With the start of the new season literally days away, I thought I'd indulge in a Swansea City season preview. To start, I'm going to take a look at the team's new signings.
After last season's campaign, the team badly needed a striker, some defensive depth (not to mention height), some cover on the wings, some strength in the middle and, as it turned out, a new goalkeeper or two. So, one of everything, then (my favourite order at the bar). Manager Brendan Rodgers seems to have an taste for misfits; players who have always shown promise but have failed to catch on anywhere else. He also like them fast. His first experiment was successful, as giving Scott Sinclair a team and a jersey to call his own resulted in 27 goals and (with Nathan Dyer) the most dynamic winger pairing in the Championship. This summer, Rodgers has followed suit and brought unsettled speedsters Wayne Routledge and Leroy Lita in from the cold (i.e.. The North). He's also added one or two others.
Let's take a look.
Swansea's dwarf defence definitely needed a boost in the height department; The team's tallest defender, the versatile Alan Tate, is barely 6ft, and although Ash Williams plays like a bigger man, adding a few more actual inches was definitely a priority heading into the off-season. Caulker's well-built 6 foot 3 frame fills that need nicely, and what he might lack in experience he more than makes up for with athleticism; another important upgrade amidst the veteran legs of Tate and skipper Garry Monk.
Rating: B+ It's only a loan deal, and although it's a season-long loan, the lack of a long-term solution takes a little lustre off this deal. However, given Swansea's stature and financial clout (or lack thereof) in relation to their new Premier League classmates, Caulker represents a good catch.
I'm not sure there was a single Swans fan who didn't feel the gut-punch of Fabio Borini leaving for Parma. In chasing a replacement, Swansea were never going to be able to meet the transfer fee and likely salary demands of a proven top flight goalscorer, so Brendan Rodgers literally went to the next best thing: the leading goalscorer from the Championship. Danny Graham turned down other teams to join Swansea, such is the allure of the team's football and Rodgers' charisma. He's not scared of using either foot or his head and he can score from any situation, which makes him ideal for the Swans lone striker role. Of course, the jury will be out until he shows he can score at Premier League level, but given the options, I think Rodgers got the best available.
Rating: A- The minus represents Graham's lack of top flight experience, but this grade could easily turn into an A+ if he can score a few goals.
I've had my doubts about Lita before, mostly because he seems to be a "bit of a character", and not necessarily in a good way. However, in fairness, I've never met the man so his bad press might be just that; bad press. Brendan Rodgers certainly seems to rate him, however, and since it was Rodgers' eye for talent which furnished Swansea with the missing pieces of last season's promotion puzzle in Scott Sinclair and, briefly, Fabio Borini, I'm more than willing to trust him again. Lita brings pace and Premier League experience, and will deputise for Danny Graham with one eye on the starters shirt.
Rating: B+ He's got good tools and big league experience. If he can mix into the team and stay disciplined, he'll be a useful weapon.
I saw Routledge play for QPR last year and thought he looked as dangerous as anyone on either team. That QPR were not able to hold on to him will be Swansea's gain, and a significant one. Routledge has good pace (a recurring theme with Rodgers' signings), good touch and great vision. He also brings a bag of tricks equal to that of Sinclair or Dyer, allowing Swansea to field any two of their three widemen and still give opposing full backs headaches. This is important, because every team Swansea play will attempt to contain the wide men; with at least three viable starters who can play either flank (Routledge can also play in the middle), the team has the opportunity to contrive favourable match-ups. Once Routledge builds some chemistry and communication with his new team mates, he'll be a handful.
Rating: A A smart addition which will make sure Swansea's attack stays dangerous if fatigue, injury or suspension hit.
Superficially, it is easy to write Moreira off as Benfica's former third string goalie, but this would not be fair to the Portuguese stopper. A cursory look through his history reveals that he lost his place in that team (and about 3 seasons worth of games) through two separate knee injuries, each one coming just when he had won the starting spot, and as a consequence, Benfica kept bringing in more starting calibre goalkeepers to cover for those injuries.
This is the knock-on effect of a specialist position player suffering a long term injury - by the time they get healthy, they often find their job has gone. Consider the comparatively short Portuguese season (30 games), remember those injuries and it's easy to see why Moreira only averaged 11.2 games a year. However, that's 11.2 games for one of Portugal's "Big Three" teams, including a solid half a season’s worth in 2004 to help Benfica to their first title in 11 years.
In action, Moreira is somewhat skittish; bouncy and energetic and occasionally unconvincing; he always seems to do just about enough to keep the ball out, and if he does keep the ball out, no-one can complain. It's still a nail-biting experience every time the ball comes near him, however, especially on high balls, which he likes to punch, when he can get to them. I prefer to see a high ball glued to a six foot five goalie's gloves, but then I'm old fashioned like that. I will say that smaller guys are often better with the agility stuff like getting down for the low balls, and that's somewhat important, too, eh? Plus, he's as brave as they come.
Rating: B for Brown Trouser Time, which is all the time. He can do the job, he just chooses to do it in a particularly exhilarating way. If the injuries are behind him and he punches clean then he could be a solid pickup for the club.
A fantastically unexpected move following the teams failure to bring in Fulham's Stockdale or Forest's Camp; Vorm is better than either and cheaper than he ought to have been, as Swansea were able to exploit the expiry date on Vorm's contract to bring him in for just £1.5 million. Despite being a late addition to the squad, there is a strong chance he will start versus Man City in the season opener. Like former 'keeper De Vries, Vorm is a Dutchman. Unlike De Vries, Vorm is an internationally capped Dutchman; #2 behind Stekelenburg. He can play the ball with his feet. Oh, and he's also something of a penalty stopper, which will be a safety net if Alan Tate has to cover at centre back. The acquisition of Vorm ought to put all doubts about the goalkeeping position to bed, and more than fills the hole left by De Vries' departure, especially with Moreira also on board.
Rating: A+ About as good a keeper as the Swans could realistically afford. Better, even.
There's still talk of more signings (Ayala in particular), and I fancy Swansea to bring in at least two others which I'll cover as and when. For now, I'll continue with my Season Preview. Next time, we'll look at reasons for and against Swansea's Premier League survival.
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