Monday, 2 March 2015

What to do about Michu

Josh Kilmister on what the Swans could look to do with Michu when his current loan deal ends

After making his loan exit to Naples in the Summer, the name ‘Michu’ has gone very, very quiet both in South Wales and around the country - where only two years ago his name couldn’t have been spoken in a more positive tone. The post-Burnley episode of ‘The Jack Cast’ (link) saw his name mentioned for probably the first time since Napoli fans took to Twitter to vent their frustrations about their signing of the injury prone forward in the early stages of the season.

But despite all the negativity surrounding his attitude when he left, hearing his name again made me realise something – I really, really miss him.

That’s why it makes me so angry that a talent like him was allowed to fight through the pain barrier, instead of doing the sensible thing and taking a few months out. It was rumoured on his return from injury that he had been told that he would never be able to play Premier League football again, and unless there is a dramatic change in fortune for the Spaniard, this looks to be the case.

I’ve only really followed the Swans since our last season in League Two so maybe I don’t really have the right to say what I’m about to say [You are! - Ed], but I think a fully fit Michu was one of, if not the best finisher our club has ever seen. His debut season in the Premier League was something of real beauty, and his £2m price tag made it all the more dumbfounding.

Eighteen Premier League goals. Nine with his left foot, three with his right and six with his head. He really was the complete modern day forward. Everything from his never-say-die attitude towards his football to his famous celebration that become a favourite among the Swansea faithful was pretty damn near perfect for an entire season, and that was when it all went wrong.

The ligaments in his ankle gave in and the pressure put on him by Michael Laudrup didn’t help. Put that together with a fully fit Wilfried Bony breathing down his neck, Michu never really found the form that saw him take fifth in the Premier League top scorers table – outscoring the likes of Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge.

With the players we have in our side now, I see myself dreaming of what could have been had Michu stayed fit. Whether Garry Monk is a fan is debatable, but if there could have been a way to fit Bony, Sigurdsson and Michu into a fully functioning attack then I don’t think there would be many sides of our stature outscoring us.

Of course it’s never over until it’s over, but for Michu to make a Swansea return next season is something of an impossibility. While his injury stands in the way of him holding down a place in any decent side, I’m not sure his head will ever be at Swansea as much as it once was. We gave him a chance in the limelight and he took it, but the way he was managed under Laudrup is, in my opinion, as much to blame for his ankle injuries than his constant kicking of the electronic advertising boards whenever he scored.

He has made started just three games for Napoli this season, featuring for a total of just 229 minutes, so the chances of them making his loan deal permanent don’t look great. Rumours also emerged today claiming he'd left his flat in Italy and his car had been parked in the training ground for months. I can only assume that the Spaniard will return to Swansea in the summer to hold talks with Monk and Co. to see exactly where he stands, and there are a few options.

  • We could hold onto him for the remaining year of his contract and hope that at the very minimum he doesn’t cause an upset in the camp, and maybe make the odd appearance should his ankle allow him to do so.
  • We terminate his contract. As harsh as it sounds, this is definitely an option – a very expensive one at that. Michu is probably one of our higher earners, so the costs of axing his contract would be costly.
  • Lastly - and this is the most likely scenario; we could try and find him a new club. While it’s unlikely that Michu would cut it in the Premier League anymore, there might be a club similar to Real Vallecano (who we originally signed Michu from) that might be willing to gamble on him.

In an ideal world, we recoup the £2m we paid for the Spaniard and go our separate ways, but I think in this situation the interests of the player need to be in mind just as much as those of the club. Sure, he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want to be here and maybe this is just me being a soft touch, but for someone who offered us so much – albeit for a shorter period than he would’ve liked – if only getting back half of what we paid for him means he can start afresh in Spain, then so be it.

The signing of Michu brought us to a whole new level in the Premier League. Had we not done that, then I think we’d be looking at a very different club today.

