Swansea’s Historic Season

Garry Monk has led Swansea to a record high points total and league finish

Garry Monk has led Swansea to a record high points total and league finish

Swansea City have yet again proved critics and pundits wrong, in a sensational season for Wales’ sole Premier League team.

Before August 16 came around, many ‘experts,’ had the Swans down as relegation candidates yet again.  With Robbie Savage claiming Swansea would flirt with relegation, and Mark Lawrenson’s weekly predictions seeing them second from bottom.

However, Garry Monk’s men have proven that they are a well established Premier League team, at this point.  His transfer policy and managerial astuteness has seen him guide Swansea to their highest points total and an eighth place finish.

So from the players to the manager let’s rate Swansea’s Historic Season.

Players

To rate the Swansea City players, they must have played at least ten times in all competitions including players who may have left.

Lukasz Fabianski
Fabianski missed out on the Golden Glove by one clean sheet

Fabianski missed out on the Golden Glove by one clean sheet

When it was announced that the Poland international was going to be swapping the Emirates for the Liberty, to replace Michel Vorm, I thought it would turn out to be a very astute signing.

Fabianski had been with Arsenal since 2007 and had only managed 32 appearances in those seven years.  His brief stint with the Swans has already hailed 38 games and 13 Premier League clean sheets.

The pole has been one of the Swans top performers this season and has produced a number of stunning saves and match winning performances.  Most notably in the 1-0 win at Arsenal adding to some outstanding saves against Leicester and Aston Villa, which secured a hard fought win.  Has had a couple of iffy goals fly past him, but any goalkeeper has a couple of them per season, so does not impact what has been a very successful debut campaign.

Appearances: 38;   Clean Sheets:13;   

Rating:  8/10

 

Angel Rangel
Rangel has turned out for the Swans 321 times

Rangel has turned out for the Swans 321 times

Swansea’s stalwart right-back started this season as the only viable option in his position, with due respect Jazz Richards and Dwight Tiendalli were never going to trouble the Spaniard’s starting berth.

‘Consistent’ is his middle name, but this season there have been signs of the beginning of a decline for the 32 year-old.  Don’t get me wrong this wasn’t always the case, he has been reliable for most of the season, especially earlier on in the season.

Lost his starting place to Kyle Naughton, after the England man signed from Tottenham, but was called up again later on to finish off the season.

Appearances: 29;   Goals:0;

Rating: 6/10

Kyle Naughton
Naughton spent six years at Tottenham

Naughton spent six years at Tottenham

I remember watching this guy playing for Norwich, commentating on the 3-2 defeat in 2012, and I thought then he would be a regular for Tottenham.  That did not happen, mainly because of the form of Kyle Walker, but Spurs loss is our gain.

Managed 10 league appearances since his arrival in January, and has shown that he is cut out to hold down a starting place in the Premier League.  Unfortunately, his good form was interrupted by injury against Hull, but I expect he will start as Monk’s number one at right -back in the new season.

Appearances: 10;   Goals: 0;

Rating: 7/10

 

Ashley Richards

As much as I want the academy players to come through the academy system, I honestly don’t think Richards is cut out for a Premier League outfit.

Maybe harsh words, but I’ve seen him exposed so many times against the lower Premier League sides let alone the top guns.  Sitting in the Liberty watching him against Manchester City, he was torn apart.

I don’t see his long term future at Swansea, he can be a very good championship defender but not in the top flight.

Appearances: 13;  Goals: 0;

Rating: 4/10

 

Ashley Williams
Williams made 372 clearances this season

Williams made 372 clearances this season

‘Captain Fantastic,’ another brilliant campaign from the Swansea captain, epitomising the spirit and quality that now course through the current squad.  Something he and Monk should take pride in, both of them have been driving forces for their team, on the pitch during their time at the club.

Possibly his best season of his eight years at the club, and he believes this squad is the strongest he has ever been part of.  His partnership with Federico Fernandez has proved one of the sternest pairings in the league.

Again very rarely missed a game, only missed the final day loss at Palace because Monk was evaluating the squad for next season.

Appearances: 39;   Goals: 0;

Rating: 9/10

Federico Fernandez
Fernandez's won the 2014 Coppa Italia with Napoli

Fernandez’s won the 2014 Coppa Italia with Napoli

Was a big profile arrival from Napoli in the summer, the Argentine international had just come onboard after playing at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.  Signed for around £8million, Fernandez filled the gap vacated by Chico Flores at the heart of the Swansea defence.

Had to miss three weeks in November due to injury, but has been involved in 10 of the 13 clean sheets this season and has become a fan favourite ever since making his full debut in the 1-0 win over Rotherham in the Capital One Cup.

Appearances: 33;   Goals: 0;

Rating: 8/10

 


Jordi Amat
Amat has made 27 appearances for Swansea

Amat has made 27 appearances for Swansea

Was apparent last season that the former Espanyol defender struggled to get to grips with the pace of the English game.  Because of early season injuries, the 23 year-old started the season as Ashley Williams’ central defensive partner and performed admirably during the win at Old Trafford and the subsequent home wins over West Brom and Burnley, before picking up an injury in the defeat at Chelsea.

Did not return until the beginning of the FA Cup and since then has struggled to nail down his return to the staring 11, his form declined and Fernandez adapted quickly.

There were glimpses of quality early on, maybe he needs a good run in the team to find his best.

Appearances: 12;   Goals:0;

Rating: 6/10

Kyle Bartley

After signing from Arsenal in 2012, Bartley was highlighted as the new long-term centre-back partner for Ashley Williams.  Yet it seems the only time the former Gunner can find any form is against his former employers, i.e. the two FA Cup ties two years ago and the 2-1 victory at the Liberty this tearm.

Admittedly, he has found it hard to break into the first-team with the subsequent signings of Chico and Fernandez over the last two seasons.  However, when he has been given his chances, in my opinion he has not impressed and may have to be content with another season on the periphery of the starting line-up.

Appearances: 10;   Goals: 0;

Rating: 5/10

 

Neil Taylor

It is so good to see Neil back in the first team fold at Swansea!  When I saw him stretchered off against West Ham

Taylor's return to the Swans starting 11 has also helped his Wales career

Taylor’s return to the Swans starting 11 has also helped his Wales career

with that horrible ankle injury, I feared that would be the last we would see of him.  And that was reinforced by the emergence of Ben Davies.

After struggling to win his place back, during 2013/14, Taylor returned as Monk’s first choice left-back and he is starting to get back to the player he was when he first turned out in the white jersey.

He is not quite back to where he was but he is getting there.  You may say well he should already be back to where he was, but look at Aaron Ramsey after his injury nightmare.  It took the Arsenal man at least two seasons to fully recover and is now considered on the Gunners’ finest players.

 

Appearances: 36;   Goals: 0;

Rating: 8/10

 

Midfield

Ki Sung-Yeung
Ki won the Asia Cup with South Korea in 2015

Ki won the Asia Cup with South Korea in 2015

I’m going to start off this list with the Swans’ Player of the Year, and there was no-one else more deserving of that award that the South Korean international.

After being unceremoniously shipped out on loan last season, by Michael Laudrup, Ki returned and showed the form and class he displayed during his spell at Sunderland.

