So who were your team of the weekend of the Premier League? Did Manchester City’s Monday night performance blow your mind? Did you think West Ham’s foray into the Emirates Stadium before leaving with all three points was gutsy? Did you think that Claudio Ranieri’s first game in charge of Leicester produced a Foxes performance you weren’t expecting?
All of these are worthy candidates for team of the weekend. You can make the case for all of them, and fans of each of these clubs will be delighted – there’s nothing better than seeing your team slay the opposition on opening weekend, all the optimism and hope from the day before just seems so justified and the promise of the season is galvanised.
But a win isn’t always a sign of a great season, of course. I don’t need to tell any football fan that one swallow does not make a summer. But encouragement and promise is definitely a good thing, and you can get it even if you don’t win.
And that’s why my choice for team of the weekend would be Swansea. They went to the home of the Champions and came away with a very good draw, even against ten men. It wasn’t the result I was interested in, though. As much as Swansea fans were thrilled with a point, I’m sure they weren’t too interested in that either, deep down. What mattered for Swansea away against Chelsea on opening day wasn’t so much the result, it was the promise they could glean from the game. It was the performance. And on the basis of that performance, Swansea fans should be setting themselves up for a wonderful season.
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Garry Monk’s team conceded two fairly freak goals, one from a free kick that really shouldn’t have found the net – there was no bad defending, it just went in because it didn’t touch anyone – and one from a nothing cross which looped over Fabianski from an unfortunate deflection off Federico Fernandez.
But after conceding the first goal, Swansea fashioned a few good chances themselves despite being penned into their own half for a spell following Chelsea’s first goal – notably for Bafe Gomis.
And again, it’s not the goal that matters so much, although a first Swansea goal for Andre Ayew – one where he showed immense class when applying the finish – was welcome. No, it was more about how the goal came. After Oscar’s free kick found the net, Swansea were penned into their own half. When Gomis got the ball, he held it up expertly, allowing Sigurdsson, Ayew and Montero to get up and support, and that support eventually allowed Swansea to move further up the pitch and launch an attack themselves, from which they duly scored.
It’s these little things that make you smile on opening day, more so than the win itself. It’s the fact that you hope that these things continue throughout the season. Swansea fans will be delighted that Montero outclassed Branislav Ivanovic, even though he didn’t score. And they would have been delighted even if Andre Ayew didn’t score his goal, because the way he took his touch and stroked it towards goal would have been enough to suggest that he’s going to be a good player for the club. And they would have been delighted with Gomis even if he didn’t score his penalty – he held the ball up so well and helped out his teammates. He led the line with applaum.
There’s a lot of excitement around Swansea. Maybe they’re seen as a hipster team, but it really doesn’t matter when they play like that. In contrast to West Ham and Leicester, for example, who won their games, Swansea could only draw. But in contrast to West Ham and Leicester, Swansea don’t feel like a team who could have problems this season.
West Ham’s all too brief Europa League campaign shows they have some way to go to be convincing this season. I’ve had flu jabs that lasted longer than the Hammers’ European campaign. Leicester, on the other hand, have a new manager who hasn’t been in a Premier League relegation scrap, and in his previous job, he took Greece from being a feared national team to a team beaten home and away by the Faroe Islands. I couldn’t even do that on Football Manager.
No Swansea’s performance at the weekend spoke of bigger and better things, longer term pay-offs, than simply winning the game they faced. The team looks organised and they know what they’re doing. And they have some fantastic little players in there to boot.
Let’s not get too carried away after one game, but the signs are good. On the basis of that performance, Swansea looked to have something that will stand them in good stead all season, they didn’t look like a team who were simply on form that day. Swansea are my team of the week, but if they keep playing like they did last Saturday, they could be everyone’s team of the year.