The march of Swansea City from conference candidates to Premier League new boys has been founded on high ball retention and a passing game that nods to Catalonia...
It is difficult to sum up the rise of Swansea City from the Non League trapdoor to becoming the first Welsh team to reach the Premier League without talking about pace and the speed of things; from the torrid time their jet-heeled striking trio gave Reading’s back-four in the Championship Play Off Final to the impressive momentum the Swans have gained as they’ve accelerated from 90th in the Football League to the top flight in just eight years and have drawn comparisons with Barcelona.
More than 40,000 ecstatic supporters saw Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Fabio Borini pick off where Barcelona’s flexible front three had left off (more on an unlikely comparison between the two later…) as they gave another English defence a difficult 90 minutes less than 48 hours after Barca’s triumph.
Brendan Rogers’ side exploited the wide pitch, as they’d done so well at the Liberty Stadium all season, and you just have to watch the four goals to see how uncomfortable Zurab Khizanishvili and co were with a side who kept the ball before powering towards them with real attacking intent. ‘Possession with penetration,’ as its been titled, was certainly on show all across the Bank Holiday weekend at the home of English football.
But while thousands are currently enjoying scenes not seen since the days of John Toshack’s unforgettable tenure at Swansea City, it’s worth remembering how close they came to finding an alternative route out of the Football League.
With 46 minutes to go at The Vetch Field on 3rd May 2003 Brian Flynn’s side trailed 2-1 to Hull City and were about to do exactly that. Then striker James Thomas wrote his name into Swansea City folklore with a memorable hat-trick, Exeter City joined Shrewsbury in the Conference and the revival had begun in South Wales – a speedy one.
The average Championship team makes 312 passes a game, Arsenal make 428 and Swansea make 526. Their record of 756 in one match is not bettered by any team of the 92.
Kenny Jackett’s near three-year stay saw the eagerly anticipated move into the 20,000 seater Liberty Stadium, an LDV Vans trophy win and a League Two Play Off Final defeat to Barnsley. A blow compounded by its location -the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff…
After Jackett jacked it in following a 1-0 defeat to Oldham in February 2007 former player Roberto Martinez took the helm and by the time he headed for Wigan in June 2009 they’d smashed the 90 point barrier on their rampage into the Championship and finished just one point off a Play Off place in their first season at that level.
Paulo Sousa, during his sole season in the Valleys, managed to get the style but ultimately not the substance as the lack of goals meant the sexy-football was in vain. Rogers picked up the buck last summer and the rest is history.
So what can fans of the Premier League expect from the newest additions next season? Blackpool II? Swansalona? Well perhaps a bit of both really.
If the neutrals are yearning for a repeat of the way Ian Holloway’s tangerines stuck to their ethics and style of football, scored plenty of goals and played on the front foot with no fear then they could well have found a new favourite side. (Although Norwich will surprise a few people) This is an outfit that finished with a +27 goal difference (scoring four goals on six occasions) and the manner in which they clinched promotion gave the watching millions a taster of what awaits. And that was a Swansea City outfit far from at being at their best.
The comparisons with Barcelona? Well just watch the highlights of their Semi Final win over Forest and you’ll see echoes of Valdes, Iniesta, Xavi and co in the way Dorus De Vries likes to bowl the ball out to a defence who are hugely comfortable in possession with the Duracell duo of Joe Allen (a youth product and Welsh international) and Leon Britton (a survivor of the 2003 team) and the forward-thinking Stephen Dobbie infront of them.
They also like to pass the ball. A lot. More than any of the grandiose names that await in the 2011/12 campaign and only slightly less than Barcelona’s class of 2011. A fantastic piece in the South Wales Echo highlighted some truly eye-opening statistics that will raise eyebrows across the land.
The average Championship team makes 312 passes a game, Arsenal make 428 and Swansea make 526. Their record of 756 in one match is not bettered by any team of the 92. Possession? Not a problem. Rogers’ team have an average of 61% and when they get it do they find their man? Yep 83% of the time (the Premier League average is 76%) and with 10 men for nearly the entirety of their semi final with Nottingham Forest that only dropped to 80%.
With figures like that it is no wonder the Swansea City bandwagon shows no sign of slowing down.
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