Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Patterns, Monk right about refs & why we should all calm down

Eric Imhof takes a look at how spotting patterns is key in turning around your fortunes

I remember it being said by I can’t remember who that all human problems ultimately stem from one of two mistakes: not recognizing a pattern when it exists, or thinking they recognize a pattern when in reality it doesn’t. With that said, I understand the tenuous nature of pointing out trends, especially over such short periods as four-game stretches (I’ll also comment on a longer pattern to even it out). However, with Monk’s recent comments about the refs and cheating in mind, I think there are some patterns he’s recognizing correctly and others he’s strangely omitting.

On the refs, I think (as I’ve written previously) that Garry Monk is technically correct: the Swans have gotten the short end of the stick, especially over the past four league games. Not only is this pattern concerning because the decisions have all turned out to be game changers in retrospect, but because it demonstrates for all other teams a very simple formula for beating the Swans: foul, early and often. Not only will you not be punished, but you’ll be rewarded—both by grinding the game to a halt and, as we’ve seen recently, winning penalties while the Swans are simultaneously reduced to 10 men.

Some stats to ponder: over the last four league games (L-D-D-L in form), the Swans have been out-fouled 60 to 44, while the Swans have seen 9 yellow cards, resulting in 3 sendings off. The opposition has only seen 13 yellow cards, and no reds, despite fouling at will (60 called fouls, it needs to be pointed out). Stoke alone fouled the Swans 17 times, accruing 4 yellows. But again, no reds, and a cheeky penalty bonus to boot. Frustrating.

But here’s a more worrying statistic: the Swans only scored 1 goal in the second half during those same four matches, and that was at home against Newcastle in a game they should’ve won 5-0. Now, the Sunderland and Southampton games could reasonably be chalked up to calls going against the Swans, rendering them limping through the last 45 minutes, but the last two games have been a replay of the same script - a reprise of so many games last season  - where the Swans miss early chances, get the short end of some “inconsistent” (I would say flabbergasting) calls, and ultimately wither away in the end, out of ideas and out of energy.

It’s actually such a common script for the Swans that it’s gone from frustrating to boring in my mind; so boring that I don’t even want to write any more about it.

In short, the Swans are getting screwed, and in a league of such tight scores and little room for mistakes, red cards and penalties can really manifest in the table. If not for the Bony & Rangel reds, and if not for opposing teams being allowed to hack away at Swans with relative impunity, Swansea might be looking down at the table from the top four.

But at the same time, one goal in four second-halves is not helping the matter. I’m not sure what Monk is telling the lads at half time, but at least one fan on Twitter speculated this morning that he’s not talking at all, but instead filling them all with morphine. I think the substitutions in the second halves of games have also been rocky, and I know I’m not alone in questioning some of the decisions as of late.

And yet, one final pattern to point out, in an attempt to pull everyone back from the ledge: you don’t win every game, and especially for a team at the level of Swansea, some groundedness will go a long way.

To put things in perspective, in the turbulent roller-coaster that ended up being A-okay that was the 2013/14 season, the Swans were 11-9-18. The previous year, in the 2012/13 season—the Best Season Ever because of the celebration of the centenary and the League Cup win—the Swans were (surprise!) 11-13-14, with a goal difference of negative 4, and with a 3-2-3 record over the first eight matches, including 2-nil losses at Aston Villa and Stoke. Sound familiar?

In conclusion: calm down, everyone, things will even out - providing Monk fixes some minor issues. The calls will probably almost certainly not start suddenly going in the Swans’ favour, but there’s not much Monk can do about that, despite his righteous (and right) public statements. What Monk can fix, however, is his team’s performance in the second half. He needs to help them concentrate, while making smart substitutions that play to their benefits and/or to the deficits of the other side.

Hopefully they can stay away from red cards, and get some confidence-boosting results (not necessarily wins) in November, a brutal part of the Swans’ early schedule. Also, Shelvey will be back. Britton will be back. Amat will be back. Ki is no longer looking lost. Fabianksi is a legend. As we usually say at the end of any disappointing performance: plenty of positives, plenty of positives...