His eight goals this campaign have been written in Swansea history, scoring against Manchester United in both games, and his strength and clam head on the ball are two aspects Swansea have lacked since their promotion to the top flight.

Has never lost his place despite the form of players such as Jonjo Shelvey and Jack Cork.

Deservingly the best Swansea City player of 2014/15.

Appearances: 34;   Goals: 8;

Rating: 9/10

 

Gylfi Sigurdsson
Sigurdsson made 58 appearances during his 2 years at Tottenham

Sigurdsson made 58 appearances during his 2 years at Tottenham

When the Icelander finally put pen to paper on a permanent deal at the Liberty, it was a case of ‘about time!’

Already loved rom his loan spell in 2011/12, Sigurdsson was welcomed with open arms from Tottenham.  And he has made his presence felt and fitted in almost immediately.

His early season form was blistering, scoring against Manchester Utd, providing assists against Burnley, West Brom and Leicester and who can forget his stunning free-kick against Arsenal.

Over Christmas and the New Year that form slowly dripped away and performances of this quality were becoming more and more sparse.  And a red card in the FA Cup defeat at Blackburn did not go down well.

However, he regained some of that early season swagger late on, including a belting goal against Manchester City.

Appearances: 35;   Goals: 9;   Assists: 10;

Rating: 8/10

 

Jonjo Shelvey
Shelvey has been capped once by England

Shelvey has been capped once by England

What a special player Shelvey, could, be!

The tempestuous midfielder is an enigma, he can be unplayable one minute then a complete amateur the next.  Mainly down to his mental approach to the game.

A lot of great players have had tempers, Roy Keane immediately springs to mind, but what Shelvey lacks is the ability to control that temper when his team need him to.

Criticised by Monk earlier in the campaign, Shelvey seemed to take this criticism the right way and responded with some match winning performances in the New Year.

His goals at Southampton and the winner at home to Manchester Utd were, just two, examples of the prophetic talent the 23 year-old possesses.

Appearances: 35;   Goals: 3;  Assists: 6;

Rating: 7/10

 

Jack Cork

Linked with the Swans ever since his youth days at Chelsea, Cork finally made the switch to the Liberty in a £5million move from Southampton.

Not brought in to score goals, Cork was mainly to add some steel in front of the back four allowing the likes of Ki and Sigurdsson to be more free-flowing going forward.

While he did end up scoring in the win at Newcastle, Cork has epitomised hard work and composure and has already established himself in Monk’s side.

Appearances: 15;  Goals: 1;

Rating: 7/10

 

Jefferson Montero
Montero played for three Spanish clubs before moving to Mexico

Montero played for three Spanish clubs before moving to Mexico

The signing of Montero sent shockwaves through the Swansea City faithful.  Montero had shined for Ecuador during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

He also showed, in his only match of the 2014 tournament, that he is an exceptionally pacey and tricky winger who is not afraid to take on and beat a full-back.

Never was this more evident than in the 2-1 win over Arsenal, as he tore Callum Chambers apart to supply Bafetimbi Gomis to score the winner.  He did the same in the return game at the Emirates and also set-up the winning goal at Aston Villa.  He finished with the second highest amount of assists and scored his first Swansea goal in the 2-0 win over Stoke.

Two injury problems meant he did not play for small portions of the season, but without doubt, he is the best winger that Swansea City have had since they have been in the Premier League.

Appearances: 34;   Assists: 8;   Goals: 1;

Rating: 9/10

 

Wayne Routledge

Is close to being considered a veteran now, the 30 year-old has been a steady performer since his arrival under Brendan Rodgers and continued to do so this campaign.

Unfortunately, steady doesn’t necessarily mean good.  His four goals are not the problem, it’s actually not a bad return for a winger, but it’s his lack of influence and with only one assist is not good enough.

Like his partner on the wings, before this term, Nathan Dyer, he looks reluctant to put the ball in the box and run at his full-back.  Granted he may be starting to lose a little bit of place but he can still go past players but seems not to want to.

His bright spots came in scoring against QPR, Newcastle, and a stunning volley in the 3-0 win over West Brom.

Appearances: 32;   Goals: 4;   Assists: 1;

Rating: 6/10

 

Nathan Dyer
Dyer cost Swansea only £400,000 in 2009

Dyer cost Swansea only £400,000 in 2009

I can predict Nathan Dyer’s 2015/16 already, score around 2 or 3 goals in the opening five games and actually try and influence the direction of the Swansea City game and then that’s it.  He’ll disappear for the rest of the campaign and look like an average Championship player.

I had harsh words for Wayne Routledge, but what I’m saying here will make Routledge look like a great player.  Dyer is sloppy in possession and never ever looks to take the full-back on.

He was a great player for us in the Championship and played well in the first Premier League campaign, but cannot see what he adds to the squad.

Appearances: 37;   Goals: 5;   Assists: 3;

Rating: 4/10

 

Modou Barrow

A few eyebrows were raised when Monk decided to pluck the Gambian out of the second division of Swedish football.  It was probably thought he would spend most of the season in the under-21 squad.

Made a, pleasantly surprising, encouraging debut against Arsenal by winning the free-kick that was converted to set-up a famous win at the Liberty.

Ended up out on loan at Nottingham Forrest before being recalled to finish the season and shone again in the 2-0 win over Stoke, after coming off the bench.

I feel there is more to come and see from the winger and will trouble, at least, Dyer and Routledge for a place in the starting 11.

Appearances: 13;   Goals: 2;   Assists: 1;

Rating: 6/10

 

Forwards

Bafetimbi Gomis
Gomis has 12 goals for France

Gomis has 12 goals for France

The Frenchman brought a decent scoring record from Lyon, well if you have made even a handful of appearances for France you must be able to play.  The best aspect was the fact that they lured him on a free transfer.

Found himself frozen out by the form of, the now departed, Wilfried Bony early in the campaign and even took to the French media to moan about his lack of game time.

It took him until November to register his first league goal, but it was the period after Bony left that we saw the class of Gomis.  And his run of 5 goals in the final six games shows that he can go on a run of scoring goals and he will be crucial to next season.

Appearances: 36;   Goals: 10;   Assists: 2;

Rating: 7/10

 

Wilfried Bony
Bony is Swansea's record transfer, costing £12million

Bony is Swansea’s record transfer, costing £12million

Don’t shoot the messenger!  I know he is no longer a Swansea City player, but he played a massive part in this historic season.

Before the Ivorian left to join Manchester City, he was showing his goal scoring prowess he had exhibited through his debut season.  He scored 9 goals before his £28million move to the Etihad, in this day and age I think they should have bargained for more than that.  Especially being the top Premier League goal scorer for 2014.

Appearances: 16;   Goals: 9;   Assists: 2;

Rating: 7/10

 

Nelson Oliveira

The on-loan Benfica striker only managed a handful of appearances, since he joined in January and managed one goal, at Newcastle.

Never seemed up to speed of the Premier league and was mainly ineffective.

Appearances: 11;   Goals: 1;   Assists: 1;

Rating: 5/10

 

Marvin Emnes

Two successful loan spells, finally saw the Dutchman make his move to the Liberty permanent.

Another forward who struggled for game time, but his pace and directness were a threat on occasion when called upon from the bench.

