The Roker Ramble: Second Season Syndrome Swans?
Swansea have made a lot of friends, and gained a fair few admirers this season (not least their manager) thanks to their slick passing game and possession football.
Unlike a lot of people predicted, they go into their final few games of the campaign with no worries of relegation, and currently sit pretty in 12th position, a full 13 points above the relegation zone.
However, despite a thumping 3-0 win over Blackburn last time out, the smallest cracks have begun to show in Swansea's armour, and I can't be alone in wondering how they will fare next season...
I'll be the first to admit that, when Swansea were promoted, I honestly didn't think that they would have what it takes to stay up. Although their 'pleasing on the eye' brand of football was great to watch in the Championship, I had doubts as to whether players such as Leon Britton, Danny Graham and (especially) Garry Monk had what it takes to mix it with the big boys, so to speak.
However, I have been consistently proven wrong by the Swans, who have every right to be proud of their first season in the top flight. When people look back at their results this season, they will almost certainly automatically see victories over Manchester City and Arsenal first, but arguably their finest performance of the season was a crushing 3-0 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage.
However, as I mentioned in the introduction, a few cracks have started to show in the Welsh club, and it is a question of whether they can develop a solid plan B that, for me, will decide how well they do next season.
There have been a few references this season to Swansea as 'Swansalona', thanks to their passing game and possession football. I don't for a minute deny that they can keep the ball well, but statistics can not only be misleading, but downright pointless at times.
The recent game against Newcastle highlighted this perfectly. Despite having more than 70% of possession during the game, the Magpies came away from the Liberty Stadium with a 2-0 win, and looked rather comfortable in doing so. Proving that you can have all the possession in the world, but if it is gained by knocking the ball square across the midfield, rather than forward and in to areas of the field where goalscoring opportunities can be created, then you may as well not have it at all.
The famous stat to emerge this season was that Leon Britton had a better pass completion percentage than Barcelona's Xavi. In fact, he had the best in any of the top European divisions. Not only has it led to calls for him to be included in England's squad for Euro 2012 in the summer, but it has brought attention his way from all quarters. At this stage in the season, his stats still stand at a staggering 93.3% of passes completed, that's 1,895 that found a man from 2,031 attempts. However, what is telling is that his assists tally sits on zero. Of all those passes, not one made a goal for his team.
The overwhelming success story at Swansea has actually been a January loan signing in the form of Icelandic maestro Gylfi Sigurdsson, who joined from Hoffenheim. With seven goals, two assists and a hat full of man of the match performances to his name, it would be crazy if the Swans didn't do everything in their power to secure his long-term signature. Whether his performances have merited a move to a supposedly 'bigger' club or not remains to be seen.
A number of teams have approached the Premier League in the way that Brendan Rogers team have this season recently, and it is fair to say that it isn't a long-term success story. Ian Holloway's Blackpool were roundly praised for their cavalier attitude and entertaining style, but that will seem scant consolation now for a team battling to return to the top flight via the Championship playoffs. Add to the mix Burnley, and Tony Mowbray's West Brom. Although the teams rightly deserved the plaudits that they received, they all found themselves in the bottom three at the end of their respective campaigns.
The Swans would also do well to remember to keep their own expectations, and opinion of themselves in check. Although Brendan Rogers has been universally praised for his work this season, he angered many a Sunderland fans with his comments following Sunderland's victory over his team at the Stadium of Light. Claiming that the Black Cats fans would have been 'delighted to see the Swansea team that everyone has been talking about', Rogers would be well advised to keep his ego at a manageable level. As Phil Brown would probably agree to, the team's football may make the club a lot of new friends, but a manager's attitude can lose them just as quickly.
Perhaps Swansea should look at the teams who have been a success in establishing themselves, and take a few notes ahead of next season. Stoke City, under the management of Tony Pulis, have proved that style isn't everything when it comes to success in the Premier League, and now have European experience to add to their collective CV to further hammer home the point.
The Swans are in danger of being 'found out', as they were by Newcastle, and QPR only a few days later. Teams will be happy to let Swansea have the ball in front of them, and as long as they keep a keen eye on wingers Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer, forcing Swansea to play through the middle, they are always likely to struggle.
The key question now is, does Brendan Rogers have what it takes to develop a new system, to run alongside the one that has served him so well, to ensure that the Swans can spring enough surprises next season to keep themselves in the Premier League?