First the Mestalla, then Selhurst Park. This was Swansea City’s second conquest in four days, their second travelling triumph and just as much of a footballing lesson as they gave Valencia in the Europa League.
Of course, Crystal Palace and Valencia are not quite on the same level but this result was at least as pleasing and important to Michael Laudrup and his team. If they continue to play like this, though, there is no doubt they will be able to challenge last year’s league finish of ninth.
This was a performance of very high quality from Swansea. Their technical and tactical superiority over Palace was so vast there was never any doubt at all that they would win. Swansea scored in the second minute of each half – first through Michu and then Nathan Dyer – and spent most of the rest of the afternoon monopolising possession. When Palace threw too many men forward Swansea could break and Laudrup’s only regret afterwards was that they did not score more.
“It has been a fantastic week,” Laudrup reflected afterwards. “We thought this would be the most difficult game because it was our third game in six days. It always helps if you score in the first minute, and we really dominated the game from the first to the last second. The only thing is we should have scored more – we had chances to score five or six.”
It was a different tactical challenge from Thursday’s game, but Swansea did just as well. “We expected Crystal Palace to be a bit more direct, and physical, as they played at home, but then we scored so early we did not allow them to – maybe they had 10 minutes - but we defended that part well.”
If Palace had been relying on Swansea’s jet-lag, it was immediately clear that their hopes were misplaced. It was Ian Holloway’s team who began in a daze, Swansea starting with sharp focus and taking just 80 seconds to go ahead. Jonjo Shelvey drove through the middle and fed Michu in space, and his shot was too powerful for Julian Speroni, flying off him into the roof of the net. Holloway was not impressed. “It was probably the worst goal I have ever seen.”
That should have been warning enough but Palace were still dozing when Chico Flores volleyed against the post from a corner-kick. Palace just could not get near the ball, and when they did, they gave it straight back. The first 30 minutes, at least, were dismal with Palace showing no coherence, no energy and no control. Michu went close and Speroni had to save from Angel Rangel.
Palace, it must be said, had five new signings – Adlene Gueirdioara, Barry Bannan, Cameron