Highlights of his season, goals against two former Swansea bosses, both in the Capital One Cup.  In the home win against Everton and the away loss at Anfield.

Appearances: 20;   Goals: 2;   Assists: 1;

Rating: 6/10

Season Highlights

Manchester United 1-2 Swansea City

Ki opened the scoring at Old Trafford

Ki opened the scoring at Old Trafford

Before their 4-1 reverse to United, at the start of last season, all the pundits thought that it was the perfect time to play United at the start of a new era, after Sir Alex Ferguson.

It seems the Swans were determined not to give Louis Van Gaal such an easy start to his tenure at Old Trafford.  Ki Sung-Yeung marked his return to Swansea with his first goal for the club in a bright start to the game.  Even when Wayne Rooney converted a Juan Mata corner, Swansea looked assured and pushed United all the way.

And when Gylfi Sigurdsson tapped in, with just under 20 minutes to go, it was their just reward for a spirited display against a team many felt were heading for a revival under the former Holland boss.

 

Swansea City 3-0 West Bromwich Albion

Routledge struck a sweet volley in the first half

Routledge struck a sweet volley in the first half

Early in the season, the Swans underlined that they were going to be playing with more than a swagger under Garry Monk and their dismantling of West Brom was one of the best performances early in the campaign.

Nathan Dyer opened the scoring, after capitalising on a slip from Jonas Olsson to score from a tight angle.  And his wing partner, Wayne Routledge, added a second with one of the volleys of the season.

Gylfi Sigurdsson’s early season form continued as provided a perfect through ball for Dyer to score his second of the game, which would end being his final goal of the season.

 

Sigurdsson's free-kick turned the momentum

Sigurdsson’s free-kick turned the momentum

Swansea City 2-1 Arsenal

Swansea know the feeling of beating Arsenal, at the Liberty, but there was something special about the way they overturned the Gunners.

After a goalless first half, Arsenal hit the Swans with a counter-attack goal.  A break-out from Santi Cazorla fed Danny Welbeck to run down the Swansea left and lay on an easy finish for Alexis Sanchez.

Gylfi Sigurdsson showed his prowess from the dead-ball, to fire in a terrific free-kick to restore parity.  His move to Swansea made ripples and his performances did as well, flying winger Jefferson Montero showed his class against Arsenal and his pinpoint delivery led to Bafetimbi Gomis to score a fabulous winner.

 

Swansea City 2-0 Queens Park Rangers

One of the most entertaining matches at the Liberty, all season.  It was almost complete domination from the Swans as they finally saw off a dogged QPR side.

Rangers’ goalkeeper, Robert Green, had a blinder with top-class saves to deny Routledge and Sigurdsson before the breakthrough came in the second-half.

Ki Sung-Yeung struck a pinpoint goal from a tight angle to release the frustration and a second came courtesy of another accurate finish, from Wayne Routledge.

 

Shelvey's strike deflected in off Gomis

Shelvey’s strike deflected in off Gomis

Swansea City 2-1 Manchester United

The first of two historic double for the Swans, as Louis Van Gaal’s side again came unstuck against Monk’s men.

It was another sign of the newly found steel instilled in Swansea, and when Ander Herrera put United ahead just before the half-hour, it was never more prevalent.

Another important goal from Ki Sung-Yeung levelled before the break and a deflected Jonjo Shelvey strike kept the Swans in the hunt for a Europa League place.

 

Swansea City 2-0 Stoke City

Swansea City had sat in the top half of the table ever since the opening day of the season, with Stoke one of the closest challengers to that position.

Mark Hughes’ side had been one of the most consistent sides in the Premier League but this win for the Swans secured a top eight place, their highest Premier League finish.

Jefferson Montero headed in his first goal for Swansea after good play from Jonjo Shelvey and the ever present Ki Sung-Yeung was hand to score their second in injury-time.

The result meant the hunt for European football was still on, but they ultimately fall short.

 

Arsenal 0-1 Swansea City

Gomis' goal at the Emirates was his second winner against Arsenal

Gomis’ goal at the Emirates was his second winner against Arsenal

A week on from securing their eighth place finish, the Swans travelled to the Emirates Stadium to complete a second memorable double.

It was another performance of terrific defending and digging out a result for Swansea.  They decided to sit back and hit the Gunners on the counter-attack with Lukasz Fabianski at the heart of another gritty game.

The former Arsenal ‘keeper produced an inspired performance and his heroics were rewarded when Montero turned provider for Bafetimbi Gomis to score, via a decision from the goal decision system.

Arsene Wenger had harsh criticism for the style of play adopted by the Swans, on that day, but as Monk said it was all about the result and Arsenal couldn’t cope with how the Swans set out their stall.

 

Manager

Monk succeeded Laudrup in February 2014

Monk succeeded Laudrup in February 2014

Not too long ago he was seen as ‘Mr Swansea’ on the field, as one of the most inspirational captains the club had ever seen.  The fact that he had captained the club through all of their promotions, from League 2 to the Premiership, he will go down as a true Jack Legend.

Now he has written himself into the clubs history books in a much more significant capacity.  After taking over from Michael Laudrup he steered the Swans away from a potential relegation battle and he is now being considered as possibly the best manager Swansea City has ever had.

In my opinion, it’s a little bit early to be talking in those circles after only one full season in charge.  But it would not be a push to say Monk is the best manager the club has had during their time in the Premier League.

The only blot on this season, was the distasteful saga around his accusations of cheating, by Stoke’s Victor Moses during the game at the Britannia.  Many have put that down to inexperience and I am in full agreement.  It was a frustrating situation and he reacted how any normal person would have.  That was a big lesson for him to learn but he took it onboard well.

He has shown great tactical astuteness and shown he is not afraid to vary it up when the situation calls for it.  One main example of this, was when he changed his system for the second Manchester United game and it was a call that paid off beautifully.

Monk was named Manager of the Month in September

Monk was named Manager of the Month in September

Monk was deservedly mentioned in the frame to be named ‘Manager of the Year.’  And while that was almost inconceivable, with Jose Mourinho in the frame for his season at Chelsea, I believe that he did a much better job than others such as Southampton’s Ronald Koeman.

With the most respect, to the Dutchman, Monk has had to work with a much smaller budget than the Saints’ manager.  His transfers have been almost impeccable, bar one or two, and has adapted the Swans passing style to add more of a fighting mentality within the squad.  The ability to grind out results.

So for his first full season in charge, it has been a very successful campaign for ‘Mr Swansea.’  He can feel incredibly proud of the job he has done and I am excited to see what he can do next season.  I don’t expect it to be as good as the one just gone, and I don’t think any Swans supporter should, it is all about surviving in the Premier League and taking advantage of the new TV deal coming into play in 2016.

Rating:  8/10

How Monk Has Rejuvinated Swansea City

Laudrup was sacked in February

Laudrup was sacked in February

It has been just under three weeks since Swansea City decided to part company with Michael Laudrup.  The man who guided the Swans to their highest ever Premier League finish and won the club their first major trophy, the League Cup, in 2013.

Rather than appoint an experienced campaigner in charge, Chairman Huw Jenkins decided to hand the reigns over the club legend Garry Monk.  Monk remains a registered player, but had the daunting task of picking his first team for the visit of Cardiff.

