Following the much talked about uninspiring start to the season, with the bad result at Millwall topped off with what many fans (ourselves included) saw as a hugely disappointing end to the transfer window, things are now starting to look up.
I’m not naïve enough to suggest that 2 good results are going to make me or others forget the rumblings of discontent that came with the end to the transfer window, and what many of us believe we needed before the deadline should still be a priority next window but this is a topic for another day. As I said, things are currently looking up.
There will assumedly be challenges for Alex Neil, both good and bad, when selecting the eleven for Saturday’s game. Just before the final whistle against Wigan, Andrew Hughes appeared to pull up holding the back of his thigh after a lung-busting overlapping run, a sight which brings fear to most football fans, let alone North End fans after our problems with hamstrings last season.
Hughes was left out of the matchday eighteen for the trip to Bradford, meaning that the defence had to be shifted to the side and Alan Browne had to fill it at right-back as Rafferty covered the left. Hughes’ absence could indeed be explained by simple rotation, as the extent of his injury remains to be seen.
Swansea have historically been something of a challenge for North End, the Lilywhites picking up just a single point from meetings with the Welsh club last season, and have picked up just 2 wins in nine 21st Century meetings so far.
Fan favourite Iain Hume was the last North End player to score a winner against Swansea, a superb solo effort during the ill-fated 2010/2011 season. North End will be looking for a modern-day icon to snatch the three points at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.
The 3-0 home victory over Wigan Athletic provided a much-needed lift with the atmosphere around Deepdale for players, staff and fans alike. Goals from Sean Maguire, Louis Moult and Paul Gallagher provided the boost that day, and a changed eleven put 4 past Bradford a few days later to make it 2 convincing wins on the bounce.
2 games and 2 wins, with 7 goals scored and nothing in return show that there’s potential for a strong mixture of attacking creativity and defensive resolution within the squad.
The challenge now appears to be finding that balance from game to game, particularly trying to find a defence balanced enough to protect the goalkeeper, but Alex Neil has set his sides up very effectively in the last week, showing a building familiarity with his squad.
Swansea also come into the weekend’s game in good form, unbeaten in all competitions so far this campaign. That being said, they have had to be somewhat kickstarted in both of their wins, in which they have conceded the first goal both times, suggesting a lack of urgency from the outset that they will be hoping to put to bed sooner rather than later.
Coming from behind against both Hull and Northampton does show a good amount of that much sought after “character” in Steve Cooper’s side, and the fact that they have scored goals within minutes, sometimes seconds of each other, in both games shows that they can be deadly when confident, something North End need to be wary of.
Cooper has favoured a 4-2-3-1 set-up for far this season, with Matt Grimes partnering Swansea’s matchwinner in the corresponding fixture last season, Jay Fulton at the base of the midfield. Joe Rodon and Mike van der Hoorn form the partnership at the heart of the four-man defence, van der Hoorn has been particularly impressive in the early matches this season, scoring against Hull and being a vital part of the defence that kept a clean sheet in their 0-0 draw with Derby County.
A product of Manchester City’s vibrant youth system, Kosovan attacking midfielder Bersant Celina is likely to be a constant source of headaches for the North End defence. Capable of playing behind the striker in the number 10 role, or even wider as an inside forward type, he’s a technical and mobile player, making him equally dangerous advancing with the ball as he is when picking a pass.
Celina’s very capable left foot has done damage in the Netherlands, during a loan with F.C. Twente, as well as at Championship level with Ipswich before making the permanent move to South Wales before the beginning of last season.
This week, our ‘Opposition View’ comes from Swansea City fan Ben Church. You can follow him on twitter here – @JackArmy_.
The summer period was hectic for Swansea, but that has become normal. The season had barely ended before Graham Potter had packed his bags and headed off for Brighton, a crushing blow for everyone at the club. Daniel James swiftly followed him out of the exit door in an £18M deal with Manchester United. This was all then topped off by star striker Oli McBurnie leaving for Yorkshire in a £20M deal with Sheffield United, just 1 day before the Sky Bet Championship season started.
