Swans primed for Malmo tie

Posted by Max Hicks

Tom Dulat/Getty ImagesMichu and company begin Swansea's Europen adventure with a clash against Swedish side Malmo.

Swansea City will play Swedish club Malmo in their third qualifying round Europa League tie. Malmo beat Scottish side Hibernian to earn their date with the Swans, and sent an emphatic message in doing so with a 9-0 aggregate scoreline. Malmo's demolition of Hibs included a 7-0 away victory on Hibs' own soil, which might give the Swans pause for thought as they prepare to host the first of two legs next Thursday.

The last time Swansea competed in Europe was during the 1991-92 season, when they were on the receiving end of a similar scoreline, losing 1-10 on aggregate to Monaco. Of course, at the time, the Swans were playing in the third tier of the domestic league system, finishing the season in 19th position, just two places safe of the relegation zone. The Swans had qualified for what was then the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup after winning the Welsh Cup.

Clearly, much has changed since then. The Swans' Premier League credentials and major domestic cup win make Malmo the marginal underdogs in the tie, despite the Swedish club's strong heritage. Malmo have won the Swedish league a record 19 times, although they placed third last season.

Adding some extra spice to the storyline is the Danish-Swedish rivalry, which will give Michael Laudrup a little extra incentive to win, and might see the Swans' travelling supporters temporarily boosted by Danish football fans; Malmo is barely 16 miles from Copenhagen, where the Swans will be based for the away tie.

However, the home tie comes first, which isn't ideal from a tactical standpoint. Laudrup himself has spoken of his preference to play away first in a two-legged affair, and the reasoning seems straight-forward -- it's better to play the decisive leg in your own stadium, where the "12th man" phenomenon of your own supporters can make a difference to the game (and sometimes to the officials).

Beyond the influence of the supporters, playing away first allows a side to get a feel for their opposition without the pressure to control the game. An away side can play conservatively, shut up shop and figure out where to apply the pressure in the return fixture. That's an advantage Malmo will enjoy at the Swans' expense, so it is vital Laudrup's side come out strong and look to get goals in the first leg. A shaky start, and Malmo might sneak an away goal early which could seriously dent the Swans' ambitions to make the group stages.

The away goals rule has been criticised for having the opposite of its intended effect. It was originally implemented in 1965 to prevent the need for expensive replays and to encourage the away side to take some risks instead of merely parking the bus. Now, with sufficient parity of playing conditions and styles across Europe, the rule merely allows some goals to count for more than others and as such undermines the competitive element.

On Thursday, should the Swans score first and score early, it seems reasonable that the side might then try to suffocate the game to stop an away goal. However, the Swans thrive when playing with freedom and confidence; putting a priority on defence is literally a defensive action, and defensive actions are more generally borne of fear than of confidence. Therefore, it seems vital that the Swans don't lose sight of their home advantage by playing with uncertainty. Malmo have proved they can score, but an assured performance from Laudrup's men should see the Swans capitalise on their home advantage.

One decisive factor ought to be Wilfried Bony's first competitive start for the Swans. The Swans will want goals, and Bony will be itching to prove he's the man to provide them. Malmo will clearly be aware of the Ivorian's goal threat, but should they obsess over the striker, they risk giving up a dangerous amount of space to the Swans' second line of attacking mids, with Michu likely to feature at the centre of that second line. As long as the Swans don't forget which side should be in charge of this fixture, progression to the group stage remains an achievable aim.

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