You can follow Josh on twitter @JoshKilmister

Podcast: The JackCast EP46 - Tottenham Preview

We speak with a Spurs fans and look at how the Swans may line up on Wednesday

On this episode Scott & Guto look ahead to Wednesday's game against Spurs, and are joined by Tottenham fan Kevin De Vries of the EPL Roundtable. Topics include prospective tactics, Tom Carroll's future and whether the Swans being within touching distance of Spurs at this point in the season is more of a compliment to Monk's side than it is worrying for Pochettino's.

Shelvey: "We could hear the Jack Army through the changing room ceiling!"

Swansea midfielder reveals the Swans travelling support made themselves known

They say the fans can be the difference, and Jonjo Shelvey clearly feels Swansea City had a helping hand, revealing Swansea's away support were clearly audible in the away dressing room - even at half time!

"It was great to see so many fans there on Saturday. We could hear them all throughout the game, and during half time because the dressing room was underneath the away end. It was a pleasure for us as players to hear them and it's great that we have so many supporters that travel and support us on the road. 
"Towards the end of games when you might be hanging on, you hear the fans and it gives you that extra push to see it out and Saturday's win was for them."

He also revealed their target pre-season had been to get to fourty points as quickly as possible, but was quick to set any limits on how far this side can go:

And Shelvey insists the squad won't stand still in their quest to push on towards another of this season's targets ahead of Wednesday's trip to Tottenham.

"It's a great achievement for us. That's what we set out to do at the start of the season and credit must go to Monks (Garry Monk) and the rest of the coaching staff for their efforts, but this doesn't mean we can take our foot off the gas. We want to finish as high as possible and hopefully we can push on towards 50 points now. 
"Burnley is a tough place to go and play football, but we knew that if we matched their work-rate and intensity then our quality would shine through. The pitch was bad, the ball was bobbling all over the place but thankfully we got the win and we can push on from here. 
"We were unfortunate not to get a result against Spurs when we played them at home, but if we go there with the same mentality and character that we showed against Burnley then there's no reason why we can't get something out of the game." 

7 Things Monk Has Done To Improve Swansea

As Monty Python would have said - "What has the Monk ever done for us?"

Since Garry Monk came in, it's been surprising to me how much he's had to win over a certain part of our fanbase. Why some thought he was doomed to failure I don't know, but I'm happy to say that we've now secured the "magic" fourty points (even though 37 is normally enough) in the quickest fashion in our history, and look set to build on that with a record points total at Premier League level.

To help anyone still harbouring ill-founded unease, I thought I'd point out some of the things that Monk (and others behind the scenes) have done which have been of benefit to Swansea City.

Kicked out the clique

Last summer we saw lots of departures. Michu, Chico, Canas, Pablo, Pozuelo & Vazquez all departed, and it's hard to argue that this season we haven't presented a better team unit. Togetherness is key in team sports, and having groups within groups isn't a good practice.

Oversaw key signings

While Huw obviously does a lot of the transfer work, I doubt Monk is completely excluded. With that in mind the signings of Sigurdsson, Montero, Fabianski, Carroll (loan), Fernandez & Cork can't be overlooked. All excellent bits of business, all done at good prices. All six of the signings listed above have worked out at least as well as we'd hoped, and if Gomis starts firing too it'll have proven to be a very good transfer window for the Swans.

Stopped goals leaking from full-back

Towards the end of last season, and the beginning of this, it was apparent we were leaking goals down the flanks - in particular down Ben Davies'/Neil Taylor's left-hand side. We don't any more. I can't claim I'm an expert at full-backery but the main thing I've noticed is improved discipline and shape, making sure the back four stay as a unit, and we're definitely a much better team in this regard.

