is that at least we can be guaranteed a pure football match rather than an attritional battle - they know no other way to play. The downside, of course, is that they do it rather well.

One of the many pleasurable contributions on offer in this part of North London this season has been that tactical flexibility, and it's always enthralling to see a football man like Redknapp confound his knockers who'd always assessed him as a wheeler/dealer geezerish good man manager lock horns with the more supposedly cerebral tactical coaches in the PL, and usually both surprise and confound them.

Some would offer that this is just because he has always had the ability to make players feel good about themselves thus freeing them up to play with a smile on their face, but I suspect it goes a little deeper than that facile "feel good" reason only - witness that recent Chelsea game, where subtle but effective changes in emphasis in the performance led to them dominating the second half, and all but ripping up Robbie di Mateo's switch to a 4-4-2 by swamping Mid Field and controlling the game. Chelsea, I'd suggest, were very very lucky to get away with a point.

To us Swans, the style of the way that our team has been playing has become more and more important as it's matched our progress up the Divisions, and that trademark "personal style of your own team" is no less important, I know, to Paul Smith, a lifelong Tottenham fan who edits and runs the fine Spurs Odyssey where his fanaticism matches our own.

Similarly, at the dreaded TalkSport portal, one of their better presenters Paul Hawksbee is again an avid Spur. I'd like to think that we could proudly boast that we've taken as much as we can from the game, so let's see what transpires.

Think back to our earlier season meeting at our place, a Match Report of which can be found here.

I would suggest that this was the first real occasion where we realised that we could compete in this division with the very best. No disrespect to those lesser teams we had played earlier- after all we had then already bested several at our gaff, but this felt a little bit more special. Not only was it a game against a significantly stronger opponent, it was also a performance where we fell behind and were then able to strongly come back with a genuinely thrilling second half performance.

Talking of which, all of my recent previews have tended to concentrate on the opposition, unsurprisingly, since we see and know most of our own pretty well, so, for this week, let's have a closer look at Home.

The stand out change will be this week the one that we can't do anything about.

Namely, Steven Caulker, the young Tottenham CB on loan for the season will not be able to play against his parent club. He has been nothing short of terrific for us this year, and I'd hazard a guess now that if Tottenham fans had seen what we've seen from this fine young player this year, they'd be a lot less worried about the state of Ledley King's knee. Trust me you Spurs, he's ready to step in - now. That's how good he's been.

I have admiration for Dawson, Kaboul, Gallas, Nelsen all - but SC will be ahead of them all next year. Pick him a partner, and you'll be OK. Btw, if you want to leave him here, how does £7/8 mill strike you? Done? You would have been.

Gary Monk, our estimable Club Captain, will of course step in - and if his performance at Fulham two weeks back is repeated we Swans will be very happy. His partner is likely to be a significantly stronger Ash Williams, who has now fully recovered from his noticeable virus weakness of last week.

Given Tottenham's strength out wide (with or without the electric Aaron Lennon), we would be foolish in the extreme to mess with either Rangel at RB or Neil Taylor on the left. As we were, then.

Despite the recent comfort of the middle three (of which I've been a vocal supporter), I have a feeling we may well see some change this week.

There has been debate within the Swans family on the efficacy and effectiveness of young Josh McEachran, on loan to us from Chelsea for the latter part of the season, and, because of the stability established by Britton, Allen and Sigurdsson over the last 2 months, unable to get a regular start. I'm an admirer of this fine player, and would suggest that this may be the week when BR chooses to let him start a league game - and there's the rub - who, on that basis, could we possibly leave out?

Rationale, consensus and fact would suggest it can't be Britton, since he sits deepest and isn't even approaching like for like. Joey Allen has turned himself into a ball-thief, so again, the like for like contrast holds true, but if you add Siggi to the mix, then there's an argument to be made for asking the Icelander to sit deeper, where Joey has ruled of late, and adding Josh into Gylfi's more advanced slot - the better to pass the opposition to death, one hopes.That would be my option, but as I've said before - what do I know? Not a lot.

Up front, things seem clearer. Despite Wayne Routledge's excellent performances, with Nathan Dyer available we surely must pick the player who will figure in our player of the year voting in ND. Sinclair I would hold with, with a Danny Graham/ Luke Moore final option, although Leroy Lita ran his heart out in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea Reserves this week. Ah well, we'll see.

From a personal point of view I'm unable to travel this weekend as my host (son) in London has to work the weekend, so I'll be taking my view from the comfort of my sofa. Thank God for Sky Sports. This was a game I'd been planning to attend and had even got tickets for, but circumstances dictated that it was not to be. Never mind, life was never meant to be a bed of roses, more like a thicket of thorns. There will be other times, undoubtedly.

So, bring it on. As the leading game on the Sky Sports Super Sunday broadcast, it should tell us Swans how far we've come. I've no doubt it'll be entertaining, at the very least. Let's just hope we can come back to South Wales with both our pride and result intact.

Onward, Swansea City.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Swansea City v Everton, Premier League, Match report

Experience prevails.

It does one well to have a slap, really, (metaphoric, of course) because when you get even a hint ahead of yourself, and as a correspondent reminded me recently, chill, and don't relax, lest you find yourself having to consume a hefty portion of humble pie.

I'm talking about modern day football, of course.

Occasionally, still, I have to pinch myself.

There are only eight games left in our inaugural PL season, 4 more to come here at the Lib. To say that the previous 14 at Home have been anything other than sensational, with equal appeal Away from home would be curmudgeonly in the extreme. And downright wrong, too.

So when we lined up against a top division stalwart in Everton this Saturday last for the 15th, the very least we could expect was a continuation of that season-so-far excitement. We were not left short of thrills and spills, but came out of the game disappointed, having been turned over by a long term PL resident who know how to win "clever" Away from their own patch.

I wrote last week about hearing for the first time this season (to my joy) the chant of "The Jacks are staying up", and, Karma aside, it's only fair to remark that this was a game where there was perhaps not quite so much tension as pervaded several other of this weekend's top flight games.

That would be both rude and inappropriate to both of these fine teams, and the result was a hard fought competition throughout, even if it turned toward the Merseysiders at the end of the day.

It's aways struck me that there are, after all, limited numbers of out-and-out prizes on offer.It's a question of sharing it out, I suppose.

It still surprises me even, that in our Championship days, when we were a "wannabee" participant in this Division, how much the necessarily limited prizes on offer are almost determined "as of right" by the watchers, some fans and pundits particularly. Even when the limited availability of prizes almost guarantees that most of us are going to be disappointed, at least on that front.

Ultimately, there's always going to be just one PL Champion, usually chased home by one other, an FA Cup winner, a Carling Cup Champion, and differing season on season European Challenge competitors of limited number. A smallish prize chased by an increasingly slavering pack, all driven by both honour and money.

And that doesn't even begin to take in the Football League - the Divisions below are, after all, where we've spent the bulk of our time, to lesser but no more engrossing witness.

So, when you consider these limited prizes on offer, is it really surprising that so many teams "fail", at least to their sometimes one-eyed fans? Not at all, even when competing for the lesser ones.

And after all, this was one of those games, as I've said above, where there was "not really that much at stake"; as suggested by some pundits. Hey, try telling that to hardcore Swansea City or Everton fans - I guarantee they won't even give you the time of day. And nor should they.

The match that unfolded at another sold-out Liberty Stadium was again a compelling chapter in the evolution of Swansea City, and Everton for their part will be more than satisfied with the result.

Both lines-up showed little change, with Swansea just replacing Gary Monk with the fit-again Ash Williams,(or was he some asked), and DM rotating the Everton squad such that one couldn't really argue that it was not his first choice XI. The teams were these...............

Swansea City
01 Vorm, 02 Williams, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel, 07 Britton, 11 Sinclair (McEachran - 72' ), 15 Routledge (Lita - 71' ), 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson, 10 Graham (Moore - 71' )
Substitutes
25 Tremmel, 05 Tate, 16 Monk, 17 McEachran, 27 Gower, 18 Lita, 19 Moore

Everton
24 Howard, 02 Hibbert, 03 Baines, 06 Jagielka, 15 Distin, 18 Neville, 04 Gibson (Heitinga - 84' ), 17 Cahill (Fellaini - 58' ), 21 Osman, 22 Pienaar, 07 Jelavic (Stracqualursi - 81' )
Substitutes
01 Mucha, 05 Heitinga, 25 Fellaini, 11 Stracqualursi, 14 McFadden, 19 Gueye, 28 Anichebe

Ref: Swarbrick
Att: 20,509

I'd been a little unsure about today's game and Jim, my compadre and I agreed eventually that a Home draw wouldn't be that bad a result given that David Moyes's Everton are always a hard team to beat - he doesn't do "switched off" - but little did we realise it would turn out to be a painful lesson.

The first thing to say is that right from the kick off they had a tactical plan and shape that immediately made the game a little more difficult than some. With both Leon Osman and Stephen Pienaar pressing up tight wide, and both Tim Cahill and Jelavic doing the same centrally to deal even with Leon Britton dropping deep, they made it difficult for Vorm to set play in motion by giving short.

When this has happened with previous teams, we have been able to deal with it both by Vorm's three quarter distribution to the wider and more forward Full Backs, and patient if risky one touch construction.

However yesterday Everton even countered this by pushing markers forward to press here too, and it almost forced our Keeper to kick longer and more frequently than for a long time, and this, coupled with the Dutchman's unusual lack of accuracy put too many balls into 50/50 challenges, and Everton are forceful enough to win their fair share.

