It was a baptism of fire for Premiership new boys Swansea City at the Etihad Stadium on Monday night. When the fixtures were announced back in June, Swans fans would have been eagerly awaiting the prospect of a mouth-watering away game against Roberto Mancini’s big-spending Manchester City, and, still buoyed from the euphoria of a magnificent playoff final success against Reading FC, may even have believed they could hold their own against a side tipped to be challenging for the Premier League trophy this season.
Manager Brendan Rodgers is cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances of maintaining their top-flight status during this campaign, but has steadfastly refused to fall into the trap which has been the downfall of so many other promoted teams in spending millions on a whole new squad of players without reaping the rewards, instead choosing to add only those he feels will complement the players he already has at his disposal, in which he has total belief.
As a result, Rodgers named a side to face Manchester City containing seven of the players who featured in the Playoff final, with nine of the eleven making their Premiership debut. It was always going to be a tough task against the proven quality of the opposition, but for the opening twenty minutes or so, the Swans held their own. Sticking to their principles of playing the attractive, passing football which drew many plaudits in the Championship, Swansea frustrated City for a period, much to the exasperation of the home support.
As the first half wore on, however, City began to dominate, with David Silva controlling the midfield and Edin Dzeko causing Angel Rangel untold problems out wide. For all Swansea’s possession, they were finding it impossible to create any clear-cut chances in front of goal, with Danny Graham left totally isolated up front, despite the efforts of Nathan Dyer and the pacy Scott Sinclair on the flanks. By contrast, City struck the crossbar twice and as the half wore on, applied more and more pressure, with the half-time whistle coming as welcome respite for both the players and the superb travelling support, who were in fine voice throughout.
The second half was a stark reminder of the uphill battle Swansea face if they are to compete in this league. Once Dzeko opened the scoring on 57 minutes, the floodgates opened and the introduction of new signing Sergio Aguero only added fuel to the fire. The Argentinian, a reported £35 million pound signing, was presented with an excellent chance almost immediately following his introduction, before adding his name to the score sheet on 68 minutes. It was his goal in added time, however, which had both the home and away fans purring, as he unleashed a sublime, unstoppable shot from 25 yards out.
The resulting 4-0 scoreline was harsh on Swansea, but in his post-match interview, manager Rodgers was quick to point out how proud he was of his players in what was a stern test. While it was certainly a rude awakening to life in the Premiership, there were plenty of positives to take from the game.
The most notable was the performance of newly signed goalkeeper Michel Vorm. The Dutch keeper produced a string of outstanding saves under intense pressure, but more importantly, looked calm and assured at the back and confident on the ball; one of the principal reasons Rodgers cited in signing him.
Loan signing Steven Caulker also had an impressive Premier league debut alongside Ashley Williams in central defence and Leon Britton was a fearless terrier in midfield in the first half, despite finding himself at a distinct height advantage against the powerhouse of Yaya Toure.
To read too much into this result would be absolute folly. There was plenty in the Swans performance to suggest they will be more than adequately equipped to cope with what the Premiership has to throw at them. Admittedly, they must work on cutting out defensive errors and will certainly need more cutting edge up front, but there is enough quality within the current squad to suggest they can hold their own. Their home form will be crucial and Saturday’s game against Wigan Athletic at the Liberty Stadium, with the added incentive of the return of former boss Roberto Martinez, offers a perfect opportunity to get points on the board.