If promoted clubs in their follow-up year in the Premier League are meant to be suffering from a bout of second-season syndrome, then nobody seems to have told Swansea City or Norwich City. Although I’ll accept that somebody most definitely did inform Queens Park Rangers.
For the purposes of this article we might ignore the plight of QPR, then, and instead concentrate on the match at the Liberty Stadium between the Swans and the Canaries and how, regardless of all we are told about how difficult the second season after promotion can be for clubs, these two teams are bucking the trend with fine campaigns despite the upheaval of having to change managers over the summer.
A cursory look at the league table tells you most of what you need to know. Norwich are on 19 points in 12th position, seven above the relegation zone and just two behind Arsenal in mid-table, while Swansea are doing even better: currently in seventh on 23 points, the Swans are actually two points above Arsenal and just three shy of third-placed Chelsea.
It has been a great effort by both clubs to get where they are at the moment and what’s even more impressive is that there were stages earlier on in the season when it did actually look like a season of struggle was on the cards.
Swansea started in hugely impressive fashion, winning their first two games of the campaign against QPR and West Ham United by an aggregate scoreline of 8-0, but that was soon followed by a dip in performances and results – the Jack Army lost three league consecutive league matches without even scoring a goal as rumours of disillusionment under new boss Michael Laudrup emerged.
But a run of just one defeat in ten games in all competitions has the Swans in the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup as well as riding high in the league, with ten-goal Michu, a £2 million summer signing from Rayo Vallecano, making his name as the bargain of the year.
Norwich, for their part, endured a horrible start as Chris Hughton struggled to make an impact after taking over from Paul Lambert. Hughton didn’t win a league match until the eighth attempt, but since beating Arsenal 1-0 at Carrow Road on October 20th, the Canaries are unbeaten in nine games, also reaching the last eight of the of the League Cup and claiming a famous win over Manchester United in the Premier League.
In fact, only United and Stoke City have taken more points over the last six games than Swansea and Norwich, and the meeting of the duo promises to be an entertaining encounter.
Being at home, Swansea are the 4/5 favourites, with the draw at 5/2 and Norwich at 333/100, and I am siding with the bookies here – I think Laudrup’s men have the edge.
Norwich’s run has been excellent, but most of their good work has been at Carrow Road. Away from home, the Canaries have not quite been able to pick up the same points. A run of four straight away league draws shows they are hard to beat and the point gained at Everton was a fine one.
But Norwich are without a win in eight away games and although only three have been lost, Hughton would have liked a few more points on the board. Their problem is goalscoring: only five away league goals is not a good return and they may just come unstuck at the Liberty.
Swansea have lost just once at home this year in nine games and have scored 16 times in front of their own fans, a goal return that makes me think they can use their extra quality to get in front against Norwich and stay in front.
Confidence is high – the way they dismantled West Brom and outclassed Arsenal in their last two victories was incredibly impressive – and I think they can make it three wins on the spin at 4/5.
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