Consequently the game was disturbingly equal and the Merseysiders did their share of attacking as well, transitioning from defence to attack with a smoothness that would have pleased a Mourhino type manager, who has made this into his trademark style.

I shouldn't really be surprised by this, and I should offer too that to mention "the Special One" does nothing other than praise the Everton Manager, because David Moyes has been doing this type of adapted tactical innovation for 10yrs beside the banks of the Mersey.

Hey Roman, take a look, you might be surprised. I guarantee you there'd be no more talk of "player power" forcing the Manager out!

Swansea made the best of it though, and even wrested the dominance of possession, and the game morphed into a football version of a Chess game, with move replied to by counter-move, several of which led to half chances, with some better than others.

Swansea's first came early, when an excellent pass from Rangel put Graham ahead in the inside right channel, but with Jagielka almost keeping pace at his shoulder, it forced a shot early from him with Howard comfortably able to gather. Incidentally one could see then that Scott Sinclair had made rapid progress across the area to the left, and if Graham had seen him early enough, a pass might have borne better fruit.

Ah, ifs, buts, maybes.....you know the rest.

Jagielka had also been key in cutting out a Sigurdsson cross with Danny Graham in great position to tap in, and from the corner conceded, the ball, cleared to Joe Allen, saw the Swans MF'er drive a decent shot just a yard wide at knee height.

Despite the Everton press, Swansea now had the general control and Sigurdsson turning from back to goal and driving forward saw him put in a shot dragged just wide from the slightest of miss hits.

Rangel too was combining with Routledge, and an excellent cross was diverted behind by the Everton rearguard. They, for their part, had seen Jelavic put a header off target, but as the half approached the break, they were getting better hold of both ball and game, and there was a concerted period where they put together several threatening attacks without quite getting a clear sight of goal.

You know that thing that's said in Football about "quietening" the crowd when Away from Home?

Well, it can't be said that they silenced us, but the strength of resistance and threat certainly caused the JackArmy to turn down the volume slightly - from a raucous and full 10 on the dial we had gone to about 8.5 I would estimate - no mean feat at the bouncing Liberty, and I was happy to get to half time with the scoreline at 0-0, even though we'd overall had the better of the period.

The debate around me at half time concerned the way that Everton had both competed attritionally, with another example some felt of the "leave the foot in" display that relies on a weak Referee, and more worryingly the way that toward the break they had grown into the game and looked particularly dangerous.

I think we were all guilty of forgetting that these Everton players are not just grafters and workers but ally that quality with fine football skills. Pienaar, Baines, Jagielka et al are all fine technical proponents as well, and their skillful contributions were putting pressure on the Swans in this half.

They got an excellent opportunity when Jelavic put an open chance high and wide when from a ball running though to Vorm , Ash Williams's tardy clearance led to the ball rolling free to the striker only to see him induce a groan from their fans for his muddled attempt.

Swansea's attacks were more stilted now, and from a break down in Swansea play the Toffees drove forward to see Darron Gibson unleash a terrific left foot drive from 30 yds that was flying into the top corner only for Vorm acrobatically and full length turn it aside with a very good save.

David Moyes introduced Fellaini for Cahill early on 58m, and almost immediately, the enforcer's presence was complemented by a spectacular goal that broke Swansea hearts.

The England FB Leighton Baines put in a fine driving run toward the penalty box drifting from wide left to the inside right, and just 20 yds out drew a late challenge from Ash Williams as he nicked the ball past him. An undoubted free kick and in a very dangerous area, just outside the box and just right of central.

A collective groan went up from our little enclave, since one of us at least had pointed out that we didn't want to concede a pot-shot from there since Baines is very very able to take advantage of just such a chance. Uh, oh - we did, and he was.

The wall lined up perfectly, and from the replay, if you watch, held their shape and even jumped in exemplary fashion to try and block. Trouble is Baines is really a master at this distance being one of the few players able to get the ball over, up and down to unerring accuracy.

He took it with his educated (sic) left foot and curved it up, over and in where it rippled the net in that little postage stamp corner where crossbar meets post, at a pace guaranteed to beat even Vorm's acrobatic and despairing dive.

1-0, and a quality goal from a quality player, right in front of the jubilant Scoucers, who burst into joyous celebration.

The Swans frustrations were evident from the next pocket of play, which saw their increasing desperation lead to them looking decisively ragged - no shame in that, after all they were genuinely trying - but it also meant that this cute Everton team were looking more and more dangerous in breaking in counter-atack, with Pienaar often leading the charge from the left and Fellaini muscling people off the ball, his rangy and athletic physical presence a boost to their swift counter strikes.

A word for their Club Captain too - Phil (@fizzer18) Neville had done a good job in negating the dangerous Gylfi Sigurdsson and Swansea's best chance came from a clipped and narrow Wayne Routledge cross, which Danny Graham got to before the advancing Tim Howard and the competing defence to see his skimmed header drift just over the bar.

Brendan Rodgers bravely tried to change the momentum, making a triple substitution on 71m, bringing on Lita, McEachran and Moore for Routledge , Sinclair and Graham, but before the Swansea new narrowness of attack could settle, Everton filched a second goal.

Pienaar had again driven forward from the left and on cutting in his attempt ran wide out to the LB slot near the byline. No matter- Fellaini, he of the Shock-Peter hair, literally bullied aside Ash Williams and cut in to lay back a tap-in for Nikica Jelavic.

2-0, cue shock from us Swans, delirium in the Mersey section of the North Stand.

On 81m Straqualarsi replaced the tiring Jelavic, and on 84m Heitinga came on for Gibson, as Moyes went to squeeze the game out and the Swans owe Vorm a further debt of gratitude as he saved well from the Argentinian, who missed another opportunity as well.

The game played to its end, with the experienced PL side happy to deny us "newbies" a real clear cut opportunity, and we'd been handed a harsh lesson.

Both David Moyes , and our own Brendan Rodgers were honest and gracious enough to offer a realistic assessment in their after match interviews, but that's no surprise since they are two of the PL's more enlightened citizens I like to think. Never mind the "Mind Games " nonsense, we'd rather hear about the real game - as we did.

As I've said before, David Moyes is a seriously scary dude (said in admiration) and one would not want to get into a fight with him. Unfortunately, yesterday we did. And we lost.

Still and all, as that BR interview confirms, it was indeed a harsh lesson and we will learn from it. Again, in the PL it doesn't do to get ahead of oneself, as there's always someone along the way to remind you why.

I'm not one who believes that we must have what I've heard called a "plan B". What we must have rather is a way to modify our perceived "plan A"- that is, a more effective way of getting round and beyond teams that set out as Everton did with a high press allied to vigorous MF competition by continuing to play pass and move, ground based, possession football.

The best teams can do it - think Arsenal at their peak, watch Barcelona now. Hell, even take a glance at the Manchester clubs.

I am in no way comparing our Swansea City to any of those giants - what I am suggesting is that when a Manager such as our says he'll learn, I believe him. And that, by the way, is why it's so so satisfying to be in this League - even after a truly gutting defeat like yesterday.

Believe you me, there's nobody more down than me when we suffer a painful loss - and I guess most of us Swans are exactly the same. I had to force myself to watch the highlights on MoTD, Football First and Goals on Sunday.

It's another reason why I'll watch us again on MoTD2 this evening. It's why we pay our Season Tickets, it's why we travel Away - because we love the Club. We're hooked, and proud of it.

As I've said in previous witterings I won't entirely relax until we get over the 40pt mark. I know we're only 1pt away from that target, but beside the reassurances of even opposing PL fans, I'm naturally of the mordant ilk.

I do have a genuine belief though that with our remaining opponents being Tottenham (and I'll be there), QPR, Bolton and Man Utd Away from the Lib, and Newcastle , Blackburn, Wolves and Liverpool still to come to us, we can certainly get there.

And that, my friends, will give us another season in this wonderful league supporting our wonderful team, and it'll allow us to say......

Onward, Swansea City.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Swansea City v Everton, Match preview, Premier league

Sweets for my Sweet.

I've always been slightly puzzled by Everton.

The self proclaimed People's Club, in a message proudly displayed on their Goodison Park ground, the Toffees have, after all, been prominent members of the Premier League throughout it's existence, and even more proudly Division 1 residents for many years before that, so I have this bothersome puzzle deep within my psyche and it's this - where's the money gone ?

I don't wish to disparage such an admirably well regarded Club, but it's something that their own fans ask even to this day, as witnessed by the protestations of the Blue Union Group as recently as this very season.

Plus, you'll regularly have heard that their estimable Manager David Moyes has, according to much Press and Media, over-performed "given the circumstances". Excuse me, but pardon? The circumstances? A tad disingenuous I always feel, and a fine analysis from the ever reliant Swiss Ramble only goes to confirm my thoughts.

After all, this is a set-up that's been "on the market", openly, for several seasons, as their Chairman Bill Kenwright is happy to confirm.

Then, when you see some of the basket-cases that have been bought in that time - Portsmouth, Leeds Utd, and now Glasgow Rangers even, - you'd have thought that some Mansour/Abramovich/Lerner/Glazer type figure would have seen the benefit of buying a very well established PL Club with a greater cachet of stability and heritage, wouldn't you?

Incidentally, if you doubt their heritage and history, a cursory exploration is in order.

This business model is so far removed from our own, dare I suggest it, more sustainable example, as to offer a poignant comparison this coming weekend, when we get to meet the Blues at the Liberty, in our latest adventure in our own version of " Alice in Wonderland" - a sort of "Swansea's Adventures through the Looking Glass" of the Barclays Premier League.

And, whilst we're at it, here's a direct comparison.