Thanks to Eric for his latest piece - you can follow him on Twitter @AustinJackArmy

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Stoke vs Swansea - Expert team news

Injury expert Ben Dinnery gives us his customary pre-match availability update

Mark Hughes is confident his inform duo Mame Biram Diouf [hamstring] & Victor Moses [thigh] will be available to face Swansea on Sunday after the pair responded well to treatment over the international break. Geoff Cameron [hernia] is also back in contention after missing the past two months following surgery but Marko Arnautovic is rated as “touch & go” after the Austrian forward was forced off with a hip injury midweek. Glenn Whelan [knee] is expected to miss out after The Potters sent their midfielder for a scan [suspected knee ligament damage] with defender Robert Huth struggling to make the game because of a calf strain. Peter Odemwingie [ACL] will target a return this season. 

Displaying Premier Injuries.jpg
For Garry Monk, full-back Jazz Richards' brief foray into the first team after a three year Premier League absence could be over as Angel Rangel returns following his one game domestic ban – Dwight Tiendalli is back in contention having recovered from a minor groin problem. Leon Britton [bruised patella] is progressing but is still not training fully – the midfielder hopes to return in November. Jordi Amat [knee ligaments] remains sidelined but isn’t far away while youngster Rory Donnelly [ankle] is still out.

Thanks as usual to Ben for providing us with up-to-date team news. You can follow him on Twitter @BenDinnery, and you can also find him on Talksport, ESPN & PremierInjuries.com

#FlashbackFour - Stoke vs Swansea

Nathan Lewis returns to take his weekly look at the last four fixtures between the Swans and this weekend's opponents Stoke

Stoke vs Swansea has, historically, been a match-up that represents a clash of footballing philosophies, between a Spanish-Welsh blend of pretty passing, and Tony Pulis-style Hoofball. Matches between Stoke and Swansea tend to provide plenty of entertainment, and we can expect more of the same in front of the Sky cameras on Sunday. How have we performed against the Midlands side previously? Let’s take a look: 

29th September 2012 - Premier League
Stoke City 2-0 Swansea

Michael Laudrup got off to an excellent start as Swansea manager, beginning the season with three games unbeaten. A 5-0 demolition of QPR on the opening day, and a 3-0 stroll against West Ham was followed by an entertaining 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland. This hot form was not continued in the following three games, with this 2-0 defeat in Stoke-on-Trent capping three losses in a row.

Tony Pulis’ side ended an 11-game streak without a win, and rarely looked troubled in winning. Poor defending from a corner allowed Peter Crouch to head home unchallenged, before scoring his side’s second goal from a speculative cross. The ease with which Pulis’ side won this game stood in stark contrast to the possession statistics. We had 74% possession, but unfortunately could not find any way past a resolute Stoke defence. One of those games, then. All the ball, no cutting edge, no goal. 

19th January 2013 - Premier League
Swansea 3-1 Stoke City

It was a very, very different story back home in the Liberty. Our favourite consistently inconsistent Jonathan De Guzman gave one of his more sparkling performances in a Swansea shirt. The first-half performances of both sides left little to get excited about - Swansea had the better of the chances, but seemed unable to find the final pass to cement their dominance. Ben Davies provided a moment of excellence to give us the lead, beating two men down the left and coolly slotting the ball past Begovic in the Stoke goal. 

The dominance of the Swans was in full-swing, and Jono scored our second with a beautiful curled free-kick, after Michu was brought down on the edge of the box. The best was saved for last, however. One of the nicest passing moves we've seen at the Liberty in recent years ended with Danny Graham playing de Guzman in, who slotted home to finish the move, secure all three points, and cap off a dominant performance. Michael Owen provided a consolation goal for Stoke, scoring his first goal in the red and white stripes. 

10th November 2013 - Premier League
Swansea 3-3 Stoke City

Oh Robert. Robert, Robert, Robert. Mr Madley the referee was unfortunately the most notable player in this six-goal thriller. The Swans seemed to continue their poor Autumn form by going 2-0 down in the first half an hour, and morale seemed to be on the floor following the South Wales Derby defeat and two last-minute draws with Kuban Krasnodar in Europe. 