Speculation of the Dane’s departure first arose in the summer of 2013, but the seeds of doubt had been planted not long after their triumph at Wembley twelve months ago.  Swansea only won two of their remaining eleven league games of the 2012/13 season.

That run did not improve significantly into the start of this season.  Five wins in their first fourteen matches had somehow seen them on the edge of the top ten, but perilously close to the bottom three.  But it was the run of eight games without a win and the defeat at West Ham, the other side of a home win over Fulham, which saw Laudrup finally axed just days before the South Wales derby vs Cardiff.

However, what was the most worrying aspect of Swansea since Wembley, their style of play had changed and it seemed the hard working and gritty side of the team had disappeared.  In the end, this was the defining aspect as to how Laudrup lost his job.  Criticism was levelled at the one-dimensional style of play the team had adapted, their lack of width, the lack of tempo and lack of fighting spirit than epitomises Swansea City.

Garry Monk hinted that things were to change at the club, as he hinted in an interview days after his appointment.

Monk has captained Swansea in all four divisions

Monk has captained Swansea in all four divisions

“We will put a bit of the Swansea way back into things.”

Granted he was talking about the spirit and the togetherness that the club has displayed over the years and was not talking about the style of play on the pitch.

Yet, when the Swans took to the pitch against Cardiff instantly it could be seen as things returning to normal.  The 3-0 win over the Bluebirds plus the 1-1 draw at Stoke, a ground where the Swans had never even scored before and the promising display in the Europa League against Napoli, began to highlight where things were changing.

Width

Many pundits and fans alike were berating the lack of width in Swansea play and how the wingers use to tuck inside so early in the play, limiting the amount of clear cut chances the team could create by not putting the ball into the box.

Laudrup’s tactics saw him become over-reliant on the full-backs to provide the width.  Most teams, on occasion, look to get their wide defenders involved in the attack, but their wingers are always the first line of attack when it comes to utilising the flanks.  The main problem with this approach was that if the attack breaks down, the defenders have got a long way to track back to defend, especially if your wingers are not drilled to get back and help out.

Routledge scored and set up a goal v Cardiff

Routledge scored and set up a goal v Cardiff

Within the first ten minutes of the game against Cardiff, Wayne Routledge and Marvin Emnes had probably put more crosses into the area than the team had done in the last five games.  And it was two crosses that led to Swansea’s final two goals in that 3-0 win, Routledge’s wing cross was headed in by Dyer and Pablo Hernandez’s cross, from a free-kick, that Wilfried Bony converted.

And that willingness to put the ball in box was seen in the 1-1 draw at Stoke, Chico Flores heading in another Hernandez cross.

In midweek against Napoli we saw how devastating the wingers can be, Nathan Dyer causing havoc for the French full-back Anthony Reveillere and nearly setting up Bony who couldn’t quite jump high enough to convert.

This newfound trust of the wide players has also taken the pressure off Wilfried Bony.  As Swansea’s record transfer, the Ivorian was always going to be under close scrutiny for his performances and goal scoring.  Earlier in the season you could say that his record was poor, but it was mainly due to the style of play.

Due to how narrow the team was playing the striker was asked to help link the play during attacking moves.  And he just wasn’t able to do it, his touch and passing was not good enough to be as involved as he was.  Laudrup was obviously looking for him to fill the boots of the injured Michu, who was instrumental in linking with the midfield.

Bony’s main strength is his finishing, or it should be when you look back at his record in Holland and the form he has been in in recent weeks.  If you put the ball in right place he will finish, which is why he has scored the majority of his goals have come from deliveries into the area.  And that is how Monk has set the team up to play since he took charge, yes Bony does get involved in the build-up but not as much as he used to.

Work Rate

There were suggestions that Laudrup’s laid back nature had transferred to his player and into the performances on the pitch.  Under previous managers, Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez, it was custom to see Swansea pressing teams high up the pitch looking to win the ball as close to the opposition goal as possible.  However, especially later in the Dane’s reign, Swansea tended to sit back and only press when the attacking team got within thirty yards of their goal.  This put the Swans back four under so much pressure.

leon and Jonathan

Leon Britton has been the symbol of what Swansea are about

What has become more evident under Garry Monk, is how Swansea have gone back to hunting the ball down, when they lose possession and not letting the opposition settle.

Character

The questions surrounding how much Swansea were fighting during matches, have surfaced due to their reputation of having to concede the opening goal until they begin to show even a glimpse of putting their stamp on the game.

There have been games that I have been to and it seemed sometimes that they were fed up and not bothered.  And while their passing style making those on the outside looking in think that the Swans have remained in contention.  But if you watched them week in week out, you could see the lack of competiveness in the squad.

In their three seasons in the Premier League, Swansea have shown they can be a thorn in the side of the top clubs especially at the Liberty Stadium.  Apart from the opening day defeat to Manchester United, Swansea have lacked a fighting spirit.

The argument is that you get judged against the teams around you, but while that might be true, a lot can be taken from how you perform against the top sides.  How the team deals with the best players?  How they compete on the day?

And in four games Monk is bringing that competitive element back into this Swansea side.  This difference was mainly showcased in the 0-0 with Napoli in the Europa League, in a game which Swansea limited Rafael Benitez’s side to only two clear cut chances and had numerous chances to win the game themselves.  When looking back that their previous four group matches yielded two draws with Kuban Krasnodar and defeats to Valencia and St Gallen, it shows the huge difference made.

Swansea would not lie down at Anfield

Swansea would not lie down at Anfield

And another major example of this was the unlucky 4-3 defeat to Liverpool, at Anfield, at the weekend.  Despite being 2-0 down inside twenty minutes to a currently rampant Liverpool, Swansea fought back to 2-2 before they conceded late into the first half.  ye, they did not crumble and a stroke of luck allowed them to equalise through a Wilfried Bony penalty but the late heartbreak, when Jordan Henderson won it for the Reds, does not overlook the fact that Swansea gave Liverpool a right scare at a stadium that has seen Everton and Arsenal humiliated in recent times.

Remainder of Season

Rewind back to Saturday 1st February and a black cloud was falling over Swansea City, after their humiliating 2-0 defeat at lowly West Ham United.  Many will point out that, even after Monk took over, the Swans record has not improved and with one win, two draws and two defeats may seem like they have a point.

However, football fans are willing to forgive if they see their team giving it their all and being competitive in games.  If anyone has watched Swansea, over the last twelve months, will notice the difference made by Monk in the last three weeks.  Suddenly life doesn’t seem so bad at Swansea City, and we are fans not to grumble especially after the position the club was in twelve years ago.

The battle at the bottom of the Premier League is one of the tightest in years with only ten points covering the bottom half of the table.  And by no means are Swansea safe, but with Monk at the helm it seems the optimism is back at the Liberty and the confidence is growing every match.

Swansea City’s Transfer Review

Unlike the panic going on at the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United, it was a pretty uneventful summer transfer window for Swansea City.

Apart from one acquisition on deadline day, the Swans secured their targets early.  I decided to take a look at the ins and outs of the Liberty Stadium and my opinions on each done deal.

