Written by: Ian Hamilton and Tucker Holt
Continuing our 10 part series into the British Premier Leagues most anticipated derby games brings us to the South Wales Derby between Swansea City and Cardiff City. It is described by most patrons as one of the most hostile derbies in all of British football. In their 105 competitive meeting Cardiff holds the edge with 43 wins to Swansea’s 35 with 27 draws. Interesting note though, in this rivalry no one has pulled the double in the same year. Its the first time both Welsh clubs will face off as Premier League foes, not to mention it will be the first competitive game against each other in just under three years. The two meet November 3rd in Cardiff and you can bet all televisions in Wales will be on this game. The two meet again February 8th with potentially the first chance of a team earning a double in this hostile rivalry.
Manager: Michael Laudrup
Stadium: Liberty Stadium
Base City: Swansea, Wales
Nickname: The Jacks, The Swans
It wasn’t to long ago Swansea City was fighting to keep itself alive as a viable football club. Back in 2001 Mike Lewis bought Swansea City for a whopping 1 pound, for you Americans that’s buying a football club for around $1.50 depending how much our economy is in the tank. If it weren’t for a James Thomas hat trick to secure a 4-2 victory on the final day versus Hull on a rain soaked Vetch Field back in May of 2003 there wouldn’t be a Swansea City. From then on it was only an upward trend for the club. After Roberto Martinez and Paulo Sousa brought Swansea back to relevance in the Championship Division the Swans looked to Brendon Rodgers to get the Swans over the hump. With Rodgers at the helm he guided the Swans to a third place finish and qualified them for the playoffs. After defeating Nottingham Forest in the semifinals they traveled to Wembley Stadium to take on Reading for a place in the Premier League. After opening up to a 3-0 at half time thanks to two goals from Scott Sinclair and one from Stephan Dobbie. But the Swans don’t like doing things the easy way, so in the second half Reading got two back before an 80th minute penalty by Sinclair secured the ticket back to the Premier League for the first time since 1983.
Swansea City was the first Welsh side to be in the Premier League since its formation in 1992. In their first season they went on to defeat major powers Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool, a strong statement to the rest of the league that the Swans were here to stay. But because of all the success the Swans were having it drew attention from Liverpool who were in search of a new manager and Brendan Rodgers left the club later that summer. In came current manager Michael Laudrup who took the Swans tiki-taka style of football and improved upon it. He brought in players like Pablo Hernandez, Jonathan De Guzman, Chico Flores, and the clubs best signing and maybe best premier league signing for the money, Miguel Perez Cuesta otherwise known as Michu. These key signings combined with the players already still there went on to have the most successful season in the clubs 100-year history. In early December the club had its first win at Arsenal in over three decades with two late goals from Michu. One month later Swansea traveled to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup and with goals from Michu and Danny Graham Swansea secured its place in the finals and had its first opportunity at silverware versus Bradford City. Michu ended the year with 22 goals and was nominated for British Premier League Player of the Year.
In arguably their biggest game since surviving relegation ten years previously, the Swans found themselves back at Wembley with chance at hoisting the Capital One Cup.
It wasn’t long before the Swans took a stranglehold of the game, Nathan Dyer scored in the 16th minute. Michu followed it up with a goal in the 40th minute. The Swans never looked back after that. Dyer added another to his tally in the 48th minute and then after a clear path penalty on Bradford’s keeper Matt Duke saw him sent off, leaving Bradford to finish the game with 10 men. That sealed the deal and two late goals by Jonathan De Guzman saw the game finish 5-0 and secured the Swans their first cup title a ticket in the Europa League the following year.