The man who ended up as the Swans player of the season, Wilfried Bony, was the spark that ignited a comeback in the second half, nodding home from close range. Nath Dyer scored the second from a Routledge pull-back, and it seemed the comeback was complete when Big Wilf finished from a Jonjo Shelvey cross. A much-needed boost in confidence and points was ruined by a controversial last-minute penalty, cruelly given for a supposed Routledge handball. Everyone’s favourite man Charlie Adam converted the penalty and further ruined the morale in South West Wales. 

12th February 2014 - Premier League
Stoke City 1-1 Swansea

To say it was windy in Stoke-on-Trent is a massive understatement. The match was delayed due to high winds, eventually starting fifteen minutes late. Garry Monk’s second match as Swansea manager wasn’t as obviously pleasing as the South Wales Derby, but it was positive in a different kind of way. This had the feel of a game in which, under Laudrup, we may have crumpled and lost. Instead, under Super Garry Monk, we fought back to rescue a valuable point.

Peter Crouch (who has a habit of scoring against us, it seems) opened the scoring after he passed to Peter Odemwingie, whose shot rebounded off the post back to the lanky striker’s feet. Crouch’s shot then somehow made its way through 4 or 5 Swans defenders, bouncing up and over Angel Rangel’s outstretched foot. We played well, dominating possession, and were finally granted an equaliser when Chico met Pablo’s cross to head past Asmir Begovic. The only question is whether we could have claimed all three points, with Wilf going close a couple of times. But this was undoubtedly a well-earned point away in the Midlands for Garry Monk and his side, as well as a valuable point closer to Premier League safety.

Overall record (last four games)
Wins: 1
Draws: 2
Losses: 1
Goals scored: 7
Goals Conceded: 7

A decent, if unspectacular record for us against Stoke, it seems. The Britannia is not an easy place to go to, as our inability to win there shows. Stoke are a side that we would probably see ourselves on the same level as, if not higher. As seems to be case with any side outside the top seven, three points is well within our grasp. Whether we grab the win, is a completely different question, of course. 
My prediction: 1-1.

Thanks to Nathan for his latest #FlashbackFour - give him a follow on Twitter @NathDavidLewis

Friday, 17 October 2014

Six things I want from the Swans after the international break

Josh Denk returns to give us six things he'd like the Swans to aim for now that the international break is over

Swansea's Ki, Jefferson Montero & Gylfi Sigurdsson celebrate Sigurdsson's winner at Old Trafford

So far this season we've had three wins on the trot followed by a four-game winless streak. We’ve had a different group of stars emerge in the midfield while the back four have shown a few signs of weakness. Super Garry has a Manager of the Month trophy to polish while he considers his shaky substitution decisions during the Newcastle match.

Folks tend to be overwhelmingly optimistic when looking at the Swans’ fifth-place start, at least if they are looking from the outside in. I tend to be less sanguine than most in even the most pleasant of circumstances (ask my wife), but I think in this case a general unease is warranted. After all, I’m counting probably four points dropped.

That said, this team seems solidly positioned to get the points it needs to stay in this league, so we should, as always, be thinking about ways we can burnish our reputation not just on but off the field. Here’s what I want to see from Wales’ only Premier League team: 

More Filth: MORE GYLF. 

You may have seen the numbers now: 12 games for club and country, 6 goals, 6 assists. Mr. SigurĂ°sson is tearing apart the opposition and keeping our Swans (and Iceland) near the top of the table with great vision, fantastic control, and incisive through-balls. Clearly he has this football thing sussed out; let’s expand his profile. Let’s put Gylfi’s ample resources to work where they are needed most. I think we need to give Gylfi a crack at the following:

  • Speeding up service in the West stand at the Liberty.
  • Revitalising Swansea’s city centre.
  • Getting Ebola under control.
  • Neutralizing Islamic State.
  • Ridding the world of the scourge that is celery. (Beets, too, if he has time)

I mean, how serious are we about raising our global profile? This is Gylfi’s time. It could be the year of the Swan as well. Let’s put the Invincible Icelander to work.

Fewer #ohjonjo Moments

Again, here is a case where, from the outside looking in, Jonjo Shelvey is settling in nicely over in South Wales. But if you’re looking more closely, Jonjo Shelvey is making the big pass when the shorter pass might be better. And by making it, I mean he’s likely to be turning the ball over. He’s picking up bookings left and right, but I still feel some sympathy for Jonjo and think he should be given every opportunity to succeed while here. 

