Swansea’s brand of pass and move football has proved so successful against their British opponents that they now have the chance to display it on the European stage. The Welsh club’s convincing Capital One Cup success enables them to join the Europa League at the 3rd Qualifying Stage, where they will face Swedish club Malmo FF.
Swans’ fans can be forgiven for just being excited about the opportunity being presented to them; a chance to travel Europe with the potential to play the likes of Feyenoord, Fiorentina or Sevilla, as well as the teams who drop down from the UCL. Not bad for a team who were playing in the English 4th tier less than 10 years earlier. But how far can they expect to go in the tournament?
I would think most fans would be expecting Swansea to at least make the group stage, and then see if they can progress to the knockout stages. However taking into account: the squad, the manager and the incredible atmosphere that can be generated at The Liberty Stadium, I believe Swansea should be looking at the recent successes of Newcastle, Fulham and Middlesborough as a benchmark for British clubs in the Europa League without the financial power of Chelsea or Tottenham. This is why, for me, the quarter-finals and even the semi-finals are realistic targets for Swansea.
Michael Laudrup appears to be doing a brilliant job at creating, not just a team, but a squad that reflects him and his playing style. Having already created a very impressive team, this summer Laudrup has clearly identified the need to add depth to the squad; the signings of Jonjo Shelvey, Alejandro Pozuelo and Jordi Amat help this as well as add competition for places. As well as the need for extra numbers, Laudrup also acquired defensive midfielder José Cañas on a free from Real Betis in order to ensure his midfield can be as effective defensively as offensively. The new additions to the squad this summer give the Swansea squad, not only depth, but also flexibility; Laudrup spent most of last season playing a 4-3-3 formation but the singings, in particular of Shelvey and Pozuelo, allow Laudrup to mix it up and possibly switch every now and then to a 4-2-3-1, 4-2-2-2, 4-4-1-1 or even 3 at the back (Williams, Chico, Amat/Ki) allowing for Swansea to further outnumber opponents in the middle of the pitch.
Variation and unpredictability can make or break a squad depending on balance; too much variation can lead to a team that can’t play with each other. A big variation in the Swansea squad comes in the form of a club record signing – Ivorian forward, Wilfried Bony. Bony’s playing style slightly differs from his teammates but could be huge for Swansea’s European adventure: his power, movement and finishing ability are all attributes needed to be a top number 9. The way Laudrup uses Bony and Michu could be key to their season both domestically and continentally; if the two can click and create a fearsome partnership, then this awesome frontline could be the difference maker over the course of the season.
Something that Swansea will have to overcome is their lack of experience in Europe with only a Pablo, Bony and Shelvey with over 10 appearances in European competitions. A lack of experience however can breed a sense of fearlessness depending on the character of the player and more importantly the character of the manager. Michael Laudrup was one of most accomplished footballers of his generation and oozes class, composure and confidence; when you’ve got a manager as respected as Laudrup that resonates with the players and leads to the players taking everything he says on board. Laudrup’s big game experience will allow him to communicate with his players in a way that can prepare them for the big European games. This is what leads me to believe that the lack of experience in the squad won’t be as big of an issue if Swansea play some of the bigger clubs in the competition, like it did when Stoke took on Valencia in the 2nd round of the 2011/12 Europa League.
The last factor could be a big difference maker in the latter stages; we all heard how the fans reacted to getting into the Premier League with some incredible performances, lifting the team to some huge home victories over Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool and draws against Chelsea and Tottenham in their first season. No doubt The Liberty will be rocking on a European night and could surprise and even overwhelm some of their foreign visitors.
It’s obvious to people that Swansea are on the up and having kept hold of Michael Laudrup, for now, are a team that nobody should underestimate. Their way of playing is not only aesthetically pleasing but also extremely effective when it all comes together; the new singings add to the squad not just quality and depth but also fit in with the philosophy of the club. And it’s that philosophy, which has been progressing since the appointment of Roberto Martinez in 2007, that makes Swansea more equipped to take on Europe than some of the other British clubs that have challenged the Europa League over the last few years.