Last season, no one expected Swansea to do well in the Premier League because they had set the bar so high with their exploits the season before. In their debut season in England’s top flight, Swansea upset the odds to not only survive relegation, but to finish 11th place in the league. Given the size of their budget and their inexperience, most if not all pundits were tipping Swansea to go straight back down. Few would have seen what was coming.
Despite all their success and the plaudits they won for their style of football, the same doomsayers returned before the 2012/13 season. There were a couple of reasons for this the principle, one being the sheer number of key departures they had suffered. Firstly, they lost their manager Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool, and that was quickly followed by star midfielder Joe Allen departing for the same club. Rodgers was praised by many for the job he had done at Swansea, but despite the fact he could have built on a project there, few could begrudge him the opportunity to move to a club of Liverpool’s stature. Allen has struggled during his time at Liverpool but at Swansea he was one of their best and most consistent performers. Although they got a good price for him, it was still seen as a big blow. Then there was the failure to re-capture loan star Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelander spent the second half of the season on loan from German side Hoffenheim, and he was a revelation. But once Tottenham and Liverpool showed interest, there was no chance he would return to South Wales. The last man to jump ship was Scott Sinclair as he decided he wanted to test out the Manchester City bench. Sinclair’s move has been comprehensively the least successful of the four and I imagine you’d be hard pressed to find someone who thinks his move wasn’t for the money.
In came Michael Laudrup to steady the ship, a huge name in his playing days but with little managerial success thus far. A number of players followed: Ki Sung-Yueng, Pablo Hernandez, Chico, Kyle Bartley and of course the player in question, Michu. Despite a number of arrivals, people still wrote Swansea off, saying the players would take time to gel and play the way Laudrup wanted them to. Twelve months later and Swansea are the holders of the League Cup and the proud owners of a potential place in Europe. Michu scored 18 times in the league as Swansea finished in 9th position and surprised everyone from start to finish.
Although both Michu and Swansea performed well last season, I must say I’m delighted to see that they have looked to bring in reinforcements over the summer. The reason for this is that Michu cannot win games by himself. Yes, he was an incredible, one-in-a-million signing. To sign a player for £2 million and then see him hit 18 league goals is nothing short of a masterstroke, but that will probably never happen again for Swansea. They needed to spend big to sign proven players and I’m thrilled they’ve seen fit to break their transfer record by signing Wilfried Bony. The big Ivorian scored 31 goals in last season’s Eredivisie as he propelled Vitesse into Europe. He will relieve a lot of the goal-scoring burden that was placed on Michu and you’d have to say the Spaniard needs it.
Towards the end of last season, Michu’s goals completely dried up. He only scored five times after the turn of the year. This can be put down to two reasons. The first of these is that Michu suffered from carrying the whole of Swansea’s goal-scoring burden on his shoulders. Although Danny Graham, Luke Moore and Itay Shechter were all used intermittently by Michael Laudrup, they were never first choice at all. The second reason is that teams had worked out how to play against a) Swansea and b) Michu. When the Spaniard first arrived in England, he was a complete unknown and teams didn’t treat him with a great deal of respect. After a while, opposition had worked out that if you could shut down Michu, then you could go a long way to stopping Swansea. They worked harder to mark him out of the game because of his goal-scoring exploits.
This is why it was vital for Swansea to bring in at least one recognised centre-forward over the summer, someone to relieve the burden on Michu. In Bony they have a player who has spent time in Holland proving himself, and last season he finished as the Eredivisie’s top scorer with 31 goals. Of course there are a number of pitfalls with buying from Holland – the names Mateja Kezman and Afonso Alves spring instantly to mind- but that shouldn’t detract buyers from shopping there. Bony has all the attributes required to succeed in the Premier League. He is very physical and he can hold the ball up well. £12 million may seem like a lot of money but for a goal-scorer it actually seems quite good value.
Of course the other reason that signing Bony was a good move is because of the Swans’ Europa League campaign. The Welsh side crushed Malmo in their first qualifying match and they could very well reach the group stages. If they reach that stage, they will play at least six matches, potentially more depending on their group. Combine that with 38 league matches and at least two cup matches and it is easy to see that rotation will play an important part in Swansea’s season. Therefore it might be wise if Swansea looked to bring in a third striker just in case one of their two main men gets an injury, and Laudrup has already indicated he is looking for further reinforcements.
This isn’t to say that Swansea should completely forget about Michu and I’m sure they won’t. When he was signed from Rayo Vallecano last summer, he was an attacking midfielder and it was only due to a shortage up front that he was played as a striker. The thing with Michu is that he isn’t really the creative playmaker type of attacking midfielder. He specialises in shots from outside the box and late runs, catching defenders unaware. His movement is good and if Laudrup wanted to he could easily play Michu off Bony with two wingers and then two deeper central midfielders. In his last season in La Liga, Michu scored 15 goals but registered just three assists. He also only had a pass success ratio of 68.5% (via WhoScored) which suggests he wasn’t really a creative force for Rayo. It must be pointed out that few players at Rayo made that many assists, but last year Michu only made two assists. He upped his creativity this season with his pass success rate moving up to 78.09% and he created the fourth highest chances at Swansea. Nevertheless, he isn’t Swansea’s primary creator and with players like Jonathan De Guzman, Leon Britton and Ki Sung-Yueng in the side it is easy to see why.
Of course, Michu’s goal-scoring record speaks for itself with 33 goals in the last two league seasons. If Laudrup can find a way to get Michu and Bony working together, Swansea could be extremely dangerous this season. Michu scored 20% of his chances last season and 46% of his clear cut chances, which isn’t outstanding but that was higher than Robin van Persie, the Premier League’s top scorer. We know what Michu is about: he thrives on loose balls in the box that he can easily pounce upon. With his predatory instinct, he is a real danger to defences but if opposition have an extra man to worry about, Michu could thrive even further. By playing Michu off a target man, he will be afforded more space and that’s exactly what the opposition don’t need, Michu being given more space.
Much of Swansea’s success this season will depend on how Laudrup balances his squad. Having said that, at least he now has a squad that he can rotate, with five new first teamers Swansea’s squad is looking very healthy. So much of the Swansea hype focused on Michu last season but with attention elsewhere the pressure will be off and I see no reason he can’t repeat his feats of last season. He has set the bar high but there is every chance in my eyes that he will have just as productive a season as last year.