Since the inception of the PL in 1992, Everton have purchased £218 m worth of players, and sold £165m worth for a Net spend of £53m. We compare with figures of £14m and £6.6m for a Net of £7m. Don't believe me? See what I mean, here....

When you start to look for reasons, of course, for the supposed shortage of ready cash that has led them to play in an old and aging/decaying liability of a Stadium that lacks the hugely important Corporate element essential to modern day Football Finance it's hard to get away from the issue we're likely to have to cope with over the next few years particularly - that of player's wages.

Woo. Hot potato this one.

The real shock comes when you consider what PL Clubs nowadays receive for retention of PL status - last year, for example, Wolves, one place above the drop, got £42 m for one season. So, either someone's trousering millions (Portsmouth??) or paying it out. Wow, check it out.

So, for all that money that's being paid out, what's their squad like?

Well, from our Away fixture at Goodison, you can check out the nitty-gritty in my previous preview for that game, so I'll concentrate today on the changes since then.

We meet this weekend at a particularly busy period for the Toffees.

Last Saturday, as we were giving a footballing Masterclass at Craven Cottage in our 3-0 win, Everton were held to a 1-1 draw by Martin O'Neil's Sunderland at Goodison in an FA Cup Quarter Final tie, and whilst it's generally conceded that they ultimately had the better of the game, they were unable to put away a difficult opponent, and now face a difficult trip to the North East for a replay that should they win, will lead to a semi-final against arch rivals Liverpool.

Moyes had already rotated to weight his strongest side being available for that tie by leaving out some influential players in the preceding week's derby loss to the Pool, much to the anger of some fans.

What it does tell us is that the Glaswegian is targeting FA Cup progress in advance of a secure-already PL place, so, from a fixture against Arsenal this evening (Wednesday) to that replay against Sunderland next week, the suggestion is that he may well do the same this weekend v us and leave out again some purported first team choices, and thus, we might, might, get to face a side that's not necessarily his "strongest" team.

That may be the case, but, I'd suggest, it would be very dangerous to consider that it might be an "easier" fixture than it could, because that would smack of complacency.

Whatever - if it's crossed my mind that that would be sloppy of us, you can bet your life that BR and his management team are making the very same point, and forcefully. We need to treat this game as a difficult but winnable occasion. I am confident our excellent Manager and squad will do just that.

Looking at their squad since then and the changes therein the first thing to mention is their loss of two excellent forwards. Louis Saha has departed to Spurs, where 'Arry has been using him to decent effect, and Landon Donovan, who, after a good loan spell has returned to the LA Galaxy, and there's little doubt that they've missed both.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (Billy) has gone back to Russia, but Royston Drenthe, the Dutchman on loan from Real Madrid, has begun to insert more and more influence, both in goal scoring and assists, and although a flaky character, under Moyes' influence is turning into an effective PL weapon.

They have taken in 3, particularly, players in the January window, all of whom have either already, or are likely to, have a beneficial influence on the side.

The first is Darron Gibson, the Derry born Irish MF'er signed from Man Utd, and although not deemed long term viable for Utd by SAF, his fierce shooting and bustling MF play make him likely to be another Everton success bought in from MU. Just like Tim Howard and the Club Captain Phil (@fizzer) Neville, he will view this SAF rejection as a spur to make a long and lasting career at a lesser but no less noticeable club.

He is a strong and steady player, who some would argue was never given the full opportunity that others of equal talent have enjoyed.

Secondly, they picked up Nikica Jelavic, a Croatian International Striker signed from the recent Glasgow Rangers fire sale as part of their cost-cutting administrative moves. Early reports are that he may well be as successful south of the border as he was in Scottish football, where he scored 36 times in 55 Rangers appearances. A typical "British" type CF with added clever movement, he is still settling in, but as one keen to make an impression on his new fans and team mates will pose danger for us.

The third, and probably best , of the changes from their previous line up gives them access to Stephen Pienaar, South Africa's MF Captain, sold to Tottenham but who had been unable to make himself a fixture in North London, and has returned to the Club on a season long loan with a view to buy back.

This clever, tricky MF grafter is right footed primarily, but generally plays on the left, where his link play with Leighton Baines, the adventurous LB, is a real danger and a real highlight that needs control from opposing teams. The pair have built a quality partnership both in being defensively sound, but more spectacularly, raiding forward to threatening outcomes.

One player we're unlikely to see is FEC, MF'er Jack Rodwell, who this week succumbed to his 5th instance of a hamstring strain this season, and it highlights a key for modern football - keeping highly tuned athletes injury free and at their best, and the club is likely to be cautious in both treatment and progress of his injury recovery.

I am writing this preview on Wednesday evening, and will be very interested to see their line up in this evening's later fixture at Home to Arsenal, where, with any luck, we're likely to see how Moyes balances the choices available to him. I'll return, after a brief interlude where I get to watch not only the Everton team news, but Man City's entertaining of Chelsea. See you in a couple of hours. Tick tock,tick tock.

Here's the team that Everton featured in that game......

24 Howard,02 Hibbert,03 Baines,05 Heitinga,15 Distin,10 Drenthe,17 Cahill,21 Osman,22 Pienaar,25 Fellaini,07 Jelavic
Substitutes
01 Mucha,06 Jagielka,18 Neville,11 Stracqualursi,14 McFadden,19 Gueye,28 Anichebe

...........which meant that they set up in essentially a 4-4-1-1 with Howard, Hibbert, Heitinga, Distin and Baines the back 5 - Drenthe, Osman, Fellaini and Pienaar across the MF with Tim Cahill supporting the new boy Jelavic. They fell behind to a Vermaelen header inside the six yard box early. And that's how it stayed. 1-0 to the Arse.

Btw. the City/Chelsea game was a cracker, too, and I'll spare you the details of Tevez's part in the winning goal. Where else but Planet Football?

Anyway, back to our game on Saturday.

Moyes's team is like the Manager - hard, uncompromising, and prepared to fight for every ball. Expect a rotational cast of MF spoilers, all prepared to leave a foot in in pursuit of the greater good, as we've seen from numerous teams at the Liberty this season.

From that earlier pre-Christmas away day where we got an ultimately dreary 1-0 defeat, we will, of course, have to be aware of the buzzing Leon Osman, the smallest player in the squad who scored their winning goal by stealing in front of the dominating Steven Caulker to snaffle a game winning header, and he, like our own Leon (the South Wales Xavi) is an integral part of the side, much appreciated by both manager Moyes and fans alike.

Be assured that when Everton come to call, David Moyes is the sort of manager who no matter what his selections - rotational, rested, tweaked, twisted - you can guarantee that his team will be a tough one to beat.

No matter - we have an equally determined manager in Brendan Rodgers who has shown us in his time at our Club that he is the equal of many of these top class Gaffers who manage in the Premier League - that performance at Fulham last Saturday saw us peak at exactly the right time.

From an unbelievable victory against Manchester City in our previous game, BR and his team ensured that there was no complacency, no hint of "look how well we did last week" or anything of the sort.

The team went on to perform as well as I've ever seen any Swansea City team perform, and I confidently expect no difference (with any luck) this week.

I was pleased last week to hear the JackArmy for the first time in my hearing this season sing, at one stage, "The Jacks are staying up". At 39 pts I am almost convinced that we've avoided any instance of Karma, in which I have a sneaky belief.

You better believe it, too!

Onward, Swansea City.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Fulham v Swansea City, Craven Cottage, Match Report

S.W.X + S.W.I = Success.

Trust in me......


I remember being immensely proud earlier this season when the Guardian's Barney Ronay described Leon Britton, our talented midfield maestro as a ball-hog, a sort of South Wales Xavi.

I would like to propound that he continues to do it, and, moreover, he's been joined by the South Wales Iniesta -Joe Allen - and the Masterclass delivered by these two diminutive players at Fulham this past weekend was an absolute revelation. We've all seen both play well this year, but this really was at a different level.

Whilst the whole of the Swansea team played more than well, and Gylfi Sigurdsson displayed class enough to earn him a MoM approbation from some, his two partners-in-midfield-crime set up, and controlled the victory.

But before we go to the match, let's wander down Experience Lane.

In looking forward to this game I'd written of my plan to travel to it with my eldest son in tow, and of our good fortune to be able to stay with my younger for the weekend, who happens to live in Battersea. You will be pleased to know, I'm sure, that all came to fruition, with our much admired Swansea City team provided a fitting climax to what for me, and many more, was a perfect weekend.

To start off things in a grand fashion, when we arrived at my younger son's (Joe) place , we parked up etc and with the elder sibling (Ben) having very courteously done the driving, the three Thomas boys set off, Oyster Cards in wallet, for The London Welsh Centre in Gray's Inn Rd, where the Swansea City Trust had put on another Fans Evening with Brendan Rodgers, Huw Jenkins, and Chris Coleman as the guests for a very enjoyable and frank Q & A session, which was both interesting and entertaining.

Huge thanks to our very own Jim White, who turns out to be a masterful Auctioneer at the Charity Auction stage, and to Daf, Chris and Darbo for hosting. Greetings too to Paul and Tom (they know who they are) for excellent company and fellowship and to all Swans fans we met at the evening, all top class company.

Anyway, back to the football, since this was the primary attraction and which, the following day, proved to be the icing on top of the cake.

We Swans had gone into the game with that fantastic victory over Man City immediately preceding - a stark contrast to Fulham's 1-0 reverse at Villa, but as I've written previously, Fulham at the Cottage are much more difficult to overcome, and we all knew that it was never going to be easy.