Players In

Wilfried Bony

Bony is Swansea's record signing

Bony is Swansea’s record signing

The former Vitesse Arnhem frontman signed for a club record £12million deal at the start July.  Bringing with him an enviable scoring record from the previous season, with 31 league goals in 30 games.  Michael Laudrup’s thinking was to release some of the pressure off last year’s scoring sensation, Michu after the departure of Danny Graham and Luke Moore.

So far the Ivory-Coast international has netted twice in the Europa League and on his league debut against, champions, Manchester United.  While I do not believe he can repeat his extraordinary campaign of last term, 15-20 goals is a reasonable target for Bony.

 

 

Jonjo Shelvey

Shelvey joined on the advice of Brendan Rodgers

Shelvey joined on the advice of Brendan Rodgers

Starved of first-team football at Anfield, Shelvey decided to leave Liverpool for South Wales under recommendation from former Swans boss Brendan Rodgers.  It had been a promising spell at Liverpool, for Shelvey, who had made his first England appearance and now he will look to use his regular exposure to first-team action to reinforce his claims.

£5million is probably a good price when you consider the massive transfer fess these days.  Granted he comes with a bit of a fiery attitude but sometimes that is what you need, I just don’t want to see him tackling in the box, it gives me heart palpitations

 

Jordi Amat

The 21 year-old from Spain has become a highly rated centre-back in the last year and a bit, and it shows with Swansea willing to fork out £2.5million on the man from Espanyol.  He made a total of 41 appearances for his parent club, plus 27 more outings for Rayo Vallecano on loan last term.

His fledging international career has seen him represent Spain at nearly every level, apart from senior level.  Watching his performances in the Europa League, he will add ample cover for Ashley Williams and Chico Flores.  He may still have much to learn but the early signs are promising.

 

Alejandro Pozuelo

A bright start for Pozuelo at Swansea

A bright start for Pozuelo at Swansea

Was probably the surprise package of Michael Laudrup’s signings this summer.  I bet very few had heard of the 21 year-old from Real Betis.  Another addition to Swansea’s attacking midfield options and the Spaniard has quick feet and has an eye for finding space.

It’s been another positive start for another new signing, scoring in both of the home legs of the Europa League qualifying rounds.  There have been very promising cameo appearances in the Premier League also.  Will be interesting to see how he develops over the season and how integral he is to Laudrup’s plans?

 

 

Alvaro Vazquez

Initially signed on a season-long loan deal, with a view to a permanent move, the current Spanish under-21 man will be hoping to make good on his growing reputation.  The Barcelona born striker was part of Spain’s Under-21 European Championship winning side last summer and has been the leading scorer at the 2011 under-20 World Cup.

As Laudrup has pointed out, his characteristics are different to Michu and Bony.  While our two main frontmen are there for their physical presence, while Vazquez will add the pace needed up top.

 

Players Out

Kemy Agustien

Agustien was blighted by injuries at Swansea

Agustien was blighted by injuries at Swansea

The Dutch midfielder was a fans’ favourite, even though his time at Swansea was blighted by a number of injuries.  Unfortunately he was never able to nail down a starting place so he very rarely made an impact on the pitch.

He will probably be remembered for his Man of the Match display against Manchester United, at the Liberty, last season.  Where he had the midfield in his pocket.

Sadly it is the harsh truth that he may have struggled for game time, especially with Laudrup constantly looking to add strength in depth to his squad.

 

Luke Moore

Moore spent three seasons at the Liberty

Moore spent three seasons at the Liberty

Had a bright stint in the promotion winning season, 2010/11, with 3 goals helping the Swans to the play-off final.  Could only manage two goals in the Premier League in 2011/12 but one will be remembered for the rest of Swansea City’ history.  Moore’s header condemned, eventual champions, Manchester City to defeat on their first visit to the Liberty.

Moore added three more league goals, towards the end of last season, after he was called up as support for Michu following the departure of Danny Graham.  Scoring the winner against Newcastle, in the defeat to West Brom and the equaliser at Norwich.

Considering his decent form towards the end of last term, it was a slight surprise to see him leave.  However there is more quality being attracted to Swansea these days and his inconsistency would have meant he wouldn’t have stuck around for much longer.

 

Kyle Bartley

Left Arsenal to find first-team football without going out on loan, and comes to Swansea where he sent out on loan to find first-team football.  Made a total of three league appearances last season, while also playing in the Capital One Cup first round against Barnsley, and the FA Cup defeat to his former team Arsenal.

Like Jordi Amat, he is young and it will have to be seen if he is integral to Laudrup’s long-term plans.

 

Ki Sung-Yeung

Was regularly included in most of Laudrup’s sides last season, so for me to see him shipped out to Sunderland on loan was the biggest surprise for me.  Playing mainly as a holding midfielder his goal scoring was never going to be a deciding factor as to whether he was going to be a success.

38 appearances in his debut season says all you need to know about how the South Korean is regarded at Swansea.  I was pleasantly surprised how well he fitted in at Swansea, and to be fair Laudrup has said that it is not the end of Ki at Swansea and that I am pleased about.

 

Alan Tate

Tate was Swansea's first captain in the Premier League.

Tate was Swansea’s first captain in the Premier League.

“We all dream of a team of Alan Tates!”

Well maybe five years ago we did, and he epitomised everything about Swansea, giving your all.  The former Manchester United trainee has been a stalwart at Swansea, even stretching back to the days at the Vetch Field.  All the way up to the Championship he was a dead cert in the Swans line-up and created history by captaining the Swans in their Premier League debut at Manchester City.

However, the level of quality sharply rises from the Championship to the Premier League.  Tatey was always going to struggle to play at all under Laudrup and that has seen him leave for Yeovil on loan.

For the best case scenario, Laudrup would have preferred to offload the defender, but Tate is due his testimonial and that is why he has not left permanently.

 

 

Mark Gower

Gower leaves having helped the Swans to promotion.

Gower leaves having helped the Swans to promotion.

Early in the Swans Premier League adventure, Gower looked like the sort of midfielder the club needed.  A range of passing, a decent amount of strength and creativity.  As was well documented in the early doors of the 2010/11 season, Gower was the most creative midfielders in Europe, ousting the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and even Messi.

Alas that form did not continue and he frequently found himself on the sidelines, especially under Michael Laudrup.  Just as the likes of Tate, Monk and Moore started to lose their influence after Swansea’s promotion, Gower’s slide was not as drastic but over time, with new signings and the decline of his form it was only inevitable he would leave.  While I do agree with him that he was never given a fair chance under Laudrup, with the profile of the club increasing he was going to struggle to get in the team.

Still it is sad o see him leave!

Looking Forward

With a few surprises, in terms of incomings and the transfer fees paid, I believe the Swans have done some very shrewd business yet again.  To match, what was an extraordinary, last season will be extremely difficult but another challenge at the top 10 is not beyond the expectations, realistically.  Hopefully they can balance their participation in the Europa League and their Premier League exploits into another solid season.

Premier League Weekend 1 Review

So the Barclays Premier League is back and there was a glutton of goals on the first day, as new faces made their appearances on the pitch and in the dugouts.

With Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton sporting new managers how would some of the new faces fare in the opening weekend of fixtures.

Swansea City 1-4 Manchester United

Van Persie shows his goal scoring touch

Van Persie shows his goal scoring touch

New face overseeing Manchester United these days but the season beginning in winning fashion as braces from Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck gave David Moyes an opening day rout at Swansea.