Installed a "Plan B"

Despite some people's criticisms, the way we've played in the last few matches shows Monk has been working on an alternate set of tactics which makes us a lot more difficult to break down. Ten clean sheets isn't to be sniffed at (only 3 teams have equal or better records - Southampton [12], WBA [11] & Liverpool [10]), and given we're likely to become more efficient at utilising this system there's reason to be positive it'll stand us in good stead,

For what seems like forever people have bemoaned a lack of a plan B for when we're liable to be under the kosh. Now we have one, don't reject it just because it isn't pretty. It works.

Motivated the team

Towards the end of Laudrup's reign everything had become a little pedestrian. You can't say that of Monk's team though, as under our former centre-back we've seen our boys become a pressing and harrying machine. There might be a bit of fine-tuning needed - Gylfi could and perhaps should have had a break earlier than his enforced exclusion through suspension - but in general our work-rate is improved and I think that has a large hand in our continued success this season.

Worked with Jonjo Shelvey

You get the sense Laudrup would have loved Shelvey for his raking passes and goals from waaaay downtown. Monk has clearly taken on a more hands-on, perhaps patriarchal role with Jonjo though, and he's definitely benefiting. Of late he's looked a much more disciplined player, and if he keeps improving as he has done over the last six months then then England recognition shouldn't be a million miles away.

Retained Ki Sung-Yueng

The decision to loan Ki to Sunderland is now looking a stranger and stranger one. Easily one of, if not our player of the season, persuading the Korean to stick around and making him an integral part of the team was one of the best moves Monk has made in his short spell as manager. You can see Ki is enjoying his football, and with five goals in 23 Premier League starts he's currently the top scorer at the club (excluding Bony who's left for Man City).

As you can see, Monk has been busy. I've been very impressed with him so far, and as a rookie manager who's still improving there's reason to believe his managerial capabilities with grow exponentially alongside the club's.

Swansea's hierarchy have long spoken of the desire to create a "bootroom" atmosphere at the club, reminiscent of Bill Shankly's days at Liverpool. While it's still early days, Monk has got off to a good start.

Is there anything we've missed? Do you feel there's anything that has gone unnoticed which has helped us to our lofty league position? Get in touch using the comment section below

Swans for Europe? Even if not, show some solidarity for West Ham & Southampton...

With a number of unfashionable clubs still enjoying a lofty league position, Eric Imhof argues fans of the Premier League's potential European gatecrashers should stick together

As a Swansea supporter, you have to enjoy a win like that. How many times over the last four years have Swansea played an even game with an opponent, only to have one of those fateful bounces decide the outcome, leaving three points squandered? And how many times have Swansea kept a clean sheet in open play but let in the odd nicked corner? How many times has Swansea had a 50/50 decision go against them, changing the entire outlook of the match?

Well not on Saturday. The Swans did what so many teams have done to them in the past: tapped in a scrappy corner and edged out a tight, up-in-the-air win. The goal, which went down as an own goal but really was technically assisted by Gomis, whose header to Cork from Shelvey’s corner was superb, sank a determined (and endearing) Burnley side and moved the Swans up to 8th (8th!) in the Premier League with the quickest attainment of 40 points they’ve ever enjoyed. So much for a relegation battle.

In fact, the pundits (gotta’ love the pundits) are all doubling back to what they were only apprehensively hinting in December: Monk’s side might still have a shot at qualifying for the Europa League. In one of my favorite unintentional point-counterpoints from the weekend, The Guardian claims, “Now Europe is back on the horizon,” for the Swans, followed immediately by Monk’s rejoinder, “This is the problem, expectations.” Zing!

But with Monk’s tempered reasonableness aside, do the Swans really have a shot at 5th or 6th place? As it stands they are six points behind Southampton, and eight points behind 5th-place Liverpool - who, given their second-half resurgence, Swansea are unlikely to catch. With safety assured and all eyes to the future, the 47-point high-water mark is, with good reason, the most immediate carrot.

In the meantime, if you’ll allow me to veer off into making an entirely different but tangentially related point, I really hope that Southampton can maintain their footing. Even qualifying outright for Europa league would be a major achievement—and, more importantly, would blaze a trail for possible future inroads into the established Premier-League oligarchy: inroads that Swansea could well exploit.