Some might say that it surely turned out to be exactly that - easy- but I beg to differ. Just as we've seen Managers throughout the season (particularly at the Lib) say that their team has seemed to have something of "an off day", and as Martin Jol again gruffly suggested in his post match interview this weekend, I'd point out a recurring theme. It is that they're playing against a Swansea City team that has not only played well enough to beat them, but has genuinely dominated.

And that, my friends, is a very straightforward explanation for their lack of success on the day. It was, yet again, the case at this game, and it gives me immense pleasure to say so.

The Teams lined up as below.....

Fulham
01 Schwarzer,02 Kelly,03 JA Riise,05 Hangeland,14 Senderos,19 Diarra (Murphy - 72' ),23 Dempsey,07 Pogrebniak,08 Johnson (Frei - 68' ),11 Ruiz (Duff - 54' ),30 Dembele
Substitutes
12 Stockdale,06 Baird,18 Hughes,13 Murphy,16 Duff,20 Etuhu,21 Frei

Swansea City
01 Vorm,03 Taylor (Tate - 90' ),04 Caulker,16 Monk,22 Rangel,07 Britton,11 Sinclair,15 Routledge,24 Allen,42 Sigurdsson (Gower - 90' ),10 Graham (Moore - 90' )
Substitutes
25 Tremmel,05 Tate,17 McEachran,27 Gower,29 Richards,18 Lita,19 Moore

Ref: Halsey
Att: 25,690

For Fulham, Jol had indeed gone for a more attacking set up by including Bryan Ruiz, the Costa Rican forward and set up in a 4-1-3-2 with Diarra holding in front of the back 4, Ruiz on the right, Dempsey the left, and Dembele central of the 3, with Pogrebnyak and Johnson the advanced 2.

For the Swans, the only change from last week saw Ash Williams unable to carry on his unbroken run of 169 competitive games having succumbed to a virus, so Club skipper Gary Monk stepped in, rather well as it turned out.

The early part of the game saw some opportunities for both sides, with Jol's initial tactic being to compete for possession in advanced areas as he later confirmed, a tactic that was gradually bettered by City, and which led to a later change. Swansea were content to trade blows by gaining and maintaining possession meanwhile, and building from there.

For Fulham, Dempsey got off a shot which Michel Vorm palmed over, and that other good footballer Dembele hit a low drive to Vorm's left which the keeper comfortably gathered from a controlled dive.

Meanwhile the Swans first chance came from a decent inside right channel ball from Rangel which matched Danny Graham's run, and he hit it nicely only to see Schwarzer well positioned at the near post.

What was becoming evident after about 20-25 m of this to-ing and fro-ing was that both Leon Britton and Joe Allen particularly were having an increasing influence on the outcome, with Britton doing what we've seen so often - sitting deeper- and Allen in a more advanced pocket, linking with Sigurdsson on the Barcelona-press type aggression bearing better and better result in re-gaining the ball.

At the back, both Monk and Caulker, with Vorm's assistance, had worked out how to negate Johnson and Pogrebnyak's attempts at harassment, and with Britton often dropping into the central slot as both CB's spread right and left, to collect Vorm's rolled ball, the 4 Swans were simply passing around the Fulham pair, taking them out of the game completely.

The other key at this point is to note something that Sigurdsson has brought to the side over and above his goals.

As the most advanced of the MF'ers, he is able to receive the ball in that space of the pitch 20yds each side of the half way line, and, as is commensurate in one with his skill set, turn either to attack or ball retention as needs be.

What this has led to is an increase in the side's ability to play more balls forward rather than sideways, and it can often lead to a quick increase in tempo in transfer from defence to attack. Meanwhile, the team magnificently retains the patience to go across, around, back - even to Vorm if needs be- and this was increasing Fulham's frustrations at their inability to get the ball.

The tactical supremacy led to several chances for the Swans.

A press on Hangeland led to a loose pass letting in Sinclair, and he cut inside but just shot over closely. Again, from comfortable right side construction, Sigurdsson did collect with his back to goal, turned, made ground and put a fierce shot just wide of Schwarzer's right hand post with the keeper beaten.

Moreover, when Danny Graham's closing down of Schwarzer led to a hurried clearance that Scott Sinclair collected and took toward goal, the keeper was more than fortunate when the winger beat the retreating Hangeland on the outside and shot goal ward with the outside of his foot, and it was only the keeper's last gasp left arm block that got the net bound effort out for a corner.

No matter, with the South Wales Xavi bolstered by the South Wales Iniesta now reigning supreme centrally, the breakthrough deservedly came, and it was once more built on the right.

Swansea worked it from the back through Rangel to Sigurdsson who put Routledge in possession out right from where he'd already tested Fulham with some dangerous runs and crosses.

This one was even better because the ball went at pace curving away from the keeper and beyond the far post where it was met skillfully by Scott Sinclair, who volleyed it neatly back into the six yard box. Sigurdsson had brilliantly continued his drifting run and he met Sinclair's knock back perfectly with a comfortable diving forward header to place it comfortably beyond Schwarzer. 1-0, and cue delighted bedlam at our end from the joyfully riotous JackArmy, who had already been in fine voice.

It simply went up a notch, as we reminded the Home fans that "We'd sing on our own", and I was immensely proud to watch both my sons take great glee in joining in. Now they could really see what I've been on about when I talk incessantly on the phone and net about the quality of our football.

With half time approaching, both Swansea full backs, Taylor and Rangel were able to get forward in linking with Routledge and Sinclair.

With Britton and Allen mopping up the deeper middle, and Sigurdsson a persistent creator for Graham's very clever off the ball running, Fulham were over-matched.

Ruiz, Dembele and Dempsey are all good footballers going forward, but have defensive frailties. None of them was giving any defensive protection to either Riise or Kelly at FB, and Swansea consequently were able to overload on either flank. This led to attack on the flanks and pressure in the middle , with both the usually unperturbable Hangeland, and especially the flaky Senderos to increasingly panic and rush, as was later proved the case.

The half comfortably played out, and the teams went off to a rousing chorus of Hymns 'n Arias drowning out the increasingly noticeable mumbling and grumbling from the Home fans.

The later Managers interviews made for fascinating contrast and can be found here.

Jol admits that Fulham effectively ceded possession since the press from the front had failed. What he doesn't say, but we all got to notice (but then we know already) is that this is one of the worst things you can do against the Swans, since you are unlikely to get the ball back easily, and the possession stats of 60/40 overall was more like 72/28 in this half. Woopee.

The Thomas family were of the opinion that 20m of decent possession play, as we'd showed in the first half, would see this game out, since we reckoned that Fulham's frustrations were such that they would grow more cavalier, of necessity, and would throw caution to the winds in seeking a way back into the game and would thus leave themselves more open to danger.

As it turned out, I'm as pleased as punch to say we were only a minute or so out.

Fulham were certainly more animated and lively, but by switching to an acceptance of defensive resilience as being their main way to get the ball back, the Home crowd were treated to a pass and move masterclass, orchestrated by Leon Britton and Joe Allen, with the lead violin part played by Gylfi Sigurdsson.

There were engaging solos too from the flautist Scott Sinclair, with matching clarinet by Wayne Routledge, who were both leading FB's Kelly and Riise a merry dance.The rousing crescendo came when the whole Swansea Orchestra combined to lead to a stunning second goal.

Sigurdsson, once more, collected in MF and turned toward goal, and in moving forward Routledge kept pace to his right. Approaching the edge of the box, he put Routledge free, and the winger skillfully advanced toward the byline before giving the killer return ball pulled back to some 8 yds out to the still advancing Icelander.

Siggi did what Siggi does 8 yds from goal and free - he side footed hard a low and rasping drive inside the keeper's left hand post with the custodian well beaten. As it hit the net, all we Swans just feet from the action behind the goal erupted in a version of "let's all do the disco" in pure, unfettered joy.

2-0, and a quality goal from a team playing quality football in front of their own quality fans. What more can a football fan ask?

Well, a sustained, imaginative, attractive passing performance, allied with a sense of joy associated with the people's game, doesn't half liven up the bits where it's not quite so good.

Our Club, at this stage, were playing undoubtedly the best football I've ever seen from a Swansea side - I was almost bursting with pride- but, unbelievably, it got even better.

There was a spell in this period, highlighted later on MoTD, where the Swans kept the ball for almost 1m45s, and all football fans know, in this game of ours, that that's a long time. The passes were almost countless, encompassing every team member at least twice, and around, back, forward , back again, across and forward. It was genuinely dazzling.

For Fulham, it may well also have been dizzying, because remember those harrassed CB's from earlier?

Well here, one of them, Senderos, tried to play out from the back, and found his pass intercepted by Joe Allen, who made rapid strides forward with the ball in the inside left channel.

As he reached the edge of the box, he cut inside right, and as Scott Sinclair made a cracking dummy run across him dragging a marker away, he shot low and hard beyond the left hand of Schwarzer and inside the post to sit snugly some 5 yds in front of us, in the back of the Fulham net.

3-0, and I swear all Swansea heads and hearts felt fit to burst, with pleasure, with pride.

Immediately, with some 12m to go only, a whole tranche of long suffering Homesters could be seen streaming for the exits in the Riverside stand to our left, to be serenaded with a raucous chorus of "Cheerio, Cheerio", and , even better "Is This a Fire Drill". Terrace humour at it's best.

By this time, Martin Jol had played all his cards, introducing Duff for Ruiz on 54m, Frei for Johnson on 68m, and Murphy for Diarra on 72m, but none had been able to make a noticeable difference.

The only worry for Swansea had been a good drive from Dempsey, but Vorm had feathered it onto the bar and behind for a corner, and their only other chance saw Pogrebnyak, the big Russian, scream a drive across and over the keeper's goal.