The Dutchman opened the scoring after capitalising on a mistake Swansea’s Chico Flores to volley in the opener.  He also had a hand in the second goal as his flicked header allowed Antonio Valencia to set up a tap in for Danny Welbeck.

A rocket from Van Persie’s left foot effectively ended the contest before Swansea’s record signing Wilfried Bony grabbed a late consolation.  Having scored for England in midweek Welbeck grabbed his second with a delicate lob over Vorm after being played in by Rooney.

Verdict

Even with Moyes at the helm United have started the season as strongly as they finished off last term.  I think it’s fair to say the whole saga surrounding Wayne Rooney was one distraction he could do without, but to beat a strong Swansea side by four goals to one will be just the anecdote United needed.  What will also please Moyes was the performance of Danny Welbeck.  He’s been told he must improve his goal scoring record, and he has already improved on season, when he only scored once in twenty-seven league appearances.

As for Swansea, well for the first twenty-two minutes or so they matched United everywhere and had their chances.  However some slack defending led to United scoring twice in as many minutes and from there it was always going to be tough.  One plus was that record signing Wilfried Bony registered his first Premier League goal after he and fellow substitute Pablo Hernandez combined late on.

Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa

Benteke double helped Villa to three points

Benteke double helped Villa to three points

More and more questions are being asked of Arsenal’s transfer policy after they were humbled by an improved Aston Villa.  The Gunners have been linked with a number of big names this summer, including former Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain and want away Liverpool man Luis Suarez, but for whatever reason none of these have come to fruition.

The best bit of business that Aston Villa have done so far has, undisputedly, retaining Christian Benteke and the big Belgium has repaid the faith by scoring twice at the Emirates on Saturday.  After Olivier Giroud had put Arsenal in front, Villa fought back well.

For me Villa are on for a better season this time around.  Last season they weren’t short of firepower with Benteke and Andreas Weimann, their main problem was their defending and that will remain the interesting aspect to keep an eye on.

Verdict

For twenty minutes or so of the first half Arsenal looked dominant and deservedly got the goal that their start merited.  But from there they disintegrated and conceded two penalties, the second of which is debatable.  However you can not take anything away from Villa who outplayed Arsenal at times.

It will be interesting to see if this result forces Arsenal to delve into the transfer market.  The boos that rang around the Emirates at full time told you the story of the feelings amongst the supporters.

Liverpool 1-0 Stoke City 

Sturridge and Coutinho ran the show

Sturridge and Coutinho ran the show

Another club who have been subject to intense transfer speculation is Liverpool, over the future of Luis Suarez.  Yet they made headlines on the pitch for their devastating performance against Stoke.

A 1-0 score line does not tell the story of the match, Liverpool absolutely dominated and probably should have won by more, Daniel Sturridge’s first half goal was enough.  However they had to survive a late penalty to earn the three points.  Stoke looked as if they had snatched a draw when they were awarded an 88th minute penalty for a Daniel Agger handball.  Simon Mignolet made himself a Anfield hero by saving Jonathan Walters’ penalty and the rebound from Kenwyne Jones.

Liverpool’s lack of proficiency in front of goal meant that it was a nervy end and were lucky to end up winning the game in the end.  Although Asmir Begovic was the immovable object that Liverpool couldn’t get past and he was deservedly the man of the match.

Verdict

Three new signings started for Liverpool and all were majorly involved at some point.  Mignolet saving the penalty, Toure smashing a header against the crossbar and Iago Aspas being denied debut goal.

Liverpool are steadily improving and again they will be in the hunt for a Europa League place, whether they can push for the top four remains to be seen.

For Stoke it’s one Welshman out and another in as Mark Hughes takes charge at the Britannia.  They looked a lot more comfortable and did have their moments with Robert Huth rattling the bar and Lucas had to clear off the line to deny Stoke a goal.

Norwich 2-2 Everton

After Wigan’s demise last season, Everton decided to recruit Roberto Martinez after David Moyes’ departure.  He brought Arouna Kone and Antolin Alcaraz with him from the DW, while recruiting Joel Robles from Atletico Madrid.

Norwich boss Chris Hughton has recruited as well bringing in new striking options in Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper to bolster his squad along with Leroy Fer and highly rated Nathan Redmond.

Steven Whittaker gave the hosts the lead when he followed up his own rebound after hitting the post.  Everton reacted well as youngster Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman putting the Toffees ahead.  But they were denied victory as Van Wolfswinkel headed in the equaliser.

Verdict

A very even contest at Carrow Road with both sides looking intent on going forward but there were defensive mistakes that both managers will look to work on in time for next week.

three players stood out in the game.  Youngsters Barkley and Redmond shined and the Evertonian produced a thunderous left foot strike to draw Martinez’s men level.  And Van Wolfswinkel will be a favourite amongst Norwich fans, his movement and his aerial ability will be  big asset.

West Brom 0-1 Southampton

A dream week for Lambert

A dream week for Lambert

Can this week get any better for Rickie Lambert?  Score on your England debut, celebrate the birth of your new child and score the winner in your team’s Premier League opener.  The 31 year-old was in the headlines again as his late penalty gave Mauricio Pochettino’s side a winning start.

The match was not a classic with only two chances to note before the late drama.  Jay Rodriguez had clipped the bar for the Saints and Graham Dorrans firing a free-kick over for Albion.

Verdict

Both teams exceeded expectations last season with Wet Brom securing their best ever Premier League finish with 8th and Southampton finishing 14th after early season struggles.

West Brom will miss the physical presence of Romelu Lukaku, who has returned to Chelsea, but have brought in Nicolas Anelka to add some experience to their frontline.  The Saints have spent big tot strengthen with £12.5million to bring in Celtic’s Victor Wanyama who looked good throughout the game.

West Ham 2-0 Cardiff City

For the first time Wales have two teams in the Premier League and Cardiff, like Swansea, have suffered defeat on their debut in the top flight.  West Ham sealed a comfortable victory with goals from Joe Cole and Kevin Nolan in a baptism of fire for Malky Mackay.

Verdict

The Hammers had a decent campaign last term and the signings of Andy Carroll and Stuart Downing are serious statements of intent.  Another mid-table finish is on the cards and may push the top 10.

Cardiff have also splashed the cash, £28million of it in fact, to bring in striker Andreas Cornelius, Chilean midfielder Gary Medel and Tottenham defender Steven Caulker.  First target for Cardiff is survival.

Sunderland 0-1 Fulham

There’s a very good reason I’ve left his game to last and that’s because all I can tell you is the winning goal.  A poor game between the Black Cats and the Cottagers.  Swiss midfielder Pajtim Kasami with the winning header.

Verdict

An uninspiring show from both sides who will be looking to establish themselves back in mid-table positions.

 

Sunday

Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur

As if transfer speculation wasn’t rife enough, Tottenham have had the limelight thrust upon them with the uncertainty surrounding Gareth Bale.  While Spurs did not need him, they just did enough to see off a promoted Palace side.

Tottenham’s record signing Roberto Soldado scored the winning penalty that gave his team the victory.

