Villa v Swansea Match Preview

Posted by Kevin Hughes

Just three games into the new Premier League season, and six points separate Villa and Swansea. Not in a good way, either. Villa have a single point. Swansea, on the other hand, are all the way up in second position.

On the positive front, Villa's point was a good one, gained at Newcastle from a much-improved performance, a far cry from the shambolic state of affairs that was the home defeat to Everton. At Newcastle, Villa controlled much of the game, their midfield diamond - Karim El Ahmadi at the base, Stephen Ireland at the tip, Barry Bannan and Brett Holman left and right - dictating affairs. The home side's front pair, Cisse and Ba, won't have many more quieter matches this season. It took a real screamer of a goal, from Ben Arfa, for Newcastle to earn a point. And Villa missed late chances.

So, Villa seem in better shape than three weeks ago. Further positives come in the shape of several new signings, none of whom were used at Newcastle. Joe Bennett is expected to start at left-back; Ashley Westwood may feature in midfield and Belgian striker Christian Benteke has a role to play, probably coming from the bench. He'll be competing with fit-again Gabby Agbonlahor for a role alongside Darren Bent. Chris Herd and Fabian Delph are both fit again, while Marc Albrighton begins training on Monday. Villa boss Paul Lambert has plenty of choice.

Swansea, however, continue to defy expectation. They were the surprise package of last season - this season, they have got better. The sweet football style remains, but they've added a touch more dynamism. They have a touch of class, and no mistake.

Swansea's new home kit this season more or less mimics Real Madrid's more famous white shirts, and there is more than a hint of Spanish style about the Welsh side. For one, the patient possession game that adorned their Premier League debut in 2011-12, cultivated and nurtured so impressively by Brendan Rodgers, was reminiscent of the tika-taka football pioneered by Barcelona (and of course, the Spanish national side). Secondly, Rodgers' successor as Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup, is immersed in La Liga culture, enjoying his peak as a player starring for Barcelona and Real Madrid, and developing his coaching reputation at Getafe and Real Mallorca. Finally, Laudrup's Swansea side has a heavy Spanish playing influence, having recruited Michu, Jonathan De Guzman, Chico Flores, and latterly, Pablo Hernandez. The quartet either arrived directly from Spanish football, or have experience of playing in the country.

This is a different Swansea to last season. The club lost some key figures over the summer, not least Rodgers, who replaced Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool. Joe Allen also left - the hub of Swansea's midfield, the man who made just about everything tick, joined Rodgers at Anfield. Scott Sinclair went to Manchester City. Steve Caulker, the centre-back on loan for a season, returned to Spurs.

The way Swansea have adjusted has been almost seamless, though. Maintaining the blueprint for a certain style of play, the club appointed Laudrup. As a player, he was gorgeous to watch. Seriously. The 1986 World Cup was the first I was old enough to properly watch and the defining moment, for me, was Laudrup's goal for Denmark, against Uruguay. He dribbled past three of four defenders, plus goalkeeper, to score. But he didn't just beat them; he glided past them, with movement so fluid it was like liquid. Little wonder he went on to enjoy such a fantastic club career, with Barca and Real.

As a coach, Laudrup's reputation - unsurprisingly - was as a purveyor of attractive football, but also as someone who felt comfortable at a smaller club. Getafe, Mallorca - not icons of La Liga. A perfect fit, then, for Swansea. The players he has recruited for the Swans fit certain criteria; Laudrup focused on Spain because he knows the scene and was aware that economic factors meant a good deal could be had. He targeted players who knew what it was like to play for smaller clubs, so that they'd appreciate Swansea, and not arrive in Wales with egos big enough to suffocate the dressing room. Michu, scorer of three goals so far this season, came from Rayo Vallecano. De Guzman from Villarreal (and formerly of Mallorca). Flores from Genoa, via Mallorca and Almeira. Hernandez was from a slightly bigger pool, Valencia.

The mix is working, and Swansea have made a splendid start to the season, beating QPR and West Ham, drawing with Sunderland and averaging three goals a game. They offer real attacking threat. Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge are incisive on the flanks - Sinclair hasn't been missed - with Hernandez to come into the equation. Michu is thriving as a '10'. Lone striker Danny Graham doesn't totally convince me - he's too hit and miss for my liking - but has a habit of continuing to find dangerous positions and usually, eventually, gets his reward.

Defensively, there are weaknesses and Villa must exploit the fact that left-back Neil Taylor, out with a long-term injury, and Flores, who is suspended, will be missing. Ben Davies and Alan Tate are expected to step in, and Paul Lambert's strategy is likely to include plans to put these two under pressure.

Lambert has a good record against Swansea; he won three out of four matches while at Norwich. But Villa fans also have another record in mind - the woeful recent league form which has seen the team win one of its last 14 home games in the Premier League. That's got to stop, and soon.

ESPN Conversations