Jefferson Montero – A man with a point to prove

It’s been a strange few years at Swansea City. From their highest points haul and position in 2014/15, the Swans fell deep into the relegation fight for the second successive season. Now seemingly reviving their form under Paul Clement, the Swans welcome back a player that has been something of a canary down the mine.

Jefferson Montero has arguably been a one-man representation of the situation at Swansea in recent years. In his debut Premier League season, Montero gained plaudit after plaudit, repeatedly destroying full-backs of great reputation. Branislav Ivanovic and Calum Chambers are just two esteemed right-backs to finish dizzied and torn to shreds after trying to catch Montero. This incredible form from the Ecuadorian coincided with Garry Monk’s impressive first full season as manager, in which Swansea finished 8th on a record 56 points.

Similarly, when a shocking run of form for Swansea led to Monk’s sacking in December 2015, Montero struggled to recapture his first season form, and was often singled out as not working hard enough. Having successfully completed 79 take-ons in 2014/15, Montero only managed 41 in his second season, while only securing 1 assist compared to 7 in 2014/15. Once a potent attacking and creative force alongside Wilfried Bony, Montero could not establish the same rapport with Bafetimbi Gomis. Interestingly, Montero created a similar number of chances in each of his first two seasons.

Montero has this week returned to training, and will do so with a point to prove. He will look to re-establish himself as a first-choice winger, having fallen behind Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and even Gylfi Sigurdsson. He will be heartened by the approach of Paul Clement, in which there has been a focus on getting the ball out wide to be whipped into Fernando Llorente. There is little dispute that Montero is a competent crosser of the ball, and he will relish the idea of partnering the in-form Llorente.

Given the stable nature of the current line-up, Montero will probably have to prove himself in cameo substitute appearances for a few weeks, and will look to secure a place in Clement’s plans ahead of an important summer for Swansea. The next few months could be very important for the future of Jefferson Montero, and Swans fans everywhere will be hoping he can recapture his exciting form.

Everywhere? – A look at where Swansea should strengthen in January

 

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In appointing Paul Clement to replace Bob Bradley as manager, Swansea City have pulled the trigger in the hopes that the esteemed assistant manager to Carlo Ancelotti can lead them into the future. The next month of transfer merry-go rounds will show which of two very different plans the board have adopted for the coming years.

Should there be little movement in or out of the club, this would be a clear sign that relegation has been accepted, and Paul Clement was brought into rebuild the club with a clear philosophy once in the Championship. On the other hand, if Swansea are basing their future plans on Premier League survival being essential, you could and should see multiple transfer deals executed between now and January 31st.

If significant money is provided for transfers in January, where should Paul Clement and the recruitment team look to strengthen?

Firstly, full-backs are a clear weakness. Neil Taylor and Angel Rangel are longstanding Swansea servants, being part of the promotion from the Championship in 2011. However, neither has been anywhere near full form throughout this season, with Neil Taylor in particular struggling to replicate his incredible summer away with Wales. Stephen Kingsley has shown promise; although at his young age cannot be relied on for consistent form. Kyle Naughton meanwhile, has been unable to wrestle a starting spot away from Rangel, a worrying sign given the Spaniard’s advanced age.

The worrying sign for Swansea is that not one defender – perhaps except for Alfie Mawson – has staked a claim for a regular starting spot. Fernandez and Amat seemed like the natural heirs to Ashley Williams given their time with the club, although the presence of Williams perhaps covered some of their flaws. A centre-back capable of leading the back four and marshalling the troops should therefore be the number-one priority for those in charge of recruitment.

Before I continue to list where Swansea need to strengthen, let’s look at positions that seem safe. Lukasz Fabianski and Gylfi Sigurdsson are two players to emerge with some credit thus far in the season. That Fabianski was a star performer in a 5-0 defeat to Spurs should highlight the poor quality of defence in front of him. Sigurdsson meanwhile, has continued to look dangerous from set-pieces and provides the main creative spark for the team. Fernando Llorente up front has shown enough to claim that his fledgling partnership with Sigurdsson is beginning to click.  Finally, a first draft of this post brought up wingers as a position in need of strengthening, for which Luciano Narsingh seems a fitting purchase.