Swansea even got close to a fourth, when Scott Sinclair played a divine one two inside the box from another fabulous move only to side foot his finish slightly over the bar, an unlucky break we've seen him fighting hard to rectify.

It only remained for Brendan Rodgers to make a triple substitution right on 90m, with Tate for Taylor, Gower for Sigurdsson, and Moore for Graham, only because, I've heard suggested, that those 3 players would then get to share in the win bonus.

I don't know the truth of that, but from our respected, trusted and admirable Manager, let me say that it wouldn't surprise me. As I said earlier, I got to meet him up close on Friday night, and it was both an honour and a pleasure that'll stay with me a long time.

Both the team, and he especially, left the field to walk to Craven Cottage's quirky dressing room set up (if you've been, you'll know the walk I mean) to a rousing and passionate reception, and all were grinning broadly and deservedly .

Let's be honest, both they, and we, deserve to bask a little in the quality of that performance.

You often hear people within football say that all the team played well, all the team was a star - but this was one occasion when this was genuinely true.

From the incomparable Michel Vorm in goal (surely the buy of the season), to the marauding full backs Angel Rangel and Neil Taylor, to the rock that is Steven Caulker (#STAYstevenSTAY), to the legend Gary Monk, who lets nobody down, ever.

You know what I think about the South Wales Xavi and the South Wales Iniesta, linked with the classiest loan signing in the PL, Gylfi Sigurdsson, topped off this week with the flyers Scott Sinclair and Wayne Routledge, all led by the clever, England place-deserving Danny Graham.

But, but, as our incomparable Manager says - " We have a squad" - so for all of those not name checked in this report, all have my equal respect and admiration. What a wonderful group.

It's very rare that I get the chance to attend a game with both of my sons as company, and that's the case because like many modern families we're nowadays a fractured unit, all living and making their way in different and differing places, but to have a game such as this served up as entertainment on one of the few weekends we've been able to get together, was both a privilege and a pleasure. So my thanks go out not only to my both boys, Ben and Joe, but to Swansea City Football Club - my passion, my pleasure - for serving up such a remarkable bill of fare.

Needless to say we not only enjoyed the Friday evening at the Trust gig, the game on the Saturday, but an equally excellent Saturday evening, the details of which I'll spare you, before traveling home on Sunday afternoon with a contended glow.

One of the most pleasant aspects of this season has been sitting down and thinking, reflecting, on what we've achieved as a Football Club in the immediately preceding week.

What is even better is that much as BR says, we have "grown" into this division, and it just keeps getting better and better. Just can't get enough?

You bet.

Onward, Swansea City

##
All of the Football Family, us Swans included, can only wish the best for the stricken Fabrice Muamba. Sympathies, respect and best wishes to him , his family and friends

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Fulham v Swansea City, Premier League, Match Preview

Jolly boating weather......

The aerial view of Fulham's Craven Cottage location confirms for many the sight that they will have noticed from the Yearly Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and it's indisputable that this is one of the more pleasant locations for viewing a football match in Britain.

It certainly beats, no disrespect intended, a journey to Macclesfield, Kidderminster or Luton, for example, all of which we've made in our enticing journey both down, and up, the Divisions over the years gone by.

So, when we visit the Club that sits in 10th, immediately one place above us in the Barclays Premier League, and are only the merest whisker of Goal difference above us, it will come as no surprise to pay a return visit to this most pleasant and quirky of the London Grounds.

After all, many of us JackArmy faithful will remember our most recent previous visit, where, after an ultimately unsuccessful 2-1 reverse in an FA Cup replay just a couple of seasons ago, I remember vividly saying to a Fulham fan on our way out of the ground - "See you in a couple of years, mate" and getting his confirming reply - "Hey, I think you're right. Be good to see you back, you can play." We were both to be proved right.

Well then, here we are me old China, the Jacks are in London again, and ain't we just loving it.

We come to this fixture on the back of that spectacular defeat of Man City's cosmopolitan and supremely expensive League leaders at the rocking and bouncing Liberty stadium on Sunday last, but should be wary that Fulham's last minute 1-0 reverse at Villa park last Saturday was immediately preceded by their 5-0 spanking of Wolves the week before - and they are undoubtedly a different animal at their Craven Cottage Home, and are guaranteed to set us a difficult test on their own turf.

Talking of differing animals, any of we Swans who haven't seen the almost bizarre statue of Michael Jackson (yes,HIM) on the side of the ground, and commissioned by their ever giving Chairman and Owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, are strongly recommended to take in a sight of this "Modern Masterpiece".

It puts me in mind of the work of the Artist Jeff Koons (a sort-of American Damien Hirst), and I'd certainly consider it to be redolent of his famous "Bubbles" work of recent provenance. Have a look , and see what you think.

Whatever, let's get back to what remains a very important game for both sides.

Since their visit to the Liberty back in November 2011, (doesn't it seem ages ago?), the squad has changed slightly, but not to radical effect. The detailed breakdown of that clash can be found here, so you'll excuse me if today I concentrate on the differences since then, both for them and us, particularly as that's what's likely to affect the outcome this week.

A major difference in the Fulham ranks concerns the outcome of that suspected, yet consistently denied, spat between Martin Jol, the Manager, and Bobby Zamora, now departed, but at that time their leading light and effective striker.

Despite Jol's insistence, both pre and post game against us, the fact remains that he was dropped from the Squad and did not travel to Swansea, and although playing a couple of games for them after that weekend, he was summarily sold to QPR in the January transfer window, which goes to confirm, I would suggest, that all of those stories of a falling out between the pair had some substance.

So, with him gone to QPR, Fulham have replaced him with Pavel Pogrebnyak, and, in the linguistically challenging Russian International on loan from VFB Stuttgard till the end of the season, seem to have unearthed a muscular gem, his having scored 5 goals in his 4 thus far appearances, although it should be noted that this includes a hat-trick against the currently wobbly Wolverhampton Wanderers. His partnership, with the recently in favour Andy Johnson, seems to be bearing some fruit.

A deeper analysis of the side, however, points toward the value added by the supporting MF'ers, with both Mousa Dembele, and the prolific Clint Dempsey, playing no small part in their better performances.

Fulham's persistence and continued presence in this division has generally been ascribed to their stable shape and system - ostensibly a 4-4-2 even before Roy Hodgson drilled that into their DNA, and Jol may tinker with the periphery of the side, but has remained faithful to the solidity that this base gives them.

With Mark Schwarzer restored in goal - he injured his neck against us at the Lib, which kept him out for weeks, - the cover provided by David Stockdale, the England u-21 cap recalled from Ipswich, has not been needed.

The stability at the back is provided by the system - the back 4 are always protected, but a consistency of selection always aids that, and it is built principally on Brede Hangeland, the CB for them being as much of a lock as Ash Williams is for us. Since being signed from FC Copenhagen, by Roy Hodgson, the giant Norwegian has settled into a pattern of excellence and reliability.

Last week's line up for them confirmed that there's been little change in their basic defensive set up, since the back 5 comprised Schwarzer, Kelly, Hangeland, Sendreros and Riise, which just happens to be how they set up against us at the Liberty. No change there, then. We'll settle for that.

In Midfield, however, whereas they went with a 4-2-3-1 at that Welsh visit, at Villa, it was more of a 4-1-4-1 with Danny Murphy being the holder and protector, Johnson and Duff wide, with Dembele and Dempsey central, and Pogrebnyak advanced.

Prior to this disappointing 1-0 reverse to the Villains (who had not exactly been tearing up trees themselves), the Cottagers had taken 16pts from the previous 8 games, but they were limited Away from the Cottage, and eventually succumbed to a late late Andreas Weimann goal, collected from a spilled Schwarzer save in injury time.

For this fixture then, I would be majorly surprised were they not to set up in a more attacking mind-set and formation, maybe utilising the benched Bryan Ruiz, and pushing either Dempsey or Johnson (more particularly) further forward.

Whatever, we can be certain that as a Home fixture, both their team and their crowd will expect a more confident and attacking-oriented performance, since that remains a truism in the performance of all but the very top top clubs. You know what I mean, and will have asked yourself the very question that all football fans do - which is, why do teams consistently and almost inevitably perform so much better at Home?

We're a classic example of this ourselves - you know that our Home record of 6-6-2 vs 3-3-8 Away, and Fulham's 7-4-3 vs 2-5-7 bears this out exactly.

These are interesting figures, since their 2% better Home record is matched by our 2% better Away record. So that's a certain draw then, is it?

You know, as well as I do, it's not that simple, oh no, far from it.

Here's a serious Academic Study that investigates the influence of the Televising of Games as a possible factor. Alongside that, this summation presents the broader and more significant arguments.

Whatever your ultimate take on it, we fans know that it still holds true - at least until you get to the elite level - and neither we, nor Fulham, are quite there yet.

What is unarguable, however, is that after last week's immensely satisfying besting of Man City at the Lib, and Fulham's concurrent reverse in the Midlands, psychologically at least, we are on a comparative high.

Our squad's self-confidence can not fail to be at a season's best level, given that the performance demonstrably matched the fantastic result. And, what's key, I would suggest, is our estimable Manager, Brendan Rodgers, who, incidentally, earned the important regard of his fellow PL gaffers, will not allow any sort of complacency or preternaturally inappropriate "success quotient" to affect the players - he will insist that there's still a long way to go, and we must continue to perform, before we can relax and take on a cigar.

Our Away form has without doubt improved throughout the season, although it would have been hard for it not to do so, but the pleasant progress from that first win at Villa has meant that we now approach these sorts of games with at least a realistic chance of coming back Home with both performances and points earned.