The example I'll give is the Liverpool game at the Liberty last season, which should probably be called The Jonjo Affair, where he was involved in all four goals in a 2-2 draw. He seemed honest and forthright after the game, apologizing for his part in giving up the two points that were within our grasp. I’ve been rooting for him since (and even before that), but my patience is running a bit thin. I need to see a more professional and disciplined Jonjo before I feel he’s worthy of a place in the starting XI when Leon Britton comes back -- because everyone else in midfield is holding his own. So come on, Voldemort; let’s pull it together.

Monk on the BBC
Help me with this: has the level of hysteria on the 5 Live Football Daily always been this high? We need a clear head in there. Between Steve Claridge’s general hysteria and the overall air of puffery around the Monday Night Club, I’d like a straightforward voice to cut through the cliche-ridden load of garbage I keep hearing. Smaller clubs also need more representation. Less Arsenal, more Swansea City; less Owen Coyle, more Garry Monk. (I mean, I know he’s busy, but this is Super Garry we’re talking about. He can make time.)

More Montero Starts

Dyer and Routledge have been FANTASTIC, don’t get me wrong. But I’d like to see a change of pace from the Swans from the get-go. This year, we have done a pretty great job of staying on a level footing or going ahead early, and I love that. But I’d like to see if some additional pace would help us get a greater jump on the competition. I understand that the strategy is currently to bring in Montero late when the opposition is tiring to see if we can squeeze in another goal or two. But let’s think about the Everton fixture in the Capital One Cup; Montero started and got us a pretty amazing opportunity within the first 20-25 minutes. I’d like to see that more often; an ability to bring pace to bear early and put the match out of reach.

Player Theme Music

Recent results of the Jack Cast’s Twitter survey on what should change at the Liberty focused primarily on goal music; nearly everyone said we need to be rid of that. As an American, I am a little more used to inappropriately placed music at sporting events, so that issue didn’t resonate as much with me, but I very much appreciate the point that folks make: the crowd makes the noise when the ball hits the net, so there’s no need for music.

If you follow American baseball, however, you may be familiar with the fact that when players come up to bat, they often get to choose the music that accompanies their walks to home plate. You get a certain sampling of current hip-hop as well as country, but you also get the rare, unusual treat, like when Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Boston Red Sox walks out to Rock Me Amadeus. So what if each starter got to choose theme music to walk out to? Or, better yet, what if the fans choose something for them? Yeah, probably a terrible idea. Or...is it? [Personally, I quite like this idea! Maybe for substitutions? - Ed].

Ticket Prices

Well, that was timely. The Price of Football BBC survey came out this week, and it appears Swansea City offer one of the most expensive matchday experiences around. The club disputes the numbers and says the methodology is flawed, and there are probably as many ways to calculate the experience as there are fans. Still, whatever the quibbles might be with our individual situation, this is the most extensive survey anyone undertakes, and it appears that the league is easily outstripping cost-of-living increases and inflationary percentages. Clubs claim that they have packed houses and use that as evidence of appropriate pricing. The economics say otherwise.

But let’s say they’re right. Let’s say that despite increases on this level, the fans keep turning out, keep dipping into their pockets, keep using more and more of their limited disposable income to turn out for their teams. Shouldn’t teams consider giving back - even more than they already do? I am always surprised when I see a team offering to pay travel costs for fans to travel to away games; that would never happen on this side of the Atlantic. (I hope every day that I’m proven wrong on that.), and it’s a sign that Premier League clubs recognize what their fans mean to them.

As a club with a large percentage of supporter ownership, I’d love to see Swansea City do more for its fans; reductions of ticket prices, pay for away travel costs, or a variety of other incentives beyond simply marketing efforts. We’re a leader in modeling how a community can be a part of moving a club toward the top tiers of club football. We should be a leader in supporter rewards too.

So that’s what I want to see, beyond a return to early-season form. Mostly I’d be happy with less white-knuckle time this year, but a man can dream, can’t he?

Thanks to Josh for his latest piece! Give him a follow on Twitter @TheJoshDenk. Personally - and even though I'm against goal music - the player theme music sounds like a winner to me! What would you like to see change if you had carte blanche? Get in touch using the comment section below.

