Are Swansea City confident of pulling off an opening day win over Manchester United?
Ahead of United's game against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday evening, HITC writer Red Scot invited Kevin Elphick from Swansea.VitalFootball.co.uk to answer some questions.
RS: Your thoughts on season 2012-13 for Swansea City football club, including your fantastic win in February in the Capital One Cup?
Kevin Elphick: Arguably the best ever season in our history. Our first major trophy win and a top-half finish in the Premier League was impressive to say the least. What adds to the satisfaction of such success is how the club have done it. Not backed by billionaire owners to rapidly rise up from the lower Leagues, but rather doing it differently to the majority of our competitors. In business sense, finding a "gap in the market" - playing an attractive style of football, that's more popular in Spain and making it work in the English leagues. Not only that, but working on a shoe-string budget in comparison adds to the "feel-good" factor amongst our supporters.
Michael Laudrup took the team to an even higher level last season. He's managed to attract high quality players to the club thanks to his reputation and success at the club last year, and it's that combination that sees pundits and the like finally taking notice and predicting finishes as high as 6th or 7th in the table. That could be beyond our reach, what with the added demands of the Europa League, but a lot of fans are expecting big things from the Swans this season and rightly so.
RS: Who was your most important player last season?
KE: You can't look beyond Michu when choosing last season's most important player. He was our top scorer with 18 League goals and not only did his goals help us get into the top 10 come May, but they also contributed to our Capital One Cup winning campaign.
The pressure was on Michu to bag the majority of our goals, and he was forced to play in a lone striker role due to a lack of decent forward options. Thankfully Bony has arrived to ease the pressure off the Spaniard, enabling him to return to his preferred attacking midfield role where he thrives.
RS: Which player are you expecting to be most vital for Swansea this season?
KE: All eyes will be on Bony. The £12m record signing smashed the £5.55m we paid for Hernandez the previous year and his pairing with Michu boosts our hopes of improving on last season's 9th place finish.
Laudrup recognised that his squad was desperate for more firepower up front as the likes of Moore and Schechter were just not up to standard. The pressure needed to be taken off Michu, and Bony looks exactly like the type of striker that we need. Not just a goalscorer, but also a hardworking player who can distribute the ball well and is good in the air.
RS: If you could have one Manchester United player who would you want at Swansea?
KE: It would have to be van Persie. We do have Bony and Michu but you can never have enough goalscorers! Second on my list would be Vidic, as I believe we could do with another defender as Chico seems to pick up a few injuries and Amat is relatively unknown so I'm not sure how good he'll be at this level yet.
RS: Where do you think Swansea will finish in the league this campaign, many respected commentators are believing 7th is possible?
KE: I would have to say that 7th is rather optimistic. I don't want to get too carried away, and if you ask a lot of fans they'd be happy to avoid a relegation battle. However, our squad is better that it has ever been, but with the added demands of the Europa League, somewhere around 8-10th would be superb.
RS: Where do you believe Manchester United will finish in the league?
KE: Somehow I can't see Moyes defending United's title. It's going to take a little time for the players to get used to not working with Ferguson and adjusting to a new manager, but they won't finish far behind. I really hope that it'll be a much closer battle at the top this year. I doubt it'll be a two-horse race between City and United. Chelsea should finally be back up there competing thanks to Mourinho's return so it could be a close call between the three clubs. I can't see the likes of Spurs, Arsenal or Liverpool getting close to them.
RS: Predict in order, the top-four teams in the league this season?
KE: I was sat on the fence above, and now I've had to jump off! Manchester City (sorry!), Manchester United,Chelsea, Spurs.
RS: Predict the three teams to be relegated this season?
KE: I don't like choosing the promoted clubs, it seems too obvious, but two of the three will go down. Ian Holloway appears to be targeting loans and Championship standard players (Moore and Dobie in particular) while I don't have much confidence in Steve Bruce doing much with Hull. Cardiff City are backed with more money and have made a couple of decent signings that should be enough to see them avoid the bottom three, but I'll be a bit surprised if they can finish any higher than around 12th or 13th. Stoke City could also struggle with Mark Hughes and I don't have much hope for them either.
RS: Your thoughts on Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, help or hindrance to Swansea?
KE: Well what can you say about the best club manager that has ever lived? I was a bit surprised that he retired this year, I thought he might have gone on for another year or so, but it's refreshing for United fans that he feels that the club is in a good enough position for him to leave the post for someone else. Moyes was also his pick to succeed him I believe so whilst I don't expect success straight away, it shouldn't take long for United to dominate at the top of the table again.
