We’re in the midst of a busy festive period and, despite a rocky couple of months since the start of November, Swansea are just outside the Championship play-off places. How would you summarise the first half of the season?
On the whole, I think you’d have to say it’s been a success because I don’t think too many people envisaged Swansea would be challenging for the top six, even after what has been a really poor run of results. They are still within touching distance so whatever happens between now and the end of 2019, they are still in with a shout and then there’s a big month ahead in January where there are plenty of points to play for, as well as the transfer window. I think, despite the player sales from the summer – Daniel James and Oli McBurnie the obvious ones – Swansea have generally coped pretty well. They do look a little bit weaker than what they were last time around, but after such a good August, they are still in the mix and if they string a run of results together, they are still in there. On the whole, fans have got to be happy because they know that they are not one of the powerhouses in this division. There’s teams out there with a lot more money and quality, so for Swansea to be in the mix, I think you’ve got to look at it in a positive light, despite the poor run recently.
Barring the 3-1 win over Middlesbrough on 14 December, goals have been hard to come by for Steve Cooper’s men and that was the first time they’d scored more than two since before the September international break. Why do you think they’ve struggled, in an attacking sense?
It’s an interesting one, that. He was playing week in, week out to start with and was full of confidence when he was scoring, but I just don’t think he suits what Swansea are trying to do. He’s not as mobile as Andre Ayew or Sam Surridge, he’s not going to be making runs in behind and he doesn’t hold up the ball that well either, so there are a few problems there if you are a team that’s not dominating the ball at times. The other players I just mentioned probably suit that a little bit more. What I will say about Borja is that he’s very clinical and when he was getting chances, he was generally taking them, so he could probably feel a little bit aggrieved recently, but he had a long spell after that opening month where he wasn’t getting many chances. That was necessarily all his own fault but the other two just give Swansea more options, so they’ve come in and they are delivering.
Very little money was spent on strengthening the squad this summer, but if there is money available next month, in which areas should they be looking to strengthen?
I think part of the problem is that they have to sell to buy, which is something that chairman Trevor Birch has openly said, so in an ideal world, they might not buy anyway because it would mean that they’d be selling. They’ve got another loan spot in their squad, so if they are going to be bringing anyone in, it’s going to be on loan. I think they’d like to add more firepower and there has been talk of Rhian Brewster and Curtis Jones from Liverpool with Steve Cooper’s links to the club. He’s got good contacts so he’d probably hope to do some business with them. Maybe centre-back as well because Joe Rodon has been out for a long time now, which has meant Ben Wilmot has had to come in, while Ben Kabango has been brought in from the U23s as well. He hasn’t looked out of place, but they are lacking that experience at centre-back. Maybe adding a central midfielder would be good, too, but I think that might be a push.
If the season were to end today, who would be your player of the year?
It’s a toss-up between Andre Ayew and Freddie Woodman, I’d say. Woodman has played every minute in the league so far and has looked very good. The goalkeeper position was a massive problem for Swansea last season and he came in as a young lad, inexperienced at this level but he’s looked great and has been a hit with the fans. Ayew’s two goals against Middlesbrough took him to the top of the club’s scoring charts but his all-round workrate and his nous show he’s a class apart in this division. You can tell he’s played at a higher level for club and country.
How is Steve Cooper likely to set up his side at Griffin Park?
I imagine it’ll be the usual 4-2-3-1 on Boxing Day, with Woodman in goal, Connor Roberts at right-back. The centre-backs will be Mike van der Hoorn and Ben Kabango and then left-back will be Jake Bidwell. The two holding midfielders will be Matt Grimes, the captain, and I would probably say Jay Fulton and then the three will be Ayew on the right, Byers as a No 10 and Bersant Celina out on the left, with Sam Surridge as the lone striker.
What’s your score prediction?
This is really tough. Swansea’s away record was great before they were beaten 5-1 by West Brom a few weeks ago so I’ll go with a score draw. 1-1.
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