That Swansea City slumped to a 3-0 defeat to Queens Park Rangers on April 11 of last season shouldn’t have been cause for too much angst.
Despite being terribly underwhelming for much of the season, QPR had claimed some high-profile scalps in the comfortable climes of Loftus Road, particularly as the season neared its end.
An in-form Arsenal side, which would eventually finish third in the league standings, had fallen 2-1 just 10 days earlier, and before the year was up, QPR would add Tottenham to its list of victims.
Considering that Swansea finished 11th—the best out of the three promoted sides last season (Norwich were 12th and QPR 17th), the loss could have been cast aside as an unwelcome blip in an otherwise promising term.
But Swansea have greater ambitions for the coming term, meaning losses of that register simply won’t do.
Midfielder Leon Britton, like the rest of his side angling for the top 10 of the table this season, has picked out that particular loss as extra motivation ahead of Saturday’s opener. He has said that the side “owes” its fans a positive result after the debacle last time around.
Newly-appointed manager Michael Laudrup, who has made no secret of his ambition at the Welsh club, will lead his new-look side once again to Loftus with every intention of making a statement to the rest of the league.
Keenly aware of the challenges teams face in their second season of Premier League football, Laudrup remains confident his new side can prove the “so-called experts” wrong.
Graham (left) and Michu have been terrific in preseason.
“We all know that the second season in the Premier League is difficult, but we’ll have to show them that they are wrong,” Laudrup told the club’s official site. “We have good players here and a good squad and I think we can do well.”
Swansea have the added plus of not having to deal with two of QPR’s goal scorers (Joey Barton and Akos Buzsaky) from that fateful April day, either.
Barton’s number at QPR has been given away to Ryan Nelsen, and the oft-troubled—and frankly befuddled (he tweeted that the number change took him by surprise)—Englishman is cutting an increasingly forlorn figure at the club.
An exit looks likely, with Fleetwood Town among the purported suitors. In any event, Barton looks unlikely to feature in any way on Saturday, and will likely join Akos Buzsaky, whose contract ended last season, out the door.
Jamie Mackie, scorer of seven league goals last season, is still around though, and will be fancying his chances against a new-look Swansea defense that has looked rather nervy during the preseason.
Two goals conceded to Blackpool and three to Stuttgart in Swansea’s final two preseason matches will have QPR chomping at the bit to run at the new-look back four, which will feature new signing Chico in the center.
Britton confessed the side was “disappointed” to have gone down 0-2 to Stuttgart, but hailed the requisite character shown to grab the next three goals before eventually seeing the match end in a 3-3 draw.
Laudrup is expecting big things from his side this season.
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Defense might be an issue—Swansea gave up 51 goals last season—but they also showed the ability to clamp down on the road. Perhaps, most notably at the Emirates last September, when their resolute display very nearly earned a point, save for a fluke Andrey Arshavin goal in a 1-0 win for the Gunners.
Michel Vorm’s form has been sharp in preseason, and after earning widespread praise for his performances between the sticks last season, he will enter the coming campaign as a key man.
Moving up the pitch, Swansea’s attack is looking quite formidable heading into 2012-13.
That was the area of the pitch where the Swans generated the most appeal, playing a wonderfully aesthetic brand of fluid, passing football that took the league by storm.
While Gylfi Sigurdsson, one of the key members of their second half of the season surge, has left for Tottenham, Laudrup moved quickly to fill that creative void.
Michu, signed for a paltry sum of £2 million this summer, is already shaping up like one of the signings of the season.
The 6’1″ attacking midfielder’s technical prowess makes him an almost seamless fit into the Welsh club’s vaunted triangular passing scheme, and he has looked every bit the fulcrum during the preseason preparations.
Add in his nose for goal (he found the back of the net 15 times during La Liga play for Rayo Vallecano last term), and you’ve got a potential impact player.
Laudrup knows de Guzman well from their time together at Mallorca.
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With Danny Graham leading the line, and ready to showcase his trademark “bugle” celebration more frequently this season—he scored a hat-trick against Blackpool and a brace against Stuttgart, and that’s not even mentioning his goal against San Jose Earthquakes on July 31.
All told, Graham’s total ran to six goals in his last three preseason games. A vein of form that has him brimming with confidence heading into the campaign.
Laudrup has backed Graham for 20 goals this season, and with the former Watford man high on confidence, that may well be a possibility.
That starts at Loftus Road. “I think we definitely owe the fans one (against QPR),” Britton said. “(The 3-0 loss) was probably our worst performance of last season but it’s going to be a tough game because they have made a lot of signings.”
Like last season, QPR have embarked upon a frenzied buying spree in the transfer market, bringing in eight new players. It is a true mix of old and new, with three of the signings still under 25 (including former Blackburn talent Junior Hoilett) and three over 30 (including former Manchester United stalwart Park Ji-Sung).
QPR hardly broke the bank, as five of the arrivals came via free transfer, but the fresh infusion will have their fans clamoring for a strong start to the season—particularly after dealing with the threat of relegation until May last term.
Swansea, who completed the signing of former Arsenal youngster Kyle Bartley on Thursday, will be hoping to continue upon last season’s form. He joins Itay Shechter, on loan from Kaiserslautern, in the buying bin at the Liberty.
“We’re hoping to get off to a good start. QPR will be a very tough game, but we’re all determined to give the supporters something to cheer about on the way home,” said Jonathan de Guzman, who like Shechter, will be on loan this season.
Laudrup says he’s watched April’s match against QPR “a couple times,” and believes his side is ready for the challenge.