Back in December (which seems like forever ago now), the table from 4th to 8th looked like this: 4. Southampton (33 pts), 5. Arsenal (33 pts), 6. West Ham (31 pts), 7. Spurs (31 pts), 8. Swansea (28 pts). Southampton was 3 points behind United in third, and a real shake-up near the top looked probable, with Liverpool in 10th with 25 points and Everton in 12th with 21. Contrast that scenario with the current 4th-8th: 4. United (50 pts), 5. Liverpool (48 pts), 6. Southampton (46 pts), 7. Spurs (44 pts), 8. Swansea (40 pts).

Things are looking a little more “normal,” which is to say, boring, as the erosion of form caused by a long arduous season is starting to show. Even if the title isn’t already spoken for, the race for the remaining spots will only be as exciting as the perennial battle between the same handful of clubs, whose grip on the top is best exemplified by the fact that they need not be named. As compelling as Liverpool’s turnaround (for the second straight year) has been, how compelling was the table in December, when it looked possible that Southampton AND West Ham would be crashing the fancy, ostentatious reception at the top of the top half?

As it’s probable (I’m never counting out the Swans, mind you) that Southampton have the best remaining shot of all of the “surprise” success stories this season, I think it's acceptable for fans of clubs like Swansea to root for them to unseat one of the big boys. For Swans fans that support should have been made quite easier to muster by Jonjo’s dagger on the 1st of February.

I, for one, hope that if the Swans don’t elbow their way any higher than their current (unbelievably fantastic) position in the remaining fixtures, that someone other than the usual suspects does. And yes, if it can’t be Southampton or the Swans, I’d even take West Ham. Yes, even West Ham.

You can follow Eric on Twitter @AustinJackArmy

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Podcast: The JackCast EP45 - Swans winning ugly, and what to do about Michu?

New panellist Guto Llewelyn joins regulars Scott & Steve to discuss yesterday's win over Burnley, plus what the future may hold for Swansea's Spanish forward

On this weekend’s podcast Scott, Steve & new panellist Guto Llewelyn discuss the 1-0 win at Burnley, whether we’re likely to retain this formation going forward, who our “man of the match” was, plus we also briefly touch on the future of Swansea’s on-loan forward Michu, whose potential return to the club is now edging ever closer.

Follow us on Twitter @TheJackCast, or on our individual accounts @TheSwanseaWay, @StevenSOS1987 & @GutoLlewelyn

Burnley 0-1 Swansea - Key Stats & Facts

We crunched the numbers to find the most telling statistics from yesterday's win over Burnley

  • Only Bafetimbi Gomis (3) made it into the top five for shots attempted. Ashley Barnes (5), & Michael Kightly, Jason Shackell & Danny Ings (all 2) make up the rest of the top five.
  • David Jones (48) made more passes than any Swansea player. The rest of the top five is made up of all Swansea players though with Ash (47), Ki & Jonjo (46) & Fede Fernandez (45).
  • Burnley's Jason Shackell (86%) completed the highest percentage of his passes with Ki closesly behind on 85%. Ki did make 39 successful passes to Shackell's 32 though.
  • Swansea's pass completion percentage of 70% was 12% lower than their average this season. Burnley completed 68%, just shy of their 71% average.
  • Burnley managed 13 shots to Swansea's 8, including six on target as opposed to the Swans' 2.
  • Swansea made a remarkable 23 interceptions to Burnley's 5, with Neil Taylor, Jack Cork (both 5) & Fede Fernandez (4) particularly impressing.
  • Lukasz Fabianski made 6 saves to Tom Heaton's two, as well as making three successful claims. Heaton made none.
  • Only Danny Ings (7) lost possession more than Bafetimbi Gomis (6), but given their positions that's understandable. 
Data sourced from