Now, back to the shopping list. Missing out on Joe Allen in the summer has proven to be a mistake, with Swansea unable to name a consistent midfield base. Leon Britton, Ki, Jack Cork, Jay Fulton and Leroy Fer have all had opportunities while none of them have grabbed hold of a first-team place, and the midfield looks increasingly flaky. One central midfielder willing to work hard and give a physical presence to the Swans midfield would greatly improve the side.

So, just one central defender, two full-backs, and a centre-mid. No pressure boys.

A New Year, A New Man, A New Hope?

 

For many years, Swansea have been rightly held aloft as a model club, sticking resolutely to their principles as modern football descended into madness. Player recruitment was done swiftly and quietly, managerial appointments were made in line with a strong philosophy and the club’s finances were handled with great care.

Fast forward to the current day, and they find themselves sleepwalking towards relegation, having picked up 12 points from their first eighteen games. Two managers have tried unsuccessfully to end the pain, and now Huw Jenkins and his fellow board members will be searching for their fourth permanent manager in little over 12 months.

The last year or so has seen a sizeable chasm open up between a once unfailingly loyal fanbase and the Swansea board that now includes two American majority shareholders. The sacking of Garry Monk felt like a necessary, heavy-hearted decision that needed to be made to save the Premier League future of the club. It felt as though the phrase #InHuwWeTrust would be a long-held mantra. Comparatively, Bob Bradley’s axing is arguably the only recent decision to see full agreement between board and fans.

The next few weeks offers Huw Jenkins, Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan a chance to make a fresh start; an opportunity to regain public trust and unite in what will be a tough fight for premiership survival. Now is not the time for a fix-it man, the next manager must be someone that can unite a discontented fanbase, a manager with solid credentials and a clear philosophy. If there is to be positive change in South West Wales, the new man must be backed in the transfer window to update a stale playing staff, and given the power to restore Swansea City as safe picks for Premiership survival.

In Huw’s Shoes – An optimistic look at Swansea City

It’s fair to say being a Swansea fan recently has not been the same magical mystery tour of our last five Premier League based years. Look at any of your social media streams, and the conversations and feelings towards the running of our clubs have become vitriolic, and it’s easy to see why. Not only have the Swans suffered their worst league start in twenty-five years, but our once model club is now seemingly becoming “just like any other club”. Amidst all this negativity, we must retain some optimism, so come with me as I aim to combat the worried thoughts running through my head.

 

Guidolin deserved more time

Huw Jenkins must be devastated that the fixture list spat out Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal in the space of five games. Re-watch any game before Chelsea at home, and it’s hard to find positives. A dour ninety minutes at Burnley kicked off the season, with Leroy Fer sparing us an early inquest. Matches against Leicester and Hull set alarm bells ringing, before Southampton away seemingly sounded the death knell for Guidolin and his staff.

He should always retain credit for keeping us in the Premier League, but Guidolin’s tactics can hardly be described as forward-thinking or expansive. There is no indication that Guidolin has ever known his strongest eleven, and his time at Swansea will be remembered for constant tinkering, playing players out of position, and incomplete performances.

The board should not have talked to other bosses before sacking Guidolin

It has been uncommon over the years for Swansea to be tabloid fodder, or to see them linked with managers while still employing their current man. It has felt like Swansea are becoming just like any other club in engaging in the shadowy side of football.

To ease this thought, rewind nine months or so, and remember the carnage that ensued when Swansea binned Garry Monk without planning their next appointment. A spell with club legend Alan Curtis in charge, seemingly for the season, was randomly halted by the appointment of Francesco Guidolin, an experienced but relatively unknown manager. The Swansea job seemed a poisoned chalice, with no top level managers willing to risk their reputation to save a relegation-threatened side.

