Swansea vs Spurs: League Cup winners await Spurs at the Liberty Stadium

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For the top teams in the Barclay’s Premier League, winning a trophy can be either the hallmark of a successful season or the bright spot in a poor one. Last term, Manchester City’s Premier League title seemed a deserved conclusion to a campaign that saw them, along with neighbours Manchester United, dominate the league table. Conversely, Chelsea’s shock Champions League win was the tonic that helped them swallow a disappointing sixth place finish in their domestic league. Tottenham’s next opponent, Welsh club Swansea City, recently triumphed in the League Cup to earn a trophy in their centennial year. But what does this cup mean to the Swans, and how will it be looked upon in the larger context of the season?

The answers to these questions may shed some light on what to expect when Spurs clash with the Swans at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday. Swansea are a side who have punched slightly above their weight this season on multiple fronts. By winning the League Cup in a competition that featured the likes of United, City, Spurs, Arsenal, and Chelsea, they’ve achieved something special that their supporters and players will remember for years to come. Comfortably in the top half of the table and with relegation hardly a threat, they’ve also performed well in the league considering their squad is not as star-studded as others around them.

Unfortunately for Swansea, all this achievement has meant that their league play, which on its day is amongst the most brilliant attacking football on offer, has stagnated. Put simply, they’ve got very little to play for. With a trophy in the cabinet, survival secured, and Europa League football guaranteed next season via their cup victory, there is little incentive for them to push forward. While attackers like Michu, De Guzman, and Dyer can always be a threat, they looked shadows of their former selves in the second half of the side’s recent 2-0 loss to Arsenal. Earlier in the season, they may have dug deeper to find that extra something late in games, but at this point they really don’t have to.

Spurs, by contrast, have plenty to either gain or potentially lose this season. The visitors have been disappointing in recent matches, dropping their last two in the league to Liverpool and Fulham on either side of a near-disastrous 4-1 second leg loss to Inter in the Europa League. Had Adebayor not scored an away goal in extra time, they could’ve been knocked out of the competition despite going into the second leg with a 3-0 advantage. These results are troubling to many Spurs fans, not so much due to the points the team is dropping (though hardly ideal), but more so because of the familiar threat these performances have reminded us of. Fans and players alike will recall the late-season collapse that occurred under Redknapp last year, when a Champions League spot was first jeopardized by a run of only 4 wins in 13 league games, then finally snuffed out by Chelsea’s now infamous win in Munich. The pressure to avoid that fate this season, with Arsenal nipping at the team’s heels, is definitely being felt.

The combination of a dip in player form and an unforgiving run of matches is the likely culprit in the side’s recent struggles. Forwards Defoe and Adebayor have looked shorn of confidence in front of goal. Gareth Bale, whose other-worldly form carried the team for a few weeks, is coming back down to Earth. The winger-turned-centre attacking midfielder looked less than impressive in Wales’ international friendlies this past week, and his physical vulnerability, particularly to ankle injuries, is also a constant worry for Spurs’ manager Andre Villas-Boas. In addition to these concerns, Villas-Boas has also had to cope without darting winger Aaron Lennon, who gives the side much of its width and balance in the attacking third. Without Lennon to stretch the play, and by consequence opposition defenses, the team looks narrow and easily frustrated up front.

The defense, on the plus side, has not looked as poor. Vertonghen and Dawson have partnered well at centreback, and the marauding Belgian has also scored his side’s last two league goals. Keeper Hugo Lloris has been in great form of late for both club and country, and is keeping the side in matches they’d otherwise lose by greater margins. Further up the field, Scott Parker has been playing pretty well as the holding midfielder. Though frustrating at times in terms of decision making and his renowned affection for the short lateral pass, Parker possesses an incredible engine and is often an effective counter to opponent’s movements down the middle of the field.

As far as game plans go, both sides enjoy a possession oriented, organized style of football. They prefer to keep the ball in the midfield area for long periods, waiting for chances to pop up for their creative players. This style has a few drawbacks to manage, though. While easy on the eye and capable of lulling opponents into making mistakes, it also opens up the opportunity for counter attacks if the ball is given away cheaply. With the defense likely high up the pitch to participate in the possession play, it affords opposition forwards a lot of space to either play a pass or run into. Each side has both runners (Bale, Dyer) and passers (De Guzman, Sigurdsson/Holtby) who can exploit these spaces on the counter. So while Spurs and the Swans will each look to control the game from the off, it could be the one who counters more effectively that ends up dictating the tempo of the match.

Spurs need to re-discover their mojo this weekend, and a trip to Swansea to play a potentially under-motivated side may be just what they need. Still, I expect a gritty performance will be necessary. The game could perhaps lack the sort of fast-paced brilliance that both team’s attacking players are known for, but if Spurs win they won’t be too concerned. I call this a narrow 2-1 to Tottenham, with the hope that one of the Lilywhite’s strikers starts firing again this week.

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