Swans' heavy slate starts Wednesday at Chelsea

Posted by Max Hicks

The four-games-in-10-days festive period faced by most British clubs is generally regarded as a heavy schedule, but for the Swans, the real work has only just begun. Thanks to the team's deep Capital One Cup run and the FA Cup replay earned against Arsenal, Michael Laudrup's small squad will face two games a week throughout January.

Bigger clubs, especially those in European competition, might not see anything remarkable about the Swans situation. However, those big clubs generally have two first-teams' worth of players to cover their commitments. The Swans have faced all manner of tests on the field since joining the Premier League, but the shattering run of games they will play in January might be the hardest yet.

Fortunately, the squad is relatively injury-free, and the run has landed in the middle of a transfer window, which should help with squad rotation, assuming more players come in than leave. The new boys will be in the side before they've even unpacked the way things are looking.

Fixtures are coming thick and fast, and Chelsea are next on the slate Wednesday when the Swans travel to Stamford Bridge for the first leg of the Capital One Cup semifinals. At this stage of the contest, there is little chance of Chelsea fielding a reserve side, and if anything, it seems like a Spanish love-in could be in the offing, with several players from both sides already familiar with one another from their time on the continent.

Lots of storylines and personal interest for some of the players, then - Swansea's Pablo and Juan Mata of Chelsea used to be room mates, for example - and at the root of it all there is still a game to win. Needless to say, Chelsea are the favourites, but the last two Premiere League matches between the sides ended in 1-1 draws - both were played at The Liberty.

Michu is likely to start, and once again stole at least some of the headlines by scoring within 90 seconds of coming on as a substitute against Arsenal last Sunday. A fourth consecutive start for Danny Graham may or may not be in the offing, as might a move to Sunderland. Or Reading. Or Norwich, or even Aston Villa depending on what you read. Whatever the case, he is still a Swan for the moment, and that's no bad thing with the form he is in - three goals in as many games, two of which were late equalizers. In fact, it's Graham's fault the Swans have to travel back to London next Wednesday to play Arsenal again, with only a difficult visit to Everton in the meantime for contrast.

With so much rotation a necessity for the Swans this month, predicting lineups seems a fools errand. Suffice it to say that whichever starting XI both managers see fit to play, we ought to be in for a good game. The Swans will have to avoid another comical breakdown such as they flaunted for a brief stretch of the second half against Arsenal; the Gunners were misfiring that day and Swansea escaped punishment by the width of Mikel Arteta's shirking shoulders.

Should the Swans play as deep against Chelsea, they will be torn apart. It is vital for the Swans to stretch the field and force Chelsea to play further up the pitch; the likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard would like nothing better than to set up camp in the Swans' third for an afternoon of "Who can construct the prettiest goal?"

The funny 15 minutes against Arsenal was an anomaly; I don't expect a repeat of that anytime soon, and certainly not in the first leg of the Swans' first League Cup semifinal. Swansea have been good against the better sides this season, as they were last. If enthusiasm can remedy fatigue, and the Swans dare to be bold and attack Chelsea, there is no reason Laudrup & Co. can't come back to the Liberty for the second leg with the score level. It won't be easy, but as the Swans have shown enough times this season, anything is possible for this side, though I'm not sure even Swansea could beat Bradford in the final if that's the way things work out.

ESPN Conversations