Compare that to the quick, faff-less (technical term) appointment of Bradley, and the revelations that the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Clement and Marcelino were interviewed, and it’s clear that Swansea is a more attractive proposition than late last year. It may seem harsh to sack Guidolin so ruthlessly on his birthday (it is…), but you can’t accuse the board of dilly-dallying, or not knowing what they want.

Bob Bradley is only employed because he is American

The link is an easy one to make: American owners bring in their own man, American manager. The image doesn’t sit well with a fanbase resistant to selling out. But Bob Bradley is not alone in taking the Swansea job with little to no record of amazing success. Roberto Martinez was a rookie to management, with a strong philosophy. Brendan Rodgers had left Reading under a cloud, and would not have been the standout choice in 2010, before guiding Swansea to the Premier League. Michael Laudrup had a patchy record in management, and took us to a cup win and European Tour. Garry Monk? You don’t need reminding that he took us to our standout league season.

Huw Jenkins, for all his failings, has a strong track record of picking the manager to achieve the next goal required. Bob Bradley is the new chosen one. Let’s cut the negativity, get behind him and get behind Swansea City.

Francesco Guidolin – How to Save a Job

Francesco Guidolin is undoubtedly a man under pressure. Player fallouts, tactical tinkering and subpar performances have left the Italian with vital questions to answer. With a nasty run of fixtures approaching, how can Guidolin save his job?

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Any manager under pressure will look to their fixture list hoping to see a run of easier games in which to build confidence, experiment and secure results. Guidolin, on the other hand, will google “Swansea fixtures” and see pictures of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger pop up, a reminder of the fierce challenge that confronts Swansea in the coming weeks.

To remove the pressure on his position, Guidolin needs to provide Swans fans with glimmers of hope. Wednesday’s League Cup sparring match with Guardiola’s Man City provided the first crack of light in the darkness. For forty-five minutes, Swansea matched an admittedly stripped-back Man City side, and will need to learn the lessons of that encounter when the big boys come to play today.

Swansea look more secure and confident with club legend Leon Britton at the base of midfield. Dictating tempo and pulling the strings, the diminutive midfielder brings a poise and passion to the Liberty Stadium that will appease expectant fans. If Guidolin can surround Britton with plenty of willing runners and creative players, Swansea will go a long way towards restoring their reputation for playing “the Swansea Way”.

No Swansea fan will look at the next few fixtures and declare that Guidolin requires three historic wins to save his job. Instead, a positive approach, committed performances and the odd point or two will begin to appease a recently frustrated fanbase.

In the coming weeks, Guidolin must show a clear, consistent tactical approach, avoid shuffling the deckchairs around and motivate his players to show the passion expected by fans. The next few weeks will shape Guidolin’s reign as Swansea manager, positively or negatively. It’s up to Guidolin to ensure the perspective is positive.

 

Who should Guidolin pick to start against Man City? Have your say in the comments.

 

Borja Baston: Can he be Swansea’s Saviour?

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Borja Gonzalez Tomas, more commonly known as Borja Baston, was last month confirmed as Swansea City’s new record signing. Alongside the experienced Fernando Llorente, it looked as if Swansea had secured two top-level strikers that would fire them towards their season targets. Now, with Llorente showing every day of his 31 years in slow, languid performances, Swansea’s hope are fully in the Borja Baston basket. So, what can we expect from the former Atletico forward?

First, we look to journalists and fans that have monitored him during his time in Spain. Graham Hunter has praised him as “mobile, aggressive, talented”, and compared him to former Swans talisman Michu. Borja was generally well-liked by his home support, and Atletico fans seem disappointed to see a young home-grown forward leave without being given a first-team chance. Sent out on loan to La Liga new boys Eibar, Borja showed great influence to guide the Basque side well clear of relegation. If Borja can start well in South Wales, he has a real chance of repeating that feat and becoming a firm fan favourite.

