BARRANQUILLA, Colombia (AP) – Continuing our tour through the clubs that will take part in the 2011-12 Barclays Premier League, Jamie Trecker looks at the first Welsh club to take part in the Premiership, Swansea City, starting with the highlight of their promotion campaign.
Downing Reading 4-2 in the Npower Championship playoffs at Wembley was the highlight for a team that scrambled into third place on the final day of the season, then proceeded to knock off Nottingham Forest with ease in the semis. Swansea were guaranteed at least a playoff berth since last October, when they moved into fourth with a win over (you guessed it) Reading. They never again would dip lower than sixth, and for a heady time in the spring, looked to have locked up second place and an automatic slot. But a late dip - losses to Burnley, Preston, Derby and Scunthorpe - clipped the Swans' wings before a strong late finish saw them win three straight.
All things considered, Swansea should be delighted. They will get a huge boost in revenues from playing in the Prem and, adding insult to injury, they did it at the expense of their bitter rivals Cardiff, who crashed out in the semis to Reading.
Since late spring, the Swans have lost their longtime - and key - goalkeeper, Dorus de Vries and saw MVP Darren Pratley refuse a contract offer and head off to Bolton. They also don't have Chelsea loanee Fabio Borini, who they'll miss. The agile striker went to Parma, leaving the Swans without a legit first-choice striker. Leroy Lita has been brought in from Middlesbrough to try and address that, but with eight goals in 47 career Premier League appearances (all with Reading from 2006-08), it's unclear the Congolese will provide solutions.
New signing Jose Moriera is the starter after de Vries's move to Wolves. He's an interesting case: a one-time starter in Portugal, he's been third choice at Benfica for a number of seasons due to injuries and some bad gaffes. He has talent, but his fitness will be an issue.
Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor, Angel Rangel and Alan Tate have formed a solid back line for the Swans. There're no changes in the offing there at all. Garry Monk is expected to be back to full fitness after two troubled seasons; when healthy he's very solid in the center.
Last season Scott Sinclair pulled the strings for the midfield with young Joe Allen and Leon Britton handling the linkup. Nathan Dyer usually sat wide right allowing Stephen Dobbie the central channel with Borini ahead of him. Borini of course is gone, opening the door for Lita, potentially with help from youngsters Luke Moore and Danny Graham, both emerging English talents. Craig Beattie is also in the picture, if near the frame.
Relying on that assortment, the Swans will struggle. They showed class in the Championship playoff final, routing Reading but the fact is the gap between the Championship and the Premier League is so wide you could run the Fourth Infantry Division through it. Swansea will try to play the same kind of flowing, attacking football they've shown under Rodgers, but are likely to be shocked by the faster pace and the tougher tackles.