The FourFourTwo Preview: Chelsea vs Swansea
Something's got to give as the fledgling table's remaining 100 percenters go head-to-head at the Bridge.
- Everton 3-6 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-0 Leicester (Prem)
- Burnley 1-3 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-0 Real Sociedad (F)
- Ferencvaros 1-2 Chelsea (F)
- Swansea 3-0 WBA (Prem)
- Swansea 1-0 Rotherham (LC)
- Swansea 1-0 Burnley (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-2 Swansea (Prem)
- Swansea 0-3 Villarreal (F)
Even Michael Laudrup failed to win a Manager of the Month gong during his time at the Liberty Stadium, and it would have been a footballing crime to match Swansea's new away shirt had Garry Monk been overlooked following an August in which his side kick-started the season with four wins from four in all competitions, including a famous opening day victory at Old Trafford.
Just a few weeks ago many were tipping Monk's men for relegation, but now – according to a press release that landed in FFT's inbox this week – they are the bookies' favourites to "finish higher than any side outside the Big Seven". (In other words, win the Mid-Table Mediocrity League, which comes with no trophy but the carrot of not having to play in the Europa League next season).
Such a finish – two places higher than either Laudrup or his predecessor Brendan Rodgers managed – would delight the rookie boss no end, but with 35 games to go, Monk won't be getting carried away quite yet. His priority will simply be to keep the momentum going: next up after Saturday is Southampton (h), Sunderland (a), Newcastle (h), Stoke (a), Leicester (h) – five fixtures that should hold no fear for them.
But before all that, a tricky trip to Stamford Bridge to face the Premier League's only other side with a played 3, won 3 record.
The Blues spluttered to a 1-0 win in this fixture last term – and the 0-2 loss to the Swans in the League Cup semi-final the previous season will live long in the memory – but having seemingly solved their two-year striker quandary, the current Chelsea squad look equipped to match Carlo Ancelotti's 2009/10 Double winners in both the goals-for column and the entertainment stakes.
Player of the Month Diego Costa again showed his class in the bonkers 6-3 win at Everton, sucking up the animosity from the home fans - and Seamus Coleman - to fuel a barnstorming display. The striker's latest leg twinge, picked up in Spain's defeat to France, could lead to new £10.5 million signing Loic Remy (who scored the only goal in that match) making his Blues bow, although the club's medics are optimistic Costa will be fit.
In midfield, Cesc Fabregas has slotted into Jose Mourinho's side just as effortlessly, but ultimately the presence of a prolific striker is what Chelsea lacked the most last term, and if Costa can properly shake off his ongoing leg niggles – he suffered a similar complaint prior to the Everton game – the signs are very promising for the Londoners in the title race.
For all Swansea's attacking intent so far this season, Monk will be hoping his own chief goal-getter, Wilfried Bony, can start finding the target again following a transfer window in which the Ivorian was linked with multiple moves - to Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool and finally Monaco.
Bony bagged 25 last season, but has been slow out the blocks this time around, with 0 goals in 4 outings. Has his head been turned by all the attention? Monk insists not. "If he was coming in and wandering about disillusioned, we'd have a problem," said the manager. "But he does not do that, he comes in and is at one with the group – that's all I can ask for."
With Costa set to shake off his strain, Remy should start on the bench alongside left-back Filipe Luis, who still awaits his first start for the Blues, and Petr Cech, who was last seen checking the League Cup calendar.
For the visitors, knee injuries should again keep out Marvin Emnes and Leon Britton, but otherwise exhaustion from the international break will play the biggest part in Monk's selection, with 11 of his charges flying as far as South Korea to represent their countries. Monk's been critical of Roy Hodgson for snubbing Swansea's English talent, but there are benefits.
Key battle: Nemanja Matic vs Gylfi Sigurdsson
Swansea's Sigurdsson has been a shining light of the Swans' season so far, playing a role in all six of his side's Prem goals: a goal, 4 assists and the cross that led to Wayne Routledge's worldie against West Brom.
No wonder everyone at the Liberty is so chuffed to have the Icelander back following an impressive 19-game loan spell in 2012 – not least manager Monk. "He is a class act on the pitch, and a class person to go with it," purred the Swansea boss following Sigurdsson's man-of-the-match display against the Baggies, when he created more chances than any player, 2 of which led to goals (below). "We want people who will put the team first, and Gylfi is that type."
Sigurdsson sits joint top of the Premier League assists table (along with Fabregas), but it will be the Spaniard's team-mate Matic tasked with stopping the Swans' No.23 from pulling the strings on Saturday. The Serbian steamroller didn't have an easy time defensively at Goodison last time out, despite his goal up the other end.
Mourinho will no doubt be asking questions this week as to how his side shipped three, and Matic was a culpable as anyone as he struggled on occasion to contain Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith as the Toffees counter-attacked. Strong tackling and tidy passing is what Matic excels at, and against Everton he came up short on both counts, winning 5 of his 9 tackles while completing 26 of his 35 passes.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Swans 0-1 Chelsea (PL, Apr 14)
- Chelsea 1-0 Swans (PL, Dec 13)
- Chelsea 2-0 Swans (PL, Apr 13)
- Swans 0-0 Chelsea (LC, Jan 13)
- Chelsea 0-2 Swans (LC, Jan 13)
His side may be top of the league and scoring for fun, but we suspect Mourinho would take a 1-0 win on Saturday over a repeat of that humdinger at Everton.
"We showed we are improving in other areas but not keeping the balance in defence," he sighed at full-time. "It was wonderful for everyone watching – but not for me."
As for Monk, his fine work at the Liberty saw him grace the front cover of La Gazzetta dello Sport's supplement this week.
The Italian paper named the 35-year-old as one of the 'New Wizards' of Europe, alongside Rui Vitoria (Vitortia Guimaraes), Willy Sagnol (Bordeaux) and Roger Schmidt (Leverkusen), mocking them up as Harry Potter.
"These coaches are the surprise of the season – they are beginners who start to work directly in the top division, without much experience, who drive the tournaments in England, France, Germany and Portugal," gushed the editorial. "Although, they don't have a chance of an being the winner eventually." Harsh, but true.
Facts and figures
- Chelsea have won all 3 Premier League home meetings with Swansea and are unbeaten in 6 overall in the competition against the Swans (W4 D2).
- The Swans have already claimed 21% of their entire points total from last season (9 of 42) in only 3 games.
- This is only the second time in Premier League history that the top two sides in the table have faced off as early as this in the campaign (Matchday 4). Then-leaders Chelsea beat second place Tottenham 2-0 in August 2005.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Sunday's red tops will he scrambling around for 'Costa' puns after Diego does the business again. 2-0.