As constant attacks came in from bigger clubs to secure the services of players like Michu and Ashley Williams and even manager Michael Laudrup dissipated over the summer the club looked to begin another successful Premier League campaign. The club went out and signed Wilfried Bony from Vitesse for a record signing of 12 million pounds. Bony was the leading goal scorer in the Eredivisie in 2012-13 with 31 goals and was named Dutch Player of the Year. The striker’s main task was to add some stronger attacking play and let Michu play in his preferred role in the hole just behind him. In their first competitive game together in Europa the two looked as if they had played together for years, scoring and assisting on three of the Swans four goals. The key to the Swans season is in the hands of Bony and Michu and they all know it. The Swans are off to an undefeated start to their Europa League campaign and are sitting top of Group A after an impressive win versus Spanish Power Valencia at the Mestalla and a home win versus St. Gallen. Unfortunately for the Swans the balance of Premier League and Europa hasn’t gotten them off to a good start in their domestic league. Swansea are currently sitting 15th with 7 points. Their opening set of games hasn’t been friendly for the Swans either. They’ve opened with games against Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham in four of their first six games. The international break came at a great time for the Swans who were starting to show signs of fatigue trying to balance the amount of games, 7 games in the previous 22 days. The good news is they get to come back against bottom dweller Sunderland. The Swans are hoping to turn things around with a more friendly schedule ahead, because with rival Cardiff sitting just ahead of them in the table things aren’t sitting well with the fans on the west side of Wales. Unfortunately because of the squad depth of a smaller club like Swansea and the balancing act of the Europa League and Premier League the Swans may be quite like last years Newcastle side who battled relegation all year long. Michu will have the be the driving force that guides Swansea through the season as he did the year before if the Swans are to find success. If Swansea can win the battle of Wales and defeat rivals Cardiff in the three weeks time, all will be sunny at the Liberty.
Manager: Malky Mackay
Stadium: Cardiff City Stadium
Base City: Cardiff, Wales
Nickname: Blue Birds
What is going on in South Wales? Cardiff F.C. won an FA cup in 1927, and became the first non-English side to win a major English trophy. Since then the Blue Birds have been in almost every division in English soccer and had just as many owners. The last year has also meant the change of the traditional blue kit to a more Asian friendly red to correspond with the most recent change in ownership. It has also meant a change in badges. A red dragon has replaced the blue bird that graced Cardiff kits for the better part of a century. However not all the changes at this Welsh club have been bad. Last year Cardiff won the Championship Division with 87 points demolishing the next closest competition by 8 points. Cardiff now finds themselves in the Premier League for the first time since its conception, even though they are no strangers to first flight football (appearing in the first division 15 times prior).
Cardiff’s first trip to the Premier League looks to be a treacherous one. Cardiff does have a core group of players, including team leading goal scorer Peter Whittingham and defender Craig Bellamy, from last year’s nPower Championship season. Eccentric owner Vincent Tan has also spent quite a bit of money to help the Blue Birds to challenge for a mid table finish. However, despite all of these factors Cardiff still ranks 13 in payroll and is still what you would call a bottom of the table spender. Eccentric ownership also has its downsides and this instability could lead to inconsistency through the season.
Tan’s recent antics include a disagreement about player bonuses at the end of the season. Manager Malky MacKay sided with the players in this conflict much to the disappointment of the Malaysian owner. Tan responded by firing MacKay’s right hand man and recruitment director Iain Moody. MacKay seems to be next in the line of fire for Tan, but the teams form so far this year combined with an excellent Championship season last year could make the firing Scotsman difficult. Tan also risks losing the Welsh fan base that already aren’t happy with the changing of their colors.
It’s hard to tell if the roller coaster of results is from the instability in the clubhouse, low pay roll or just the pressure of being in the Premier League. Cardiff has managed a win and a draw over top half Manchester City and Everton respectively. However the Welsh side have struggled losing to lesser sides West Ham and Newcastle. This up and down form has been good enough for 8 points from 7 games and more importantly one more point then rival Welsh side Swansea, and 14th place in the table. The Welsh side will most likely fight to stay clear of the relegation zone all year but should have enough positives to survive the pressures of the world’s most popular soccer league.