Chelsea 2-0 Hull City

Lampard remains part of Chelsea's plans

Lampard remains part of Chelsea’s plans

The Special One’s return began with a comfortable win over another promoted side.  Jose Mourinho made an emotional return to Stamford Bridge was marked with goals from Oscar, who stabbed in after being played in by new signing Kevin de Bruyne and a thumping 30 yard free-kick from Frank Lampard.

Hull found themselves overrun in the first half, but managed not to concede in the second half despite Chelsea’s dominance.

 

 

 

Manchester City v Newcastle United

Swansea City: European Adventure Begins

Bony and Shelvey made their competitive debuts

Bony and Shelvey made their competitive debuts

It’s been a long 22 year wait but Swansea City are back in European competition.

Last Thursday saw Michael Laudrup’s side make their debut in the UEFA Europa League against Swedish side Malmo.  And it was a triumphant night as the Swans took a 4-0 first leg lead at the Liberty Stadium.

Having not played any pre-season matches, at home, this year it was the first time to see some of the new signings, including record signing Wilfried Bony.  The Ivory Coast international made his competitive debut, pairing up with last year’s top scorer Michu, and scored twice.

Having finished last season with 22 goals, Michu opened his account for the season 37 minutes in as he capitalised from a slip from Malmo defender Helander to stroke the ball into the goal.

It took Swansea only five minutes into the second half to double their advantage as Wayne Routledge’s cross found the high leaping Bony to head in his first Swansea goal.  With an hour gone Bony grabbed his second, Michu’s initial effort smacked the post before Swansea’s number 10 converted the rebound.

Another new signing, Alejandro Pozuelo, also got on the score sheet ably assisted by Bony.

Laudrup also gave starts to Jordi Amat, signed from Espanyol and £5million signing from Liverpool, Jonjo Shelvey.  Back on another season-long loan, Jonathan De Guzman came off the bench along with Jose Canas who signed on a free from Real Betis.

Swansea now head into the second leg with a firm grip on the tie and are overwhelming favourites to reach the play-off round, one away from the group stages.

Michu picked up where he left off with the opening goal

Michu picked up where he left off with the opening goal

Laudrup reckoned his side’s performance was near “perfection.”

“It was a perfect night,” he told the South Wales Evening Post.

“We scored four goals, didn’t concede any and there were no injuries.  We had five new players, so we need time for everyone to get to know each other.”

Taking a look back in the history books, Swansea’s last foray into Europe ended with a 10-0 aggregate defeat to Monaco back in 1991, who were managed by Arsene Wenger at the time.

However, before their humiliating exit of the European Cup Winners’ Cup the Swans had competed in Europe consistently during the preceding decade, between 1981-1991.

As for their manager, Michael Laudrup’s history in European football is much more distinguished, having played in the European Cup with Barcelona and Real Madrid, winning the competition in 1992 during his time at the Camp Nou.

He has also had relative success during his managerial career.  In 2003 he guided Brondby to the Danish Cup, which they also won two years later.  He completed the double in 2004/05 by winning the Danish Superliga.

Alonso and Ferrari: The Dream Couple on the verge of separation

Alonso has been frustrated by his time at Ferrari

Alonso has been frustrated by his time at Ferrari

It’s quite a statement to say that Fernando Alonso has been the best driver in Formula 1 over the last four years, despite not having lifted the world title since 2006.

In 2010 Ferrari snapped up the double world champion away from, a then uncompetitive, Renault to replace Kimi Raikkonen.  And in the intervening period the Spaniard has missed out during the final race twice and has been provided with an uncompetitive car for the last three seasons.  No addition to his world title haul and now a bust up with the Ferrari boss, is the match made in heaven about to break up?

His career with the Maranello outfit started as well as it can with victory on his debut and four more wins followed leaving him leading the championship going into the final race.  Alonso only needed to finish fourth at Abu Dhabi to claim the title in his first season for Ferrari and the team’s first since Raikkonen in 2007.  A mix-up in strategy, from the team, cost him and he finished seventh handing the title to Sebastian Vettel.  

A year later and it was no better, only one win at the British Grand Prix, and a fourth place finish in the standings in a disappointing season for Ferrari, as Vettel again triumphed.

Then came 2012 and maybe the hope that the cars in red could finally turn their fortunes around and deliver a world title for the Spaniard.  But early season signs were not good, the Ferrari was off the pace and struggling to stay competitive against the Red Bulls and McLarens.  Most pundits had written off Alonso’s title challenge before the season started.

Alonso has tasted victory 11 times for Ferrari

Alonso has tasted victory 11 times for Ferrari

However, Alonso refused to go away and somehow claimed victory at the second race in Malaysia and led the championship despite having one the most uncompetitive cars on the circuit.  He also managed to claim tow more victories in that season but a late surge from Vettel denied Alonso yet again.

And it seems 2013 is going to hold more of the same for the Spanish and Italian combination.  Despite winning his home Grand Prix in Spain and in China, Alonso trails Vettel by 39 points and there have been hints he maybe on his way out of Ferrari.

After finishing fifth at last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso insisted to the press that he was “very happy” at Ferrari despite rumours of him moving to Red Bull.  He was also admonished by Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo for comments made about the Ferrari car last weekend.

It’s been a slightly turbulent time at Ferrari for Alonso and is he starting to lose patience with the team?  The man has carried the Ferrari team for years and has somehow put up two fantastic title challenges in below par machinery, so how will the relationship between Ferrari and Alonso survive this latest setback?

History Making Marquez Takes Laguna Seca Victory

Marquez continues to make history

Marc Marquez extended his championship lead after claiming victory at Laguna Seca.

Marquez fought off the challenge of pole sitter, Stefan Bradl and Valentino Rossi to become the youngest ever rider to record consecutive top class MotoGP wins.  The win opens up a 16 point gap over teammate Dani Pedrosa.

After claiming his first pole position, Stefan Bradl fought Marquez for most of the race before conceding defeat but still completed his best finish in MotoGP.  Valentino Rossi followed up his third place in Germany with another podium finish, which moves him above Cal Crutchlow, in the championship.

Alvaro Bautista impressed with fourth ahead of the injured pair of Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, with Crutchlow in seventh, his worst finish of the season.

Before the race began the whole MotoGP universe paid their respects to Andrea Antonelli – who was killed in a World Supersport race in Moscow earlier that day – with a minute’s silence.

Bradl and Rossi were the two fast starters and the pair were the two leaders ahead of Marquez in the early stages.

In 2008 Rossi was involved in one of the most iconic MotoGP overtakes, when he dived past Casey Stoner at the notorious corkscrew.  This time he was on the receiving end as Marquez dived up the inside to move into second, in the process sending both into the sand on the exit.

“I had been watching videos of Valentino from 2008 and I thought it was impossible to repeat that move.” Marquez told broadcasters.  “But when I passed him I had to go wide and it was exactly the same.”

“It looks like Marc made my own overtake but I have a trademark!” Rossi joked after the race.  “He owes me some money!”

The MotoGP universe will remain in America for the next round at Indianapolis in a month’s time.

Results

  1. Marc Marquez
  2. Stefan Bradl
  3. Valentino Rossi
  4. Alvaro Bautista
  5. Dani Pedrosa
  6. Jorge Lorenzo
  7. Cal Crutchlow
  8. Nicky Hayden
  9. Andrea Dovizioso
  10. Hector Barbera

Resurgent Williams Wins In Rotterdam

Williams won his first ranking event since 2011

Williams won his first ranking event since 2011

Mark Williams completed his first tournament victory in two years by beating Mark Selby in the Rotterdam Open.