Gylfi Sigurdsson - King of Iceland

Josh Kilmister on how our man was very much the star of this week’s European Qualifiers (just in case you've been living in a cave for the last week)

Gylfi Sigurdsson in action for the Swans

Iceland vs Netherlands had been billed as a match with only one possible outcome. It wasn't to be though - 2012 Champions League winner Arjen Robben and the ever-aging Robin van Persie were left frustrated by the acts of a man who goes by the name of Gylfi Sigurdsson - the king of Iceland! Okay, perhaps he’s not king just yet, but he certainly ruled over the Dutch boys the other night. The Iceland number ten slotted past Ajax shot-stopper Jasper Cillessen twice, leading his team to a 2-0 victory. 

His first goal was a pin-point accurate penalty into the right-hand side of the net. His second was, lets just say ‘Sigurdsson-esque’. A volley into the roof of the net saw my Twitter feed explode with Vines of the goal, (and rather funny Vines of Kevin Phillips failing miserably to pronounce ‘Gylfi Sigurdsson’ last season!) and what a goal it was! Unsurprisingly, Gylfi received the man of the match award and was even praised by the Swans’ Dutch director John van Zweden! His tweet reads: “Gylfy Sigurdsson #SWANSEACITY Man of the Match today- #Holland 2-0 and 2 goals... Proud moment for a Proud Jack!” Okay maybe he spelt his name wrong, but it’s the thought that counts!

For me, there’s positives and negatives from our players performing on such a big stage. The positives are perhaps more obvious but on a more selfish level, Gylfi’s performance last night is only going to attract more interest from clubs elsewhere. It will definitely add a few quid onto his price tag too, and if he carries on replicating his international form for the Swans, he has my permission to score as many goals for Iceland as he wants.

Not only do players like Gylfi attract interest to themselves, but to the club. There wasn’t one post-match report I read that didn’t contain something along the lines of‘Swansea City midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson’, and with Huw looking for investment from abroad, this does us no harm whatsoever! 

The goals he scored for Iceland this international break were Sigurdsson’s third and fourth in three games for his country, which along with his Premier League form has Spurs fans wondering why on earth they let him go in a deal for Ben Davies, who rarely makes their Starting XI, and Michel Vorm who struggles to even make the bench. It beats me but hey, I’m not complaining!

Neither am I Josh, and I don't think any Swansea fans will be either! Thanks to Josh for this, his latest piece - give him a follow on Twitter @JoshKilmister

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Why Swansea City should send more players out on loan

Of late we've seen quite a few of our players heading out to other clubs on a temporary basis. Huw Richards is a fan...

Alan Tate during a previous loan spell at Leeds

These past weeks, we have seen Scott Tancock and James Loveridge both joining Justin Edinburgh's Newport County. Now, I understand that our Under-21 team needs to be as strong as possible, but surely sending players out on loan is more beneficial than having them pining for first-team action?

Let's take a look at the players we have out on loan right now:-

Alan Tate - Tatey is at Crewe until 24th December, but this is purely case of getting the 32-year-old some game time to help him in his future endeavours. Expect him to be here for a while to come.

Michu - The Spaniard wanted a move, and the loan move to Napoli was the best we could do in the circumstances. Will he be back? It seems doubtful.

Daniel Alfei - Ah yes, Alfei. This is an interesting case as he is 22 years old now, but has a contract here until 2016. He is at Northampton Town until the end of the season, and unless he sets the world alight there it's hard to see him forcing his way into the first team picture.

James Loveridge and Scott Tancock - Both at Newport County and look to have been brought in to be starters. This is something we should do more with our youngsters in my opinion, as it gets them some competitive football under their belts.

If you look at those players the only worthwhile loans are James Loveridge and Scott Tancock, as they are the only ones who still have time to develop. Some youngsters that I would look to loan out are: Josh Sheehan, James Demetriou, Kenji Gorre and Gregor Zabret.

Now, like I earlier said, this would damage the strength of our Under-21 team, but all of the players stated above would be snapped up in a heartbeat by League 1 and 2 teams I would suspect, and it would enable them to gain invaluable experience, despite it being in the lower tiers of English football.

