Two sides won 5-0 on the opening day of the Premier League season – and West Ham are facing both in the next two weekends. A home game against Fulham awaits, but first Sam Allardyce must travel to the Liberty Stadium, where Swansea only lost four times last season.
In basic terms, this is short passing football versus long ball football. But the situation is slightly more complex than that, and it’s important to note that Swansea seem to have evolved from the way Brendan Rodgers had them playing last season. It may have only been one game, but in the 5-0 win over QPR last weekend, Michael Laudrup had Swansea playing more quickly and purposefully in possession – it was still need and tidy, but only Newcastle attempted more long balls last weekend.
Though Swansea have lost some key men, the signing of Michu has already proven one of the shrewdest moves of the summer transfer window. He was prolific from an advanced midfield position with Rayo Vallecano last season, and he plays an intriguing role. He often seems like a forward played out of position – he likes working with his back to goal, and he takes every opportunity to storm into the box. He won’t score a brace every week, but last weekend’s goals are a taste of things to come.
His goalscoring potential has been recognised already – the odds reflect his threat – but he can also be in danger of picking up bookings. Last season he collected nine yellows and one red card, a high number for an attacking player, and last weekend at Loftus Road he conceded five fouls, more than any other player. Against a physical West Ham side, I think he’ll get stuck in – perhaps going against the stereotype for a Spanish Premier League newcomer, and quite fancy his chances to be shown a card at 5.04/1.
It’s worth noting that Laudrup’s side scored four of their five goals after the ball was played from deep, central positions towards the ‘D’ on the edge of the box – West Ham will be much stronger in that zone than QPR, who were very open with Park Ji-Sung in a central midfield role. Swansea may have to look wider.
Allardyce’s side is as you’d expect – they’re direct, they hit long balls towards Carlton Cole, and they get midfield runners into the penalty box. Mark Noble has improved his goalscoring ability, while Kevin Nolan has hit double figures in the past three seasons (admittedly, twice in the Championship). With Matt Taylor on the left and Ricardo Vaz Te on the right, West Ham have an unspectacular attacking department, but they’re solid, consistent, and all played together last season. Matt Taylor against Angel Rangel should be an interesting battle, while Leon Britton must watch Nolan’s runs.
I always worry about George McCartney playing left-back against a quick winger, having seen him torn apart by the sheer pace of Theo Walcott a few years ago at the Emirates. Here, he’ll be up against Nathan Dyer, a very tricky customer, and I think he might struggle. McCartney committed three fouls against Aston Villa last weekend, while Dyer won five fouls against QPR, getting Fabio da Silva booked in the process. Back McCartney to be booked at around 4.03/1.
I wouldn’t usually back two separate players to be cautioned in the same game. However, this match will be refereed by Martin Atkinson, who produced more bookings per game than any other Premier League official last season, and started his campaign with four soft ones at St James’ Park last weekend. The stats indicate cards, and Michu and McCartney seem good candidates.