‘The Welsh Potting Machine’ beat the world number two 4-3 to claim his first title since the 2011 German Masters.

The two-time former world champion took the opening frame of the match before Selby responded, in style, with a break of 136 to level at 1-1 before moving ahead in frame three.  However, Williams hit back with breaks of 51 and 67 to move just one frame away from victory.  A mistake from Williams in the next allowed Selby to clear with 77 to force a decider.  But Williams kept his composure to seal the match with a 65 in the decider.

“It gives you a thrill winning anywhere,” Williams said after the match.  “I don’t win as much anymore, so this is quite nice.  It’s a good win for me.

Mark and Neil (Robertson) are the two best players in the world, for me, by a mile so it’s nice to beat Mark in a final.  He beat me in the last one we played, but he probably got about £70,000 more than me this time but he won’t mind giving me this one.”

Milkins Secures Win Over Whirlwind

Milkins beat White to qualify for the Crucible in April

Milkins beat White to qualify for the Crucible in April

Robert Milkins claimed his second victory over Jimmy White in three months.  The victory puts Milkins ahead in the head to head between the pair and books him a place in the third round of the Wuxi Classic.On his first visit to Wuxi, Jack Lisowski was knocked out in the second round by former world champion Mark Williams.

Milkins, who reached the last sixteen of the world championships by beating White in the qualifiers, stormed into a 3-0 lead with a break of 86 in frame two.  White managed to reduce the deficit to 3-2 by winning frames four and five.  After winning frame six, Milkins was only one frame away from victory before White pulled another one back with a break of 72.  The man Gloucester did manage to seal the match with the aid of a break of 39 in the next.

Jack Lisowski let slip a 3-1 and 4-3 lead as he lost to Welshman Mark Williams.  After losing the opening frame, the Cheltenham man won three frames on the spin to move two frames ahead at the mid-session interval.  A break of 104 helped Wales’ Williams to win the next two to square the match.  Lisowski then put himself one away from victory as he knocked in a break of 56.  However the double world champion fought back and breaks of 51 and 71 put him into the next round.

Selected Results

Robert Milkins 5-3 Jimmy White

Mark Williams 5-4 Jack Lisowski

Neil Robertson 5-2 Martin Gould

John Higgins 5-1 Dechawat Poomjaeng

Cao Yupeng 5-4 Barry Hawkins

Anthony Hamilton 5-2 Stuart Bingham

Batman Arkham Origins: First Impressions

Batman Returns...in the past!

Batman Returns…in the past!

The anticipated prequel in the Batman Arkham franchise was finally showcased at E3 this past week.  Warner Bros. Games Montreal unveiled the new gameplay demo at its conference at E3 in Los Angeles.  It depicts a younger Batman on Christmas Eve with a $50,000,000 bounty on his head which has attracted the attention of some of the most dangerous assassins in the DC Universe.

One of the major differences with this installation is that Rocksteady Studios are not the developers of the new title.  While they have offered their assistance to Warner, it is rumoured they are working on a brand new title to be released in the future.

The universe that Rocksteady has created is so rich and so in-depth that any follow-up act from another studio will be hard to accomplish.  However, after looking at the full demo the developers have stayed faithful to the characters and the overall essence of the Dark Knight in the Arkham games.  This time the playable world is even bigger, the scale has increased in every Arkham game and this time the whole of Gotham is available to the player to fully utilise all of Batman’s capabilities.  The set-up is similar to Activision’s Spider-Man games, the player is given an open world to traverse with random crimes happening all over the map.  Admittedly, Activision’s recent entries of the Spider-Man games have not managed to do the universe justice, but I think with Origins if the developers follow the concept of the enemy placement in Arkham City and there is plenty of variety and replay value then they will be onto a winner.

Combat has been upgraded

Combat has been upgraded

A ground-breaking concept that the Arkham games has introduced is the combat system.  Most superhero games had adopted the button mashing technique for their combat, with a very finicky lock on mechanic.  But with Arkham Asylum Rocksteady introduced a brand new free-flow combat system designed to help string massive combos and deal even more devastating blows and showing off Batman’s combat skills.

The core of the combat system has remained intact and it looks almost an exact replica of what we saw in Arkham City.  However, if you look closely you can see the subtle changes, mainly in the types of counters that have been implemented.  Many of the basic attacks are the same, which is to be expected as it is still the same Batman who has had the same training as the Batman from the previous games.  The main changes are in the enemy compositions, at E3 the developers introduced a new enemy in the martial artist an enemy which can counter Batman’s attacks.  While Batman can also counter his counter’s it makes the combat very reminiscent of the fighting style of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movie franchise.

One of the most distinctive attributes of Batman is his detective nous and how he compiles evidence and clues to determine who committed a crime.  In Arkham City Batman used his detective vision to piece crime scenes together and pinpoint certain points that connect various plot points.  From what we saw in the demo there many different areas you can scan and recreate the crime virtually and collaborate all the pieces of evidence to solve the ‘case files.’

Batman takes on the underworld

Batman takes on the underworld

And this leads on to the game’s plot.  Set on Christmas Eve, gangster leader Black Mask has put out a $50,000,000 price tag on Batman and has hired the most deadly assassins to kill Batman.  Warner have confirmed that Black Mask will be the main antagonist supported by his hired assassins: Deadshot and Deathstoke.  The Penguin, Bane and the Joker have been confirmed and while we see brief cameos of Bane and the Joker, in the demo, it is unclear where they fit into the main narrative, at this point.

Set five years before Batman Arkham Asylum, Batman is supposed to be an urban myth to the criminal society and only the hierarchy know, for sure, of his existence.  Which also means that he also has the Gotham Police Force after him, James Gordon is not commissioner and corruption is rife throughout the city.  And it seems Batman is not the only one who takes a grim view of this fact, Warner Bros announced a new villain in Anarky.  “He’s anti-corporate, he’s anti-government and he’s kind of pro-Batman which is a little bit weird,” the Warner spokesman told audiences at the conference.  While he commits crimes he targets the city’s establishment and tries to reach out and attract Batman’s attention.

So the overall impression I got from the Batman Arkham Origins is that it looks just as good as its predecessors and the game plays similarly to the previous Arkham titles, which is a good thing the way the previous games played was the reason people fell in love with it.  The main key for this new game is the main story, how will it hold up to the previous games and will it tie in completely to the previous games in terms of setting up the main story arcs of Asylum and City.  How will the characters be developed into what we see in Rocksteady’s record-breaking games?

It was finally confirmed that veteran voice actor Kevin Conroy would not be returning for Origins but for a future Rocksteady project.  Roger Craig Smith was confirmed as the voice of the Dark Knight and he sounds like a younger Kevin Conroy, which is very good casting from the developers.  He has the threatening tone of Conroy but there is more exuberance in his voice, to portray a more youthful Batman.

Predicted Review score: 8/10.  The core gameplay will be what we all loved in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City but how will the storyline tie into these games?  If Warner can get the events in Origins to tie into the storyline of Rocksteady’s games and the story is interesting then this will be as good of not better than the previous games.

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