Also, when you look at other Premier League teams, they do this more than us it seems, so why don't we? It certainly seems like a formula for success.

Monk is clearly open to the idea of sending youngsters on loan, so let's hope it's something we see more of in the near future.

Thanks to Huw for his latest piece - you can follow him on Twitter @HuwRichards21. Would you like to see more youngsters sent out on loan? Get in touch!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Ex-Swan: "Replacing Laudrup with Monk Swansea's best decision"

In an amazingly candid piece on his website, Andrea Orlandi has spoken about training at the club this summer whilst without a club, and his take on the recent goings on in SA1

Andrea Orlandi always came across as someone whose main attribute was either his technique or his reading of the game. Clearly a cultured player - he spent time at Barcelona during his development - it's perhaps no surprise then that he's capable of stringing a few words together in a more than organised fashion.

His column on am14.net (which until now I was completely unaware of) is absolutely excellent, and the whole thing is worth a read (link) but I'm sure most people will be interested to see what he had to say about Swansea in particular. The words "glowing reference" spring to mind...

I started to train on my own in July waiting for an offer to arrive. When I saw that time was ticking on I decided to text my friend Gary Monk, Swansea’s coach to see if he would let me train with the under 21s team, and he immediately agreed. So I spoke with him in the morning and in the afternoon I was on the plane on my way to London. I went to Brighton, picked up my car and drove to Swansea. 
The people who know me will know what my opinion is about the club, the fans and all the employees. They treated me like I had never left, I was able to use all the facilities, I ate with the first team, the physios treated me… Everybody welcomed me with open arms. From the kit man (woman in this case) to the gardener, they all made me feel like I was at home. If the second team wasn’t training, the physical trainer Sam Huggins would work with me one to one on hard physical sessions. It is a very special club. I spent 5 years there that will never be forgotten. 
During those days I saw myself all over the world. I was very close to sign for the MLS team Vancouver Whitecaps, I had an offer from Turkey and one from Greece, a couple of Championship teams… And suddenly Jose Riga rang me and said that he wanted to talk to me face to face. Talking to the coach in person is unusual. I didn’t think twice, I got in the car and drove up to Blackpool to have a meeting with him, and here I am! 
I wrote earlier about Monk. He was my team mate in Swansea and I believe that sacking Laudrup and getting Monk to replace him was the best decision the club has made. I was very excited about Laudrup. I admired him as a footballer and I liked everything about him. But I got very disappointed. Sometimes you get a shock when you meet people who are your idols. It happened to me with Gullit and also with Jordi Lardin, a very good winger who played for Espanyol. 
I cannot say much about Laudrup as a person, always correct and diplomatic, as I never got to know him enough to be able to judge him at that level. But as a coach he was a great disappointment and I promise I am not saying that with resentment, that is a word that doesn’t exist in my vocabulary. On the other hand, I think he did me well by showing me the door from Swansea because my time there was over and I am convinced of that given the experience of that pre-season in 2012.  
Now the team is in the hands of someone who loves the club, who really works hard and who studies the opposition and tries to become better. You can be sure I know what I am talking about.

Firstly, how nice is that? He clearly has a serious level of affection for the club, and it's nice that we look after ex-players. We've seen (with players like Bodde) in the past that the club are willing to support players through difficult times, and I'm glad we helped Orlandi out. 

As to the stuff about Laudrup, Orlandi really doesn't mind saying what's on his mind! I don't think there would be any malice on his part as Orlandi can have had no complaints (and evidently didn't) about being moved on, and given he'd have grown up at a time when Laudrup was an absolute megastar in his corner of Spain it is surprising that he hasn't got entirely positive things to say about the Dane.

Despite a couple of iffy results of late, I'd agree wholeheartedly with Orlandi. I feel a lot more confident about the direction of the club long-term than I did at this stage last year, even though we were involved in European competition. At that point, our football (in general) was deteriorating, and there didn't seem to be any answer to our poor form. With Monk in charge, we've seen a return to a snappy, pressing game and it's hard to see how it won't benefit us in the long term.

It's a long old season, but if Orlandi is right (and I think he is) we'll be just fine. And hey - he knows what he's talking about!