£500,000 was spent on incomings in the form of Kristoffer Peterson joining from Eredivisie outfit Heracles. Jake Bidwell also joined on a free transfer from QPR and the incomings were rounded off with the loan signings of Freddie Woodman, Ben Wilmot, Sam Surridge and Aldo Kululu (with Kululu having the option to buy for £2.5M). Swansea are renowned for their left-field managerial appointments and this image was enhanced by the arrival of England under 17’s manager Steve Cooper as the new head coach. It is an appointment that has calmed the fan base after it went into meltdown for most of the summer.
A 100% record in pre-season ensured that panic turned into optimism as the opening weekend approached. A routine home win against Hull and a hard-fought point away to Derby has meant that the Swans are in a strong position after the opening two games. The opening day clash against Hull saw Steve Cooper initially implement a 4-3-3 formation with Bersant Celina playing on the left-hand side of the pitch instead of his usual role in the middle. Forgotten man Borja Baston struggled to lead the line on his own with his positioning being extremely poor.
Cooper tinkered with his plan at half time and Bersant Celina pushed up to act as a second striker which went a long way to helping Swansea prevent Hull from playing out and keeping possession. This alteration resulted in the Swans overturning a one-goal deficit to lead 2-1 with just 5 minutes played in the second half. It would be no surprise to see similar tactics used in the Preston game this weekend.
Against Derby, the Swans reverted back to their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. We struggled to impose ourselves on the game, but new boy Aldo Kululu showed glimpses of what he can bring to the team from the wide position.
What we did, however, learn from this game is that Swansea’s new number 1 Freddie Woodman is more than up to the task. As well as saving Martyn Waghorn’s penalty, Woodman demonstrated that he is far more comfortable dealing with set-pieces than his competition for the goalkeeper’s jersey in the form of Kristoffer Nordfeldt and Erwin Mulder.
Embed from Getty ImagesSwansea conceded the most set pieces in the division last season, but new set-piece and goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson has clearly had an instant impact in this area. Swansea are no longer a soft touch for conceding set-pieces.
A mid-week Carabao Cup outing against Northampton Town was mostly a poor display. That was until record signing Andre Ayew returned off the bench to make his first appearance since May 2018 after his loan spell at Fenerbache last season. He bagged a brace and ensured that the Swans avoided an upset against their League 2 opponents after being 1-0 down with just 10 minutes plus added time left to play.
This match also saw academy prospect Jordan Garrick make his debut out on the right flank and he seriously impressed. It’s entirely possible that he could make the bench for the Preston match this weekend.
With the season still in its infancy, I find this game very hard to predict. Last season saw the Swans take 4 points from Preston and in all honesty, it probably should have been 6. However, that was a different Swansea City.
The new Swansea City is still trying to adapt to losing two players in the form of McBurnie and James who were essential to almost everything that Swansea did in attack last season. That isn’t to say that I expect Swansea to lose. While Preston displayed exactly what they are capable of last week in that terrific 3-0 display against Wigan Athletic, Swansea have still only lost once in all competitions at the Liberty Stadium in 2019.
That loss was against Manchester City, and there is even an argument that had V.A.R. been involved, Manchester City may not have left the Liberty victorious.
My prediction is a 2-1 home win, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Preston take away a share of the spoils. As for the XI for the game this weekend, I would go with the following in a 4-2-3-1: Woodman; Roberts, van der Hoorn, Rodon, Bidwell; Grimes, Fulton; Celina, Kalulu, Dyer; Baston.
Swansea seem a formidable outfit, they appear to flourish under adversity and only grow in confidence once they pick an opposition apart for the first time. Celina, as I mentioned before, can unlock a defence in a moment and Andre Ayew is lethal in front of goal on his day, so I can’t imagine a clean sheet for North End on Saturday even with the most optimistic of outlooks.
North End have a plethora of attacking options to choose from, enough to vary their attack for whichever type of defence they come up against. Connor Roberts and Jake Bidwell aren’t the most adventurous of full-backs, meaning we aren’t likely to get as much joy in behind them as pacier wide players may get. It might be the ideal game for the reintroduction of Brad Potts with Billy Bodin on either side and use the technicality of each to work our openings.
PNE will be in high spirits after the last week, and I hope that carries through and influences their performance at the Liberty. I’m going to predict a draw, 1-1 or
2-2, as I can’t see North End keeping a clean sheet but I think the Swans may be vulnerable to our attacking creativity. Finally, if you haven’t yet listened to the From the Finney podcast, get some of Episode #11 in before the game, just hit play on the web player below.