Top spot in the Championship table going into the international break is the prize on offer as Swansea City travel to Leeds with the home side currently ahead of their visitors at the pinnacle only by merit of a slightly better goal difference. Who will come out on top? Leeds’ wily old fox Marco Bielsa or the Swans’ unbeatable boss Steve Cooper? ATFV gets excited in this Leeds v Swans Match Preview, sponsored by Drop Bear Beer.
It’s business as usual for Steve Cooper at Swansea City: another win in midweek, another flurry of goals, another couple of youngsters impressing; ok it was League 2 Cambridge in the Carabao Cup but you’ve still got to put these teams away and the Swans did so emphatically.
Despite the impressive performances last Wednesday though, the best those that impressed can hope for is a place on the Elland Road bench – with maybe George Byers being the only exception.
Cooper isn’t a coach that’s fond of wholesale changes to suit the opposition or for the sake of it, on the evidence we’ve seen so far, and so I can’t see many changes to the side that took apart Birmingham City last Sunday. Why would those changes be needed? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
The one change I can foresee is a change at 10. As well as Jan Dhanda did against Birmingham on his second League start, Leeds at Elland Road is is a far harder level of challenge and Cooper might well feel it a little more experience is required.
Byers is hardly a veteran but he does have a great deal more Championship football under his belt to Dhanda and he also carries a goal threat, as his three goals so far this campaign will testify to.
Again there are different permutations that Cooper could utilise in what is looking ever more increasingly a solid yet flexible squad. Bersant Celina could revert to the 10 role with another impressive performer against Northampton, Kristoffer Petersen, coming into the equation on the wing. Or the fit again Tom Carroll could be plunged back into significant first team action.
Byers would seem to be the best option though, the major advantage (other than the boy’s own significant talents) being the continuity his selection would offer.
Elsewhere it’s likely to be as you were…the defence is picking itself at the moment, with Woodman in the gloves and directing operations behind Roberts, Rodon, van der Hoorn and Jake Bidwell. Cooper did turn the Birmingham game in our favour by swapping Bidwell for Kyle Naughton at half time but I expect the former QPR man to regain his place in the starting line up.
Captain Grimes – simply magnificent against Brum – will swagger into his midfield anchor role with typical reliability and style and his burgeoning partnership with Jay Fulton will be vital in containing the talents of a certain former Swan…!
If Byers has taken his station at 10 that will mean a continuation of Celina on the left side. With goals in successive games from that position he’s starting to make a case to stay out there, although Kris Petersen will have something to say about that as time goes on and he adapts more to the English game.
Ayew of the Andrew variety will take his station on the right hand side, ready to put in another Energizer Bunny performance bristling with skill and menace. He really does look head and shoulders above everyone else in this division…it’s almost impossible for the opposition to take the ball off him and his use of that ball has been as productive as it has astute. His work rate and dedication to the cause have answered questions about him from even the most cynical Swans fan, and a minor injury at the end of this game that heals up during the international break but scuppers any move before the transfer window closes on Monday would be rather handy…
Talking of talent we wanted rid of but can no longer afford to lose, Borja will lead the line. The Spaniard is top of the goal scoring chart in the Championship, his five goals putting him one ahead of his opposite number in this game, Patrick Bamford. His form so far and the tale of redemption it represents is starting to capture national attention, as evidenced by this fine piece in the Guardian earlier this week – fine thanks to the contribution of ATFV of course…
Sam Surridge is doing his best to put pressure on Borja, and with three goals to his name so far he’s a great way of keeping Borja motivated and honest. At some point I’d like to see what the two of them could do together in tandem…maybe the Carabao Cup clash away to Watford? If Borja is still here by then, of course…
There are so many players putting their hands up for bench duty too. With his first minute assist and first senior goal against Northampton Jordon Garrick’s explosive entrance gets more…well…explosive all the time and he’s a great wild card to call upon should we need to carve out an opening to get back into a game or to lead lightning fast counter attacks if we are defending a lead.
Wayne ‘Pops’ Routledge has probably suffered the most from Ayew’s reintegration but is a vital source of experience in this young squad, as is Kyle Naughton. There should be more experience on there in the shape of the fit again Carroll and he might well edge out the unlucky Dhanda.
Whomever starts, whatever back up Cooper puts on the bench, somehow out of adversity we seen to have a squad packed with talent and variety, all pushing each other to succeed and stay in that Swansea City shirt. It’s great to see.
The Anticipated ATFV Line-Up: Woodman; Roberts; van der Hoorn; Rodon; Bidwell; Grimes; Fulton; Byers; Celina; Ayew; Borja
This is a fixture that was never meant to take place this season. The Peacocks were meant to have the Swans behind, they should be preening themselves in the Premier League, wily old fox Bielsa having restored them to their rightful place in the top division. Alas for Leeds fans it all went wrong and a disastrous end to the regular season culminated in play off defeat to Derby and another season in the second tier needed to be swallowed.
Is it going to be a case of rinse and repeat this season?
The Yorkshire club managed to keep hold of Bielsa despite his bitter disappointment at failing to go up, probably coupled with his simmering disappointment at a lack of backing in the January transfer window. They’ve kept hold of most of their talented squad too with Pontus Jansson the only significant loss.
It’s led them to once again race out in front at the start of the season, topping the table again. Of course, the Swans have matched them stride for stride, win for win, and that’s what makes today’s encounter such an interesting one. For the Swans and Steve Cooper it will be a true barometer of our promotion credentials; for Leeds it will be a proper examination in their own backyard – something they’ve not had yet this term.
Packed with quality though they may be, there’s only one man that should really scare the Swans and he’s a former player too…
…the whole back four will have to be on alert for the pace and trickery of Dan James after his transfer to Leeds at the end of Janua…wait…what? Oh that’s right, Huw turned his phone off and the kid went to Man United in the summer instead. I’ll just try and stop laughing long enough to finish this preview. Alright, I can’t, I’ll just have to laugh my way through it.
Chuckles aside, it IS a former Swan that epitomises Leeds’ threat and Matt Grimes and his sidekick Jay Fulton will have to be on top of their game to repel the roving threat of Pablo Hernandez.
The impudent little Spaniard has converted from a winger to a devastating central midfield string puller and he singled handedly destroyed Stoke in Leeds’ last game, setting up all three goals with his vision and precision passing.
I almost wish Cooper would put Celina back at 10 just to watch him and Hernandez facing off in that position.
Patrick Bamford is already profiting from Hernandez’ laser like service and another striker that is eager to get on the field and on the end of a Pablo pass is alleged Swans’ summer loan target Eddie Nketiah while Helder Costa has set the league alight so far and will be another to pose problems for the Swans defence. It could be a busy day for Woodman – who needs the exercise after a dormant 90 minutes against Birmingham.
What an encounter this promises to be; the two teams have been the stand out performers in the first month of the season with goals and quality aplenty. Four wins and a draw each means there’s nothing to separate them in terms of points or form – but home advantage might just tip the scales in Leeds’ favour this afternoon. There’s quality everywhere on the field, especially in attacking areas, but I have a feeling it will come down to which side can get domination with their full backs. A big part of both sides’ game is to get the full backs high up the pitch and one set might find themselves pegged back by the other; if Leeds gain dominance in that area I can see Cooper countering with Naughton and Garrick coming on, the former to stiffen the defensive side and the latter to provide a potent counterattacking threat. It promises to be an intriguing encounter in so many ways, on the pitch and in the dug out, but with just one League win in 20 attempts for the Swans at Elland Road it will be a tough ask bring home a win. I am going to go out on a limb here though and back the Swans to maintain their unbeaten start with a hard fought 1-1 draw.