I only question how or if Moyes can maintain the strong mentality within the dressing room that Ferguson brought. It was a big factor of his and his team's success, how his players played together so well as a team and had the arrogance about them that they should win cups and titles every single year.
RS: Impressions of David Moyes' initial performance at Manchester United?
KE: The only game I've seen is their Community Shield win and I have to say I wasn't that impressed, but it's still early days and you can't look too much into games like that before a League season kicks off.
Moyes did wonders at Everton. He consistently guided them to finishes around 6th or 7th place and United fans should expect the same, except finishing in the top top 2 or 3!
RS: Michael Laudrup his longest managerial spell at one club was with Brondby (four years) he has never spent more than one year at a club, will the hugely respected Dane see the season out at the Liberty Stadium?
KE: I'm sure he will, but I have little confidence that he'll stay much further beyond that. With the signings he has made, I expect another very strong season, and no doubt will bigger clubs come calling for him next Summer. He promised his players that he would stay another season, but beyond that I'm just not sure. If I was a betting man, (I'd probably be skint), I'd put money on him managing a different club for the 2014/15 campaign.
RS: Who are the most hated team to visit the Liberty Stadium (exclude Cardiff City) and why?
KE: I don't think we hate any team apart from Cardiff City. Norwich City aren't our favourite opposition but that's just because we're not very good at beating them whether it's home or away, same goes for Everton.
RS: Your thoughts on how the games against Cardiff City will go?
KE: Who knows. Derby games are like Cup finals and they're anyone's games, but we've had a good record against Cardiff City in recent years and I'm quietly confident that we could remain unbeaten against our arch rivals over the two games.
RS: What are your thoughts on Cardiff City erm the Red Dragons - Bluebirds, change of kit colour from blue to red?
KE: Well it's laughable isn't it? I'd absolutely hate it if we lost our black and white colours. They've lost their identity somewhat for a shortcut to the big time and it's always nice for us to think that we've done it by ourselves, and keeping the club close to the fans.
RS: Finishing in the Premier League 11th (2011-12) and last season 9th, winning the Capital One Cup, Swansea's first major honour in the clubs history. Entering into the Europa League, is this a distraction for this season or exciting?
KE: It is a bit of a distraction but it's a fantastic experience for everyone involved, particularly the fans. It's been more than 20 years since we were involved in a European competition and it can't go any worse than that time.
The Europa League also gives us a little extra pulling power for bringing in signings over some of our rivals, and I'm confident that Laudrup will rotate his squad effectively, as he proved last season, to ensure that our main focus is always on the League.
RS: Tell us about Swansea's plans for the expansion of the seating capacity at the Liberty Stadium?
KE: It's taken a bit of time to get approved planning permission of course but after proving our Premier League status in two consecutive years then expansion (by about 11,000) is an absolute must. There is a such a bigger demand for tickets now that we just can't meet due to only having 20,000 capacity.
After a new training facility was built and the stadium to be expanded to a more respectful capacity for the League we're in, the club keeps building and improving.
RS: Michu your 18 league goals, £2m wonder buy from Rayo Vallecano last year, in January 2013 extended his contract by 4 years at Swansea, now reportedly valued in the £30m price region. Will he be sold if a strong bid for the striker is made?
KE: He will be sold if we get the right bid in but somehow I can't see any club bidding £30m right now. We don't need to sell players so we'll only reluctantly sell if we receive a £30m bid or more and if the player really wants to leave. Luckily the Spaniard appears to be really happy at Swansea City for now and I can't see there being a danger he'll leave just yet.
RS: Your thoughts on Wilfried Bony your £12m summer capture from Vitesse Arnhem, bagging a brace on his home debut against Malmo in the Europa League qualifier, will Bony's signing alter Michu's role in the team?
KE: Michu will be delighted with Bony's arrival. The Spaniard has been calling out for the club to bring in a proven striker to take the pressure off him and he'll be delighted that he can return to his much preferred role as an attacking midfielder.
Bony has excited everyone as he arrives with a fantastic goalscoring record, but he also has a wide range of abilities to help create goals as well as score them. He's very strong, excellent in the air and can link up well with his team-mates so he should fit in perfectly with our system.
RS: Will, Wilfried Bony play in the game against United, it's understood the Ivory Coast ace has returned from America, while on International duty against Mexico?
KE: There are some doubts because of the mind-boggling timing of the international friendlies, but I still expect him to be involved. Unfortunately he'll only train with his Swansea team-mates on the Friday and he'll miss some of the tactical work but hopefully he'll come through his match unscathed and fit to play.
