The case for Swansea to stay up : Back in August, I speculated that the Swans fluid passing and under-rated defensive strength would see them fare better than the oft-compared Blackpool and stave off relegation.
Verdict so far : Well, this was hardly a Nostradumian feat of sooth-saying, although we'll obviously have to wait until the seasons end for the real proof of avoiding relegation. I imagine many Swans fans were equally optimistic heading into the season, and so far that optimism has been justified. Granted, the team have only just started to address their dubious away form, but the fact the Swans have yet to suffer consecutive defeats and beat pass-masters Arsenal at their own game says a lot.
Reasons why Swansea will struggle : In my original post, I had concerns over the dearth of full back depth and lack of size in midfield, and ruminated about Danny Graham's viability as a top flight striker.
Verdict so far : Graham has blown his detractors out of the water, netting regularly and showing enough class to crop up in conversations about England caps. The Swans vulnerability at full back has been eased by youngster Jazz Richards, who has played superbly in spot duty given his lack of experience and the level he has been asked to compete at. The team’s necessary acquisition of Curtis Obeng adds all important depth at the position plus promise for the future.
As for the midfield issue; Allen and Britton might be small, but Premier League teams have rarely managed to exploit that fact to any real advantage. Both players thrived in the more physical Championship and have shown their appreciation for the gentler big league by turning in European-stat-leading performances on a weekly basis. Kemy Agustien's emergence has been helpful, and the addition of tall Gylfi Sigurdsson has given the team an attack-minded playmaker who has proven a handful for opposing defences in his first few starts.
The player who must deliver is : I said Danny Graham. And he has.
Verdict so far : See above.
The Swans X factor is : I said Stephen Dobbie, and I probably couldn't have been more wrong if I'd said Alan Tate (although everyone knows Alan Tate is the heart of the Swans).
Verdict so far : Dobbie was a significant piece of the first eleven during Swansea's journey to the Premiership, and a personal favourite. Given barely two starts and a fistful of cameo appearances since, he has looked disconnected, out of sync and superfluous. Of course, this is exactly what will happen to a player when he is starved of first team appearances and has no chance to develop form, timing or touch. Why Brendan Rodgers has chosen to ostracise Dobbie from the starting line-up is unclear, though it could be because every time he gets the ball he shanks it over the crossbar. Sadly for Dobbie, the team seems to be performing just fine without any regular contribution from the Scotsman. Therefore...
The Swans actual X factor might just be : Gylfi Sigurdsson. I know Gylfi has only been with the team since January and is technically a loan player, but Siggy Stardust has almost single-handedly turned Swansea into a top ten team. His passing, vision, work ethic and footballing intelligence have elevated the Swans entire midfield unit to new heights. Witness his performance against West Brom : scored one, set up the winner and made a goal-line clearance. Sigurdsson also set up Graham for the winner versus Arsenal, and has been so good, if I were Huw Jenkins right now I'd be tempted to take the teams supposed £3.5 million transfer budget and stick it all on black to try and raise enough money to buy him permanently. Great risk, greater reward.
Swansea's secret weapon is : I said Ferrie Bodde, who was expected back from injury. That might still happen, but right now Bodde's football playing future is balancing on a surgeon's scalpel edge.
Verdict so far : After three attempts to return from a serious knee injury, Bodde broke down last week in a reserves game with a new serious injury to his 'good' knee. If Bodde can return, it might not be this season after all, though I don't doubt he would be able to find his old form; Bodde's footballing ability is extraordinary, the product of aptitude and instinct over learned skills. He would be a boon to the side should he be able to return, not least as a motivational feel-good story and the embodiment of determination. In the absence of Bodde...
Swansea's other secret weapon might just be : Nathan Dyer's shooting boots. I'm serious. Have a look at this: Prior to Swansea's satisfying vendetta victory versus Aston Villa, Dyer had scored just 14 times in 116 games for Swansea. Then came Villa. Dyer scored. The next game, a cup tie against Barnsley, he scored again. And to prove he can hang with the best, he scored his third goal in as many games the very next match versus Arsenal. In those three games alone, Dyer quadrupled his goal output for this season and presently has scored twice as many goals this season than in either of the last two. Nathan Dyer was already five foot five of pure football, and now he knows how to score. Premier league be warned; Dizzy just got even more dangerous.
Swansea's toughest opponent this season will be : I had said 'not Manchester United', reasoning that the teams nearer Swansea's station would not only prove the more competitive given the expectation of victory from both sides, but also the most meaningful, given the inevitability of such games' six-pointer status.
Verdict so far : I think it's fair to say this is the case; nobody will begrudge the Swans dropping rare home points to Manchester United, or even getting hammered away to Manchester City... but do you think anyone will let them forget about the breakdown at Molineux or those frustrating home draws to bottom-six teams should the Swans season be decided for the worse by a single point? Me either. Here's hoping it won't even come to that, and certainly victories and draws against Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea have set the team in good stead (and the top ten) for the home stretch. Given the last two games of the Swans season will be against Manchester United and Liverpool, now is a good time to pick up points.
Verdict overall : I wasn't too far off. Sure, some things were obvious, but Dobbie's dissension was certainly unexpected, while Bodde's ongoing injury concerns are almost tragic. Rodgers smart additions during January (Obeng, Sigurdsson, Situ, McEachran and Donnelly) have set the team up for a strong showing in the second half and for the future.