Whilst Fulham are a genuinely decent Premier League team, proved both by their retention of status and their expanding European Qualification, I would make the point again - after a defeat of the League leaders last weekend, it felt honest to confirm that we've really arrived in this division - and, moreover, we need have no fear of traveling to another patch and putting in a performance that not only pleases the eye but elicits reward as well - and that means getting a draw or a win from this fixture.

If we play to our capabilities, this is at least possible.

The side, as we've seen recently, has achieved a certain permanence, but what's equally rewarding is that it seems also to be appreciated by all the squad members, even those who don't necessarily start an individual game. Notice the performance of Wayne Routledge, who had waited patiently whilst Nathan Dyer stunned, but, given his chance last week, was instrumental in the winning goal.

The other half of that fantastic headed net buster was Luke Moore, who, as BR has said, continues to offer and give his total support and key performances even when brought on at any stage.

I am confident the rest of the squad feels exactly the same - the body language evident weekly and the interviews extant tell you so. This is a squad that genuinely enjoys being together, so that bodes well for this weekend.

This week promises to be a fairly open game, with both sides confident enough to play football on the deck, and with each all but safe for a further season in this financially rewarding set-up, we ought at the least get to see a game that resembles the more aesthetically pleasing pass and move mode than pertains in some Away fixtures. You'll know who I mean, since you've seen it for yourself.

Whatever.

My personal take this week is that we go to the Cottage to face an opponent that's dangerous, but not unbeatable.

I travel to the smoke this weekend from Llanelli, with my holiday-freed elder son (who lives in Cwmbran, Gwent) in tow, to stay the Friday-Sunday with my younger son, who splits his time between Paris (The Marais) and London (Battersea -Yuppyville).

This week all 3 Thomas boys will be not only taking in the game by the banks of Old Father Thames, but the delightfully coincidental Trust Evening on the Friday Night, where we get to spend an evening with Chairman Huw Jenkins, Trust Board Director Huw Cooze, Manager Brendan Rodgers, and Wales Manager Chris Coleman.

On the Town, indeed.

Promises to be a good evening, and it'll be great to meet up with Jack friends old and new, so, until later, it only remains to wish you all the best, and, hopefully, we'll return to be able to say..........

Onward, Swansea City.

##
And Mohamed Al Fayed has appointed his son Karim Fayed as Fulham's vice-chairman. "This reward is an appropriate recognition of his additional contribution and support," toadied chief executive Alistair Mackintosh.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Swansea City v Man City, Match Report, Premier League.

The Day we REALLY arrived .........

It sounds really odd to say that, 8 months into our debut Barclays Premier League season, - but this was a day we can really consider to have arrived, and most football fans will know exactly what I mean.

Whilst we've already obtained some excellent results and performances as the season has progressed - think Arsenal, Totttenham, Chelsea at Home, think Villa and WBA Away - today's win against the League Leaders (at the start of the day) was really something extra special.

Not only because the result was almost more than we could have hoped for, but because the performance was genuinely excellent, and it's notice throughout the football nation has nailed on for most people that this side of ours can really, really play a bit, and promises to be back next year if not for a minor football miracle. And, it'll be with a degree of style and comfort that makes us so good to watch.

Pre-match, we Swans had only wondered at the replacement for Nathan Dyer, suspended, and the general consensus was that Wayne Routledge would step in, with very little else changed, since the team was obviously thriving.

BR did not either disappoint or surprise, and we went with that line-up.

City, on the other hand, had suffered for playing a Europa League loss three days previously to Sporting Lisbon, and whilst Club Captain Kompany was out, Mancini courted reprobation in his selection of both Savic at the back, and a generally defensive 4-2-3-1 with both de Jong and Barry holding, and leaving Balotelli alone up front with Djeko and Aguero on the bench.

So, the teams went this way.........

Swansea City
01 Vorm, 02 Williams, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel, 07 Britton, 11 Sinclair, 15 Routledge (Monk - 87' ), 24
Allen, 42 Sigurdsson, 10 Graham (Moore - 79' )
Substitutes
25 Tremmel, 05 Tate, 16 Monk, 17 McEachran, 27 Gower, 18 Lita, 19 Moore

Manchester City
25 Hart, 02 Richards, 15 Savic, 22 Clichy, 28 K Toure, 18 Barry (Aguero - 37' ), 19 Nasri, 21 Silva (Dzeko - 87' ),
34 De Jong (Johnson - 84' ), 42 Y Toure, 45 Balotelli
Substitutes
30 Pantilimon, 13 Kolarov, , 07 Milner, 08 Pizarro, 11 Johnson, 10 Dzeko, 16 Aguero

Ref: Lee Mason
Att: 20,510

I must say, my spirit soared, as less aggression toward us inevitably leads to less possession - and so it turned out to be.

Firstly, a word about the atmosphere, and the scene inside the Liberty. I don't know about you, but I'd gone to this game with my regular compadre Jimmy, and we both from chatting were of the opinion that to get a point would really be very satisfying. I met another friend, Keith, in the Lower West Concourse Bar, who was of much the same opinion. So when we went upstairs to take our seats, the immediate pleasant surprise was not only the brilliantly sunny day, but the singing and chanting from the Swans faithful, long before the start of the game.

What was even better was that once the game kicked off, and we Swans began to play with the freedom and flair we've come to love, the decibel count got better. The House was in more than good voice, it was buzzing and tingling

.And this was reflected in the play.

Swansea tore at City immediately, with Rangel and Routledge immediately getting at Clichy, and Sigurdsson, Britton and Joey Allen stealing the ball from a concerted press, and setting attacks in motion that Sinclair and Graham were keen to join.

The first clear chance fell to Routledge, and his half volley from a wide cross blazed over Hart's bar to disappointment, but better things were soon to come.

In the sixth minute only, from a poke through by Sinclair that was running near the penalty spot, Routledge got first touch, and was brought down by Hart going full length. It was a penalty. No doubt. Brought down by the keeper, who showed the street-wise side of his character, by delaying and snapping verbally at Scott Sinclair, who was lined up to take it.

Easy to criticise after, of course, and I did it myself. The "please,please, put your foot through it" mindset that I was prey toward forgets, conveniently, that prior to today, Scott was 14 from 14, and, as BR reminded him apparently at H/Time, his penalties were "what got us here".

Unfortunately for us Swans, Hart's save was successful, as Scott's poorly hit side foot was parried to the right by the full length keeper's dive. Goodness, we Swans know how to make it more difficult than it need be.

The half rolled on with Swansea well to the advantage - quicker to the ball, confident in possession, and far more creative.

Danny Graham took the result of a neat move to spin and send his shot just wide, and although mis-hit somewhat, it caused Hart to scramble and to fear the result.

We were all perfectly conscious of City's position, reputation and spread of talent, but as the half progressed one has to say that that we were the team playing the better football, we were the team that looked the most threatening.

We often don't give our team the credit they deserve, but their one touch pass and move control, allied with their incessant press and threat made Man City the side always trying to play catch up in this half, and it led directly to Mancini making a tactical change as early as he did.

Still and all from this success, Swansea's control and ability to play out from the back on 36m led, as stated, to this change, where their Manager felt it necessary to substitute Gareth Barry (who was not best pleased) with Sergio Aguero. The £35m pound man was sent on to engage the Swans defence in a tougher press and harass than they'd seen thus far.

And, to be fair to City, they gained 4 corners prior to half time, each of which caused consternation in the Swansea rearguard, but we held firm, and went in to half time level. 0-0. Game, well and truly, on.

The Swans were putting in a terrific performance and despite Mancini's later assertion that we were in control only for the "first 30m", BR's counter that we had control of the game was nearer the mark.

That spell of corners at the end of the period had been the only time Citeh had threatened, with Yaya Toure's shot deflected over by Joe Allen, and David Silva's drive wide of the post being the nearest efforts.

The sides came back for the second half of what was now a raucous occasion, easily the loudest I've heard the Liberty this year, and little did we know then that the decibel level was due for a Spinal Tap ratchet up to 11 on the scale of 1-10.

City were now playing at a far more up tempo pace, with a determination to get the ball far more quickly forward, and Aguero's presence alongside Balotelli at the top allowed them to be able to put a far more aggressive press on Swansea at the back. This attempt to stop us at source led to Silva, Nasri and Yaya Toure particularly exerting a gradually increasing and threatening control.

You know the feeling within games - when after a period of this type of play, especially with the opposition looking more and more confident, the sense of dread leads to you beginning to look at the clock on a regular basis.

The comfort though for me was that the first time in the half I did this, I was pleasantly gob-smacked to realise that there on the score board the evidence showed that it was still 0-0, and, moreover, 75mins had passed.

Half an hour gone, only 15m left, and even more pleasantly it had reached a stage where you could see Man City betray just a hint of desperation in their play, with players like Balotelli bitching and complaining and moaning at his perceived bad luck.

What was also happening was that Swansea's defensive discipline was not only frustrating the visitors, it was beginning to create occasions where Swansea were creating opportunities of their own - often winning the ball back and then constructing decent attacks.

From one such, Danny Graham skillfully got clear on the right and rolled a cross through the six yard box that both Scott Sinclair and Joe Allen all but got a foot to with Hart sprawling in anticipated save mode, only for the ball to run clean across them all and away from danger.

The game was compellingly end to end, with Vorm saving low from Aguero, but Swansea equally decently threatening via Routledge and Rangel on the right, and Sinclair on the left.