I: Swansea had seven players away on International duty prior to our Premier League-opening match, your thoughts on these?
KE: As mentioned above, the timing is ridiculous. I hate international friendlies at the best of times and I can't stand it when there's a break in the league for these matches. It's difficult to get interested being a Welshman and we also have a number of key players involved in these games so there is added risk of injury and fatigue if they're playing two games in the space of 4 or 5 days.
RS: Many commentators believe Jonathan de Guzman on loan for a second spell from Villarreal, in the Swansea midfield engine room, is the player that makes the Swans tick. Tell us about the Dutchman...
KE: The opinion seems to be divided over de Guzman. It took him a bit of time to settle in last season but he was our second highest goalscorer and played his part for sure. However, his tackling ability is very poor and his set pieces need improving so he may need to work hard to keep a regular place in the team, particularly with the likes of Shelvey, Canas and Pozuelo all joining. Shelvey in particular looks to be Laudrup's choice in midfield alongside Leon Britton and Michu.
RS: Jonjo Shelvey has made the switch from Liverpool to South Wales, costing £6m. Your expectation of the midfielder?
KE: I wasn't too excited at first, and a number of fans didn't approve to the signing at all, some believing that we just signed him to increase our British numbers in the squad. I've got confidence in Laudrup's ability to bring in quality players and judging from his performances so far in friendlies and the two Europa League games, Shelvey could play a major role in the centre of midfield this season.
I: Swansea's signings this transfer window include; Wilfried Bony (Vitesse Arnhem, £12m), Jose Canas (Real Betis, free), Jordi Amat (Espanyol, £2.5m), Jonathan De Guzman (Villarreal, loan), Alejandro Pozuelo (Real Betis, £425,000), Gregor Zabret (NK Domzale, undisclosed), and Alex Gogic (Olympiacos, free). Do you think there is a proliferation of foreign players in the Premier League and why?
KE: There definitely is and one of the main reasons which Laudrup has mentioned quite a lot since his time in South Wales, is because foreign players - at least the ones he buys, are cheaper than what the equivalent level of player would cost if the player was British. The price that Spurs are demanding for Bale is quite ridiculous too and that's just one example.
There's more money in the Premier League too and there's an attraction for foreign players to move to England. Swansea City have been able to benefit from Spanish clubs' struggling financial situations by buying quality players like Michu and Chico at very low cost. The rule that requires a certain number of British players in a squad goes some way to help the situation but it doesn't solve it completely.
RS: A good start is vital in the league, Manchester United up first, followed by Spurs (A), West Brom (A), Liverpool (H), Crystal Palace (A) and Arsenal (H) in the league. Sandwiched in the early mix Europa league qualifying adventures to Romania. Five matches in the first 14 days of the new season, a much harder fixture schedule than last season. It doesn't get much tougher, discuss?
KE: It's a very tough start, not only because of the difficult opposition like United and Spurs but the amount of games we have to play as well. It's vital that we get off to a decent start and hopefully we can do that against yourselves by getting at least a draw.
I'm not worried too much about the Europa League games to add to our schedule as we have the depth to cope with that, but we just need to get a few points on the board early to give us a bit of added confidence.
RS: Swansea's all time leading goal scorer is Ivor Allchurch - 166 league goals in two spells (1947-58, '65-68). Sir Matt Busby said the inside-forward "vied with the greatest of all time." Your thoughts?
KE: My parents were only young children during his time so it's difficult even for them to comment on Ivor, but from what I've heard he was an absolute legend and a superb player. So much so that he has a statue outside the Liberty Stadium.
RS: Can you update us on Swansea team news, for the match on Saturday?
KE: De Guzman is definitely out. Pablo Hernandez is expected to return from injury while Laudrup hopes for all of his players to return back from international duty safe of injuries. Bony is the main worry as he flies back from the USA and will only have one day of training with the squad.
RS: Finally Kevin your score prediction for the match?
KE: It's a difficult one to predict. How will United look under new man Moyes? Will they hit the ground running or is it going to take time for them to adjust to a new system? The Swans had the perfect start to their season last year, winning 5-0 at QPR and they have added strengths in the team that could hurt United this weekend. It'll be interesting to see if United's defence improve under Moyes as it was a little suspect at times last year.
Bony and Michu could cause problems but they're still developing their partnership in the middle of the pitch. It should be an excellent game but I can't see it being anything other than a low, scoring deserved draw.
Cheerss mate brilliant answers from a real Swansea fan.
image: © swans100