Wednesday, the chase for trophies again continues with the first leg of a two-legged semifinal in the Capital One Cup against Swansea City. Both teams will have designs on a trip to Wembley, regardless of the stature of this particular piece of silverware. Both sides will also be buoyed by the result that sees Bradford holding a 3-1 lead after the first leg against Aston Villa and may both see this as a good chance to win some silverware this year.
For Swansea, this is the first time in a while that they may have dreams of European qualification while their status in the top flight is secure. Michael Laudrup’s side sit quite comfortably in 9th position in the table and based on form, should easily stay in the Premier League for this season. Since relegation is unlikely, it will give the Swans supporters a chance to dream of winning a cup competition and possibly a route to the Europa League. However, they did manage a 2-2 draw in FA Cup Third Round at the weekend and will have to play a replay next week.
For Chelsea, Rafa Benitez will want to stick a trophy in the cabinet as the expectations for any Chelsea manager to win silverware. Having failed to win three possible trophies so far this season, the Blues will be looking forward to the trip to Wembley that has become somewhat of a second home, given Chelsea’s record in the FA Cup.
First thing about Swansea, how does Laudrup manage the cup competitions?
As I mentioned before, Swansea’s league status is virtually secure. Because of that, it allows the club to dream of silverware in both the FA Cup and the Capital One Cup. However, it’s been shown in some of Swansea’s recent form that the squad depth in certain areas might come into question if the fixtures pile up.
And that’s what is about happen. Having an FA Cup replay against Arsenal will introduce Swansea to having to play once every three or four days until the end of the month, meaning that Swansea might just have to prioritize competitions. Given that they have made the semifinals of the Capital One Cup, this might be the one that they may look to try and focus on.
In my first preview of the Swans, I failed to acknowledge Pablo Hernandez properly and what he might bring to the match.
I won’t make that mistake again. Pablo has always been a bit of an enigma. A mercurial talent that emerged from Valencia’s youth system, for one reason or another, he’d never quite developed the consistency that saw teammates such as David Silva and Juan Mata make moves to larger teams and see their stars rise.
Perhaps it was the burden of replacing Joaquin as a winger at Valencia, or perhaps the fact that Valencia’s financial state saw some very good players sold to balance the books, Pablo was eventually bought by Swansea for £5.5M, which might be right up there with Michu in terms of money for value.
Pablo will have to be watched because along with Michu, he’s part of what has given teams problems against Swansea. While he is a winger, he’s not a classic English-style winger who flies down the touchline and whips in crosses. While he is capable of doing that, he also flits in and out of space in between the lines, which is the way that Swansea try to play. It’s no surprise that he found the pocket of space for the equaliser against us in our league meeting because he found the space he needed and rifled home.
Michu must be stopped in whatever role he plays.
You can ask Arsenal about the many ways that Michu has made them pay. With two league goals against them and a goal on Saturday within a minute of stepping onto the pitch, Michu’s legend at Swansea continues to grow. Amazing that he moved for just £2M to Swansea when other teams passed on him.
Again, I think it’s because of the fact that at Vallecano, he played mostly as an attacking midfielder. For Spanish football, he’s a bit of an enigma because of his size, and the preference for smaller playmakers in the number 10 position. However, his impact and style still very much remind me of Francesco Totti in that he’s not the swiftest mover, not the best passer, but he finishes everything that falls to him in the box and he moves around the pitch in such a way that makes it hard to mark him.
Totti at his best had many of the same qualities that you see in Michu now, so it’s not terribly surprising that teams were rather confused as to his best position. They’re not any longer.
The big question about Swansea is still in their defence.
The one area of Swansea that I’m still not convinced by is their central defence. I think that their ability to play the ball around spaces and keep possession generally masks the fact that their center backs aren’t the most mobile. You could make the argument that both Manchester clubs for long periods of time were able to attack their back line directly either by passing around or through them, or pulling them wide and attacking with width.
It’ll be interesting to see what Benitez chooses to do to try and attack them. Roberto Di Matteo’s approach was to try and play a bit more on the counter, and that seemed to work, but Chelsea were not able to get enough penetration to attack. I feel that you almost have to take the game to them and try to outplay them in order to get at their back line. Interestingly, Demba Ba was able to score against Swansea in their match against Newcastle via a headed goal. Will he get an opportunity to do so again?
Demba Ba vs. Fernando Torres.
We all know Demba Ba scored a brace on his debut. In fact, I’ll admit that he proved to be a much better player than I gave him credit for, and I think it’s partly because he has much better players around him. When you have balls laid on a plate like Juan Mata and Eden Hazard gave him, you would expect a striker to score.
And that’s where the great debate lies. While his one game proved the worth of a striker that attacks the ball, one question I would have that would concern me is why didn’t Ba have a meaningful touch in the first 20 minutes before Chelsea went down 1-0? Sure, you can say that the team around him weren’t playing very well, but you could also make the argument that while active, he was running down a lot of blind alleys and taking himself out of the possession play. While that kind of play can result in good chances, I would love to see what he does against a team that sits deeper than Southampton chose to and limits that space behind and forces him to play the passes rather than make runs.
As for Torres, he’s almost the polar opposite. His touches and such do let him down, but in matches where the ball must move quickly, he plays very well as a reference point for Hazard and Mata to ping balls off of in an attempt to make the defence move. The downside is that he isn’t as active in seeking runs. He’s not very good with his back to goal, whereas Ba has shown that he can play physically. And his finishing hasn’t been great when it comes to instinct.
For me, both strikers can play in the same role in the system, but in a way, they aren’t quite the same player and gives the manager options. In my opinion, you have to choose how you’re going to attempt to attack a particular team and then decide on the qualities you prefer.