What can Borja do on the field? He scored an impressive 18 league goals with Eibar last season, the third-highest top scorer from outside of Spain’s big three. Watch his goals from his spell in the Basque country and you will see a variety of goals, showcasing just how capable the Spanish forward is.

Eight of his goals came from inside the six-yard box, showing his striker’s sense of being in the right place at the right time. With Jefferson Montero and Modou Barrow bursting down each wing, look forward to them firing crosses across the six-yard box for their striker to finish.

His poaching ability is just one aspect to this multi-faceted striker. Goals against Sporting and Malaga last term show that Baston is more than willing to hover on the shoulder of the last defender, urging his teammates to play him through. With Gylfi Sigurdsson at his best when he has a willing striker to interchange with, the Spaniard should have plenty of opportunity to slot home from a through-ball.

Add in two confident penalties taken, three cool finishes, an acrobatic volley and a screamer from outside the area, Borja Baston is an accomplished goalscorer. Facing Manchester City and Pep Guardiola twice in four days may not be ideal, but Swansea will Borja can hit the ground running.

Nothing to Lose – Excited Welsh Fan

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Fifty-eight years. Over half a century. That’s a very long time to be waiting for a major tournament. If I look back at my earliest football memories, it’s the 1998 World Cup. France, Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon. Iran! Even Iran were there! No Wales. For nearly twenty-four years, I’ve had to spend major tournaments supporting ABE. Anyone But England.

No longer. Wales have qualified for the European Championships. We’re there, we’re in the group stages. Children now will look back in years to come, upon a Wales team that actually did it. In the tournament. In the mixer. In a group with England.

And now is not the time for steps backward. This is our first time sitting at the slightly diluted top table in fifty-eight years. We have a chance to show off, take the game to each and every team we face. Especially them. I don’t need to tell you who I mean.

They’re talking us down already. One-man team, out of form, shouldn’t be here. Ignore them. It doesn’t matter. If we crash and burn, that’s okay, as long as we leave nothing on the pitch.

Gareth, I know you’re tired. You’ve dragged us to France by the scruff of our ragged football shirts. Seven games, that’s all. Show the world why Real Madrid lavished millions and millions of pound on you, why you’re up there for the most impressive footballers in the world.

We can do this. This is our time. Our Day. There’s nothing to lose. We have a chance. We are #TogetherStronger. Come on Wales!

Six Games: Swansea, Survival and Squad Reviews

 

Six games remain for Swansea City in this most peculiar of seasons. Hovering in fifteenth place in the league table and almost certainly safe from the threat of relegation, there is a danger of complacency creeping in.

To prevent themselves lapsing into a mentality of being “on the beach already”, the Swans must look to achieve something with what looks like six dead rubber matches.

Firstly, mathematical survival must be guaranteed sooner rather than later. The fixture list lottery has produced a tough final stretch for Swansea, but they will no doubt be targeting the trip north to Newcastle for three points that would finally convince even the most pessimistic Jack to look up rather than down.

Once safety is secured, Francesco Guidolin will no doubt face a psychological battle to motivate a squad that will likely be relieved that this turgid, stilted season is coming to an end. The Italian himself spoke of the need to push on. “We have six finals coming up, starting with the game against Chelsea.”

Swansea are one of the form teams below tenth, and that eleventh -a perfectly mid-table position -is still available should be a source of great encouragement.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the next six weeks should be seen as a window for each and every member of the squad, and perhaps even backroom staff, to prove they are worthy of surviving the end-of-season review. There are few names in the squad that can claim to have met their personal objectives for this season, and competition for places should be at its most fierce. While the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Andre Ayew have been rare examples of consistency this season, plenty other squad players will rue a missed opportunity to cement their positions this season.

There is no reason for Swansea to relax as the season tails off. Now is the time to reward a loyal fanbase, inspire renewed confidence, and fight for every single point.

