Last season Swansea carved out a niche as the quintessential neutrals’ choice. Managed by a suave, dashing manager who had magic in his boots during his playing career, their sweeping, artful brand of passing football reached new aesthetic heights as they secured the first major trophy in their history with a demolition of Bradford City in the League Cup final.
Bar a completely understandable end to the season when they largely phoned in their performances following that Wembley triumph, champagne lying heavy on the stomach, it was pretty much the perfect season for the club, run and owned by a Supporters’ Trust and, rarely for a professional football club, healthily in the black too.
Any Swans fans enjoying the summer sun on the south coast of Wales during the annual break from football must have wondered if life gets any better than this.
Last night suggested it might.
A first European match since 1991 proved to be a grand occasion for Swansea as they swept Malmo aside 4-0 in the first leg of their Europa League third qualifying round tie at the Liberty Stadium.
It was almost as if the summer break had not happened. Here were Swansea, stroking the ball around with contemptuous ease, putting together some pretty passing moves; here was Michu, displaying the deadly cool that made him one of the standout performers of last season’s Premier League campaign and getting a goal to open his account on August 1; here were Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge, causing havoc with their thrilling, direct play; here was Leon Britton, sitting and overseeing it all from deep.
But there was something else on show at the Liberty Stadium. Something that made Swansea a bit more complete: a genuine and accomplished centre-forward.
For all of Michu’s qualities, he is not an out-an-out striker. Last season Swansea used both Danny Graham and Itay Shechter in the role when they were not asking their swashbuckling Spaniard to perform in a position that was, well, a bit false niney.
But here Michu could wreak havoc from deep when playing off a proper striker who may yet prove to be one of the acquisitions of the summer. Their embryonic partnership has already been labelled ‘Bony M’ by some quick-witted wags.
Leading the line for Swansea was their £12 million club record signing Wilfried Bony, and boy did he make a good impression on his debut, scoring twice and also claiming a late assist in the rout of the Swedes.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the Ivory Coast international has immediately started banging in the goals for Swansea. After all, he scored a barely believable 31 times in just 24 games for Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivisie last season.
But we have been sold that kind of dummy before: remember Afonso Alves, who scored 45 goals in 38 appearances for Heerenveen, including a frankly stupid seven in one game? Sadly his time in England was rather less prolific, the Brazilian scoring 10 league goals in 42 league appearances for Middlesbrough before being shipped out to Al Sadd.
Bony, though, promises more impressive returns. A well-taken header and a poacher’s finish from a Michu rebound hinted at his proficiency in front of goal, while he also chipped in with an assist for Alejandro Pozuelo as Swansea finished with a flourish, scoring a typically intricate team goal late on in the match.
Malmo were no slouches having disposed of Hibernian 9-0 on aggregate in the previous round, so Michael Laudrup was rightly impressed by his side’s efforts.
"Four goals and none conceded against an opponent who were match-fit,” Laudrup said. “There were also two goals for a new striker, and we know goals are so important for players up front. Pozuelo also scored in his first game, Michu is back scoring and we had no injuries so it is difficult not to be pleased.
"Michu and Bony have only played together in the Reading friendly. But we had other new players. Jordi in the back, Jonjo in midfield plus Pozuelo and Canas. If we win 4-0 and the players don't know each other that well then it's not bad. For every forward it is important to score goals early when you join a new club, especially when he has a price tag on him. They were two different goals and I'm pleased for him."
As Laudrup suggested, Bony was not the only positive for Swansea after a summer in which, again, they appear to have recruited spectacularly well. And without a canny director of football like Joe Kinnear too.
Another leading light was Jonjo Shelvey. Freed from his spell at Liverpool where at times he appeared weighed down by expectation and pressure, the £5m summer signing was very impressive against Malmo, suggesting that given a good run in the Swansea team he could challenge strongly for an international role having made his senior debut for England last season.
Further back, Jonathan De Guzman – a fine deep midfielder, also effective in a more advanced role, whose mastery of set-pieces makes him a key asset – has returned for another season on loan from Villarreal, while Jose Canas did enough in his second-half cameo to suggest that he will be another passing metronome in the Britton mould following his astute acquisition from Real Betis.
Another arrival from the Sevillan club was lively winger Pozuelo – who at one stage had a very promising future in Spain and could well fulfil his potential in south Wales. The youngster, sporting a very impressive beard for his age, was immediately in the thick of things and took his goal well too.
When you factor in an admirable performance from youngster Jordi Amat at the back – another of Swansea’s burgeoning Spanish contingent, who have fast become Britain’s most successful Iberian imports since the chain of Nando’s restaurants decorating high streets up and down the country – and this was a hugely promising first proper outing of the season for Laudrup.
"I am very pleased,” he said. “Perfect isn’t often used in football, but that was about as close as you can get tonight.”
In fact, some might suggest Swansea had the perfect season last season, given it was their centenary year and all. Can they improve on perfection? A heady summer-night hammering of Malmo suggests they just might.
Tom Adams - @tomEurosport
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