Despite his penalty miss of the first half, Sinclair had knuckled down to battle hard with Micah Richards, the young Eastlands Lion trying repeatedly to get forward, but just as regularly being forced back by SS's raids and good defence.

By now I'd stopped worrying and was just riveted by the thrilling action going end to end, and drew breath only when on 79m Brendan Rodgers replaced the tireless Danny Graham with Luke Moore, Swansea's front man having run his tank dry from his selfless ball retention, linking and defending from the front.

The best of this remarkable game was yet to come, and delightfully, happened right in front of us in the Lower West, and showed the best of Swansea's game in crystal clarity.

Young Stefan Savic, the error prone half of the Savic/Toure pairing at the back, was pressed and robbed by Gylfi Sigurdsson on the halfway line toward the right.

The Icelander immediately made progress forward, but the scrambling City defence got to him before he could get to the penalty box, but, rather than give the ball away with a hopeful-only shot, or some Hollywood ball, he turned back inside, retained and gave possession to Britton, who moved it wide to Rangel.

He, in turn, advanced on the right, drew a man, and fed Wayne Routledge, wider again having cleverly held his run to remain on side.

Just short of the byline, the winger curved an excellent slightly out-swinging ball to the far post almost, where, despite six Man City players in the six yard box, Luke Moore rose majestically unmarked to head confidently into the net to Joe Hart's right with the keeper rooted and beaten.

Boom. 1-0.

I swear I even heard the swish as the ball hit the net, but that was the last thing I heard for some minutes, because the Stadium exploded. There was bedlam in the stands. Yes, even we "Old Geezers" in the West went ape-shit.

The sight across in the East was fabulous, and will live long in my memory. The major part of the whole length of the stand had turned their backs, linked arms and were bobbing up and down doing the Poznan, the by now famous Man City fans' goal celebration. I was crying with joy, and if you can seek out a photo of this Poznan-mock on the Net (it's about) I urge you to do so. You will ENJOY. Major, major respect to the East.

When we settled down to kick off, the realisation that we were 1-0 up with 5 mins to go filled me with immense pride.

City were desperate and threw on Djeko and Adam Johnson immediately, and the tricky winger began running at the Swans rearguard to good effect. They were slinging everything but the kitchen sink at us, with Vorm acrobatically saving a Toure shot, and pushing wide another Nasri effort.

Monk was on for Swansea, replacing Routledge, and to try to repel the aerial bombardment, but there was to be one further major scare for us.

Clichy clipped a gem of a cross from the left, and as Vorm, Caulker and Micah Richards competed, the City fans' joy at seeing Richards header cross the line turned to ashes in their throats as we all noticed the divine Sian Massey, Linesperson Extraordinaire, confidently holding her flag erect to signal that Richards had been offside.

To say I was relieved is an understatement, but when it was later confirmed on camera, MoTD2 and Sky, that Ms Massey had been absolutely on the money, my respect and estimation of her rocketed, and knows no bounds. I'm quick enough to complain about Linespersons who seem to blandly follow the Ref by just parroting his decision, so when one of them gets it consistently right, as she does, they deserve praise, too.

This extraordinary game came to an end with 2 Man City corners, and with Joe Hart up front for both, when the second was repelled, it was only Clichy's last gasp tackle on Scott Sinclair's attempt to emulate the Pratley goal from halfway in last year's semi final play off win v Forest, that caused the ball to fall just short.

As Hart picked it up from his race back to his own goal, Mr Mason blew for time, and the Liberty exploded once again.

1-0, and we had beaten the leaders of the Barclays Premier League. How good does it feel to say that?

Some City fans were in tears, confirming the eternal image of " men who should know better " , but hey, that's what football does to you.

As we sang and serenaded our successful team off the pitch, a word too for their excellent England goalkeeper Joe Hart. I've seen reports which criticise him for the attempted psyching-out of Scott Sinclair prior to SS's ultimately failed penalty. I'd only say that I've seen our own excellent keeper, Michel Vorm, do much the same thing.

As Man City's failed warriors trooped off heads down yesterday, Man City's captain for the day, for it was he, stood in the centre circle and shook hands with every one of our victorious players, then exchanged Goalkeeper's jersey with Michel Vorm, and finally clapped both his own supporters and all our stands before eventually retiring to the dressing room.

Now that, my friends, is genuine class, given that he will obviously have been hurting.

Sitting here a day later and reflecting on the win I must say it feels just as good.

As the Guardian's Barry Glendenning said, "There's no shame in Manchester City being completely outplayed by Swansea, a club that's spent £15m on players in the time it's taken Man City to spend 33 times that in their bid to win the league."

Needless to say the decent Press reviews we've had from the game have been good to see, too, with my favourite being this one.

It was immensely pleasurable to be at the game, a competitive top class example of why this much hyped division on regular occasion delivers. It was equally good to hear a succession of pundits praise both the style and manner of the victory, and Brendan Rodgers once again spoke well about what it means both to the Club and the City.

As I hinted in the title of this piece, it realistically feels as if we've REALLY arrived, as it were, and I'm not the only proud Swan who's got a rather contented glow today.

It would be foolish I feel to single out individual players from yesterday's performance, it was a concerted and pleasing team effort. I saw our recently arrived but growingly noticed team of many talents take on one of the League's best sides. I got to see Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure, all of whom I admire immensely as footballers, on this occasion beaten by Ash Williams, Joe Allen, Danny Graham etc, who, because their ours, I admire more.

That, really, is what being a football fan is about, and it's allowed us to confidently say....

Onward, Swansea City.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Swansea City v Man City, Match preview, Liberty Stadium, 11/3/12

Bring it on.....

I've written previously of the pleasure it gives me to consider and talk about the "iconic" fixtures we've faced in this League this year, both Home and Away, but we'll get more than just promises on Sunday, when Roberto Mancini brings his Man City charges to the Liberty, and it's a mouthwatering prospect in this weekend's match-up.

Pitted against the team that was our very first PL opponent, and who have gone on from that encouraging start against us to genuinely challenge the perennial favourites, and to provide a refreshingly open contest for the top spot, we can expect fireworks, as at least one of their players will testify.

Forgive me if you discern a bias towards East Manchester in my approbation of this year's leading protagonists, but Manchester City's progress offers a little more to be sympathetic toward, I'd offer, despite the supposedly limitless backing available from their Middle East ownership.

I say this principally because as a neutral, undeniably a Swan, it seems to me that they're approaching the prospect of ultimate success with a degree more humility than that displayed by the Govan Guv'nor propped adjacent at one end of the East Lancs Rd., who, it seems to me, takes his Red Devils predominance more as a rite of passage rather than an open contest. But perhaps that's just my personal bias? Who knows.

What can, undoubtedly, be said, is that Mancini's urbane challenge has both frightened and challenged Fergie's bullying bluster. Where's the "mind-games" now, Alex?

However, let's at least be fair here - the only team to have come to the Liberty this season and to not only compete, but to have won with a little to spare, was SAF's tried and trusted warriors, in the 1-0 bluster and blather of their 19th November, 1-0 victory.

Whilst Norwich City were the only other side to have succeeded at the Lib, that was also a game where we might have won, or at least drawn. Against Utd, on the other hand, they did more than just a "number" on us - they seemed to win with a degree of comfort we're not used to seeing at our place.

Incidentally, since we're talking Premier League and what it means, if anyone hasn't seen the "QPR- Four Year Plan" documentary, done by Mat Hodgson for the BBC, get it here, while you can, and pray that Huw Jenkins behaves more like Amit Batia, rather than Flavio Briatore or Gianni Paladini. Shudder, and thank God we're on a different track.

So, when we face Manchester's best (according to some) we can not only take in the extravagant talent on display, but puff our chests out in pride that we're competing with the very best.

Be honest, as no more than an interested observer this coming weekend, you'd want to see how CR7 and Lionel Messi were getting on, but after that your interest would surely veer toward the Lib - where we'll get to see the sublime David Silva, and the equally compelling Sergio Aguero, arguably the best 2 footballers in the British Isles.

Small problem, of course, they're playing against us - but, hey, that's how good it's got lately. Where on earth would you rather be? I'll take Jamaica or Barbados or any equally flippant answer, but don't even bother to suggest another football ground.

Don't forget, too, that one reason this game is attractive is the way we play. People enjoy it.

The Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG) has provided Roberto Mancini with the wherewhithal, via cash investment for player purchase, in advance of anyone else in World Football, and as the season progresses, the initial fears that Don Roberto may not be "up to the job" have moved further and further into the background. The singularly pleasant Italian is proving that his spell at Inter Milan, and the trophies won, are a little beyond
winning the Ryman League, as some football Journos still seem to tag his achievements for so doing.

Calciopoly notwithstanding, Serie A success should have given the hint that after a stellar career as a player, Roberto Mancini had done enough during his days on the field to reinforce that in his fledgling managerial employment he would ultimately go on to manage at the top level. And now he is.

He is assisted by both David Platt and Brian Kidd, the ex England players both having had extensive Managerial experience, and the rest of the coaching staff, Attilio Lombardo, Fausto Salsano, Ivan Carminati, Massimo Battara, has familiar Italian football names.

Plus, don't forget, Patrick Vieira, he of PL fame, is nowadays the Football Development Executive.

Before listing the players, it should be remembered that they still own all of these talents, all of whom are out on loan......Dedryck Boyata* (BEL), Wayne Bridge* (ENG), Greg Cunningham* (IRE), Abdisalam Ibrahim* (NOR), Michael Johnson* (ENG), Abdul Razak* (CIV), Vladimir Weiss* (SVK), Emmanuel Adebayor* (TGO), Roque Santa Cruz* (PRY), Alex Tchuimeni-Nimely* (ENG).