The Wait is Over: Alan Curtis Becomes Full-Time Manager

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The wait is over. That time we’ve been waiting for is here… The new manager of Swansea City has been revealed…

And it’s very much a familiar face. Alan Curtis has been given the opportunity to lead our club to the end of the season.

It’s undeniable that this news brings a mix of emotions. On one hand, Curtis is a club legend as a player, coach, assistant manager, and now manager. On the other, it feels a little like we’ve been waiting a month for Christmas day, opened our stockings to see last year’s toothbrush re-wrapped with a new bow.

The fact that this news has (officially) come almost a month after we sacked Monk shows that there was no clear succession plan in place when the board made the decision. While I was unsure at the time of the sacking, I firmly believed there was a plan, an experienced manager to keep us up, perhaps. As time has gone, it feels more and more like we needed to change something and decided to aim at a dartboard and came up with sacking Garry Monk.

This is not to say I don’t fully trust in our board, and our chairman, and our ‘new’ manager. If there’s someone who will know the club’s ethos, playing style and values inside out, it’s Alan Curtis. Any brand new manager would have been forced to settle in extremely quickly. With Curt, we have the bonus that he is settled and the players know him and his tactics well. Moreover, he has steadied the ship somewhat in the last few weeks. The Christmas period saw improved performances in the face of tough opposition (Man City, Man Utd), a good win over beatable opposition (WBA) and two draws against sides of the same sort of stature (West Ham and Palace). While it’s not exactly title form, our defence seems tighter, and if we can employ someone with composure and finishing ability up front, we might score goals.

There are much deeper issues at the Liberty Stadium, it seems, far beyond who is in the manager’s seat. Together with the board and the players, Alan Curtis has five months to save our Premier League status, five months to save our reputation. Will it turn out alright? We’ll see. But for now…

Alan Curtis’ Barmy Army.

Farewell Garry – Thanks for everything

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“The decision has been made very reluctantly and with a heavy heart… It was not a decision we took lightly, especially given Garry’s history and standing within the club.”

These words, taken from the official statement released by the Swans today, confirmed what had been anticipated for a few weeks now. Garry Monk has been officially dismissed from his role as manager, and the search now begins for a replacement.

To say that Swansea’s form in recent weeks has been poor would be an understatement. Match after frustrating match, performances have been way below expectations and most importantly, results have not been picked up along the way. One win in eleven games tells its own story, and the extended wait for a decision to be made became increasingly frustrating and inane.

As a Swans fan, it is difficult to grasp that Garry Monk, ex-captain, long-time servant and manager, will no longer be in the employ of Swansea City AFC. For weeks, I have been in denial that this would eventually happen. I hoped upon hope that Monk could pull us out of this slump, re-ignite the dressing room that was seemingly so flat and keep his job.

His performance as manager as a whole has certainly been satisfactory at the very least. Leading us to a record points total last season, adding a different dimension to our play, pulling off results that had previously been unthinkable. These will all stand as hallmarks of Garry Monk’s tenure as Swansea manager. To achieve doubles over Arsenal and Manchester United last year spoke volumes of the levels we could achieve under Monk.

Personally, I am gutted that it has come to this. Garry Monk gave so much for our club as a player and a manager. From his so-called £90 million block to leading us to impressive victories as a manager, plenty of Swansea’s historic moments owe some debt to Garry Monk.

Could it have been different? Much has been made of Monk apparently ‘losing the dressing room’, which perhaps speaks more on the nature of football that players paid ~£40/50k a week aren’t able to concentrate on doing their job. Perhaps if some of our current squad took responsibility for ending our poor run of form, we could have ended the season with Monk in charge.

Now however, attention switches to who the next man will be in the Liberty dugout. A few names have been linked, David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers among them. Whoever it is, the faith must remain in Huw Jenkins and the board. I’m sure I was not alone in questioning whether we should have sacked Michael Laudrup, and even with Monk’s sacking, there is no doubt he enjoyed success with us as a club.

As always, In Huw We Trust.