It’s fair to say that Swansea City fans are looking forward to a trip to London – just not this trip to the Capital as the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley dominates the Swans’ collective conscious.
Perhaps the last thing we need in the lead up to our first major cup final in our 100 year history is a difficult trip to a Hammers side that will be seeking revenge for the heavy defeat the Swans dished out in the opening week of the season. Still, with the Swans in excellent form and the Hammers struggling to get results the visitors will be full of confidence and will fancy their chances of heaping more pressure on Big Sam’s sweaty shoulders.
Of course the Swans will be hoping for the sort of helping hand from the Hammers that played a significant part in the 3-0 win in August, first Jussi Jaaskelainen and then James Collins committing football suicide in the sun. A lot’s happened since then – most of it positive for the Swans, but much more of a mixed bag for West Ham; where the Swans’ consistency has seen them maintain a top half of the table position and a place at Wembley the Hammers’ form has been up and down like a bride’s nightie and the current slump sees the hosts six points and three places below their visitors at the time of writing.
At the risk of being hunted down and forced to endure a month in a locked room with Trevor Brooking, I must confess to being perhaps responsible for the downturn in West Ham fortunes – I seem to have a fantasy football kiss of death and ever since I installed Jussi Jaaskelainen as my goalkeeper West Ham have failed to keep a clean sheet.
I have though just removed him (giving the kiss of death to Peter Cech instead) but as I write this it occurs to me how stupid I’ve been – I should have waited until after the Swans game to make the switch but I’ve now probably condemned my side to a goalless ninety minutes! It looks as though Big Sam is doing a bit of fantasy football tinkering himself, indulging in a busy January transfer window. Four players have already been snapped up and I’d bet there will be one or two more pulling on the famous claret and blue strip before the Swans arrive.
The capture of Joe Cole from Liverpool (pictured below) is a smart move and he’s already showing his value with a couple of goals and assists since returning to his “spiritual home” but I must confess to being puzzled by the loan signing of Marouane Chamakh, a player that makes Jeremie Aliadiere look like Robin van Persie. Conversely, the Swans have been fairly quiet in the transfer window thus far with only winger Roland Lamah added to what is already at the Liberty; that may change over the next few days with Kenwynne Jones the number one target should Danny Graham – a scorer in the August victory over West Ham – decide to move on.
But in truth the Swans don’t really need to do much business in the notoriously difficult and pricey New Year market and perhaps the difference in transfer activity between the two clubs illustrates how the respective seasons are going – the Swans comfortable with few injuries, a happy squad and just a few points off Premier League safety already. West Ham with injuries and rapidly degrading form, are looking to change things around and prevent themselves getting sucked in to the relegation dogfight talking place a few points below them.
So how do I see things going on Saturday? Well, as solidly as the Swans are performing I see this as a real banana skin. There will be the obvious danger of minds being elsewhere with that Wembley date looming on the horizon and West Ham’s physical style is still one we struggle with at times.
Much will depend on the side Michael Laudrup puts out and the attitude the team has on the day – slack off in any way and West Ham have the players and the power to punish us. But if Laudrup picks a strong side and keeps his players switched on then it will be very difficult for West Ham to break their opponents down and with goals being in such short supply for the Hammers at the moment a clean sheet for the Swans is a distinct possibility. Under Laudrup, the Swans have practiced and perfected a very successful style for away games, stubborn resistance offset by a very pacy counterattacking game and the unerring finishing skills of man of the moment Michu.
In Ashley Williams and Chico Flores the Swans have arguably the best central defensive partnership in the division but if there is a vulnerability then it is at set pieces and this will be West Ham’s best opportunity. If I was a betting man then I’d be putting my pound coin on the Swans to win 1-0 but only after I’ve transferred the entire West Ham starting line up into my fantasy football team!