The squad assembled is this.....
Goalkeepers :- Costel Pantilimon (ROM), Joe Hart (ENG), Gunnar Nielsen (FAR), Stuart Taylor (ENG)
Defenders :- Aleksandar Kolarov (SERB), Vincent Kompany (BEL), Gael Clichy (FRA), Joleon Lescott (ENG), Stefan Savic (MON), Micah Richards (ENG), Kolo Toure (CIV), Pablo Zabaleta (ARG)
Midfielders :- Gareth Barry (ENG), Owen Hargreaves (ENG), Adam Johnson (ENG), Nigel de Jong (NED), James Milner (ENG), Samir Nasri (FRA), David Pizarro (CHI), David Silva (ESP), Yaya Toure (CIV)
Strikers :- Mario Balotelli (IT), Edin Dzeko (BIH), Sergio Aguero (ARG), Carlos Tevez (ARG)

Just occasionally, one gets to write about a squad that is genuinely exciting, and this is one such.

In goal, England's No1 is covered by Costel Pantillimon, the 6ft 7ins Romanian being rare not just for his size - but from the infrequency of his appearances. Still, as we understand too well, when you've got more than excellence in goal, you don't often change it. One of Hart's many strengths is that even after many minutes in a one-sided but close game, he continues to make excellent saves from the opposition's rare chances. A giant, in many senses, and for many years to come. Stuart Taylor - the long toothed ex Arsenal and Villa custodian sees the junior club sides right, and is extended cover.

The two RB's Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta, are intriguing contrasts used tactically to perfection thus far. Richards, the young English cap ignored by Capello for some years, is an absolute Lion. Physically imposing and athletic, he rampages forward if possible, and is equally adept at defending his corner. Zabaleta is tactically and technically the opposite, he tends to be chosen when they want the game to be tight, although the Argentine regular is a bundle of trouble going forward too.

At LB the same key holds true. Gael Clichy, the Frenchman recruited from Arsenal is the more defensive option, which is odd considering he's always been perceived as an attacking flyer, but people forget how his technical excellence reminds of an Ashley Cole type. Aleksandar Kolarov, on the other hand, strikes one as more of a wing-back, with a fearsome and effective dead ball delivery, and enjoys the freedom of being unleashed in a tactical "3 at the back", when he isn't one of them.

The four CB's are top quality and interesting. Without doubt, the first choice pair are Vincent Kompany, the Belgian Captain recruited when he was still occasionally used in MF, and Joleon Lescott, £27m worth of experience from Everton via Wolves.

Kompany is that ever-surprising footballer, a fully rounded individual who's both erudite, articulate and interesting, who appears to have a satisfying life outside the modern football bubble. Equally as likely to Tweet and Blog as to take in a Picasso exhibition at the Tate, it's always refreshing to hear their Club Captain treat and complete an interview, where he always gives respect to us, the listener and viewer, without any of the nonsense often presented by some within the game.

His main partner is Joleon Lescott, who has confirmed his "first choice for England" form the more we've gotten into the season. He has a habit of also scoring vital goals when attacking from set pieces. Mind you, when you've paid £25 m for a CB, so he should. What price Steven Caulker, eh? I know, we'll always think about prices when we're talking about this team - it's almost inevitable, and we're going to have to face a similar challenge of "value for money" at some time.

Since we're at it, here's a view on the "Footballer/Manager being interviewed" format we're used to seeing.

I'm a subscriber to Major League Baseball from the States as well as a viewer of their NFL and NBA too.It seems to me that sportsmen and women in this country, and the Broadcasters as well, could take a lesson from our American Cousins. Since, ultimately, it's us that's stomping up the cash, Yankee sports stars give not only good interview, but even front up at any time and in any situation that the Broadcaster sees fit - and it is rarely abused.

It's too much to hope for, I know, but it would be nice to see Mike Phelan sidelined by an interviewer with the words " Sorry, Mike, but we're a bit fed up with the Monkey - could you send out the Organ Grinder, please?" Sam Allardyce - we're looking at you too. Show a little grace, you pompous ass.

As I said earlier, we're unlikely to see such nonsense from Roberto Mancini this week, as he, like the recently departed and much vilified AVB, is a Manager of the modern era. As, thank god, is our own Brendan Rodgers.

Back to the football, since it's the really important bit.

Cover at CB comes from the elder Toure brother Kolo, ex-Arsenal, and the young Serb, Stefan Savic, who has struggled with PL adjustment on occasion. Toure's ACN interlude in January along with his brother Yaya's was negotiated successfully, with Savic only used, albeit testingly, a couple of times.

Mentioning Yaya, who's verve and drive were noticeably missed in that early year interlude, his adaptation to the PL has been one of the impressive features of this exciting MF mix. Prior to his arrival from Barcelona, he was generally considered a primarily defensive MF'er, of capable physical prowess. What's most impressive, however, is his almost re-invention as a real out and out, box to box, complete model, able to take a game by the scruff of the neck and shake it City's way. He scores, he creates, he defends, he attacks......all in all - he leads.

The sitting player when selected is thus Holland's Nigel de Jong, forever remembered for this assault on Spain's Xabi Alonso in the World Cup Final. He also happens to be a decent player.

Two of the other more defensive MF Worker Bees are Gareth Barry, recruited from Aston Villa, and nowadays a first choice for England, and David Pizzaro, who, recently recruited on loan from Roma had played under Mancini at Inter Milan, and the experienced Chilean was a transfer window addition to kick on toward the title push. Owen Hargreaves, the injury decimated England International is also a squad member, but I fear we may have seen the best days of this unlucky player.

Of a far more attacking bent, the other MF'ers are James Milner, Adam Johnson, Samir Nasri and David Silva. I don't really need to remind you that over somewhere in the region of £80m was the acquisition price of these 4 players alone, but then, some would say you must pay more for Artists, as opposed to the previously cited Artisans.

Whist it could be argued that England's Milner and France's Nasri do incorporate a running, grafting physicality to their abundant footballing skills, both Johnson, with his wide trickery and even more so Silva, a leading contender for Player of the Year, rely more on technical and tactical gifts.

Johnson is often used as an impact sub, introduced late in games to break teams down, whereas Silva is really the Heartbeat of the side.

Physically in the same mould as Barca's Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, or our own Leon Britton (small- sic), his touch and vision on countless viewings this year have been breathtaking. I once saw George Best at his peak. This week I get to see David Silva. Very different players, I know, but that's how good a continuation of this master craftsman's art can take him in public estimation.

I have no doubt that he's the player I've enjoyed seeing most this year- in a fantastic Division with some unbelievable players. Please, please, let him play - even if he's one of the enemy - I want to see.

Finally, there's the 4 up front they choose from - and what a 4.

Recently described to me as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, they, like the old Clint Eastwood movie, certainly compel, and to a stirring sound-track too.

Edin Dzeko, the Bosnian signed from Wolfsburg in Jan 2011 is the least of RM's worries. The traditional No 9 has adapted well to England, and although he fell out with Don Roberto in that infamous away CL match at Napoli, his profuse apology was accepted immediately and he's gone on to have a good season, maybe not quite as prolific as once seemed possible.

The other part of that Neapolitan saga of course was the very recently almost-but-not-quite re-integrated Carlos TeveZzzzzzzzz....... and this weekend might just see us Swans as the first set of PL fans to see him back on the pitch for Man City, after his self-immolating leave of absence. It should be noted that he played last night (Wed) for the club in a Lancashire Senior Cup fixture where they beat Bolton 3-1, and Carlitos scored, although he does seem to have put on a little weight.

Almost, but not quite, last, we'll get to see their other challenger for the Footballer of the Year- the magnificent Sergio Aguero. Ever since his introduction against us in the very first game of our PL campaign, where he turned the tide and confirmed their powerful win, he has almost made it possible for people to believe that paying £35m for a player makes sense - mind you, some in Liverpool might argue with that!

Seriously, though, this is the sort of player who makes watching football the best spectator sport in the world. Wonderfully gifted, and a perfect foil to be the recipient of Silva's probings.

Finally, they have the gift that keeps on giving - the Tabloid writers dream- the incomparable Mario Balotelli. I sometimes feel that Mancini's protege, the outrageously gifted Italian, is very, very fortunate to enjoy his Manager's diminishing indulgence.

Can you imagine SAF's response to one of his most important players setting fire to his own bathroom, exiting a Strip Club at 3am on the eve of a game etc, etc, etc,??? Yes, I thought you might.

Whatever, he certainly lights up the too often seen pomposity of the modern game, and it is, after all, entertainment.

So, here we go.

To face this extensively talented group we Swans have begun to see Brendan Rodgers' preference for continuity in selection over the last 2 games, and, with Nathan Dyer's red card in last week's game leading to an immediate suspension, many and most of us will consider that a straight swap of Wayne Routledge for ND may be the only change.

The only comment I'll make is that it would seem most likely that it'll go that way - but I think I'll just wait and see - who knows, maybe BR has a trick or two up his sleeve.

The only thing left to observe is that after Gylfi Sigurdsson's two goals last week I'd be stunned if either he, or Michel Vorm, is not playing. Then I would be worried.

Another fantastic occasion at the Liberty in prospect, and another fabulous opportunity to enjoy, so....

Onward, Swansea City.

##
Celebrity fans
Noel Gallagher, Ricky Hatton, Lee Dixon, Andrew Flintoff, Mark Radcliffe, Johnny Marr, Mark E Smith, Rik Wakeman
Some with baggage, some without. Whatever you say about City, at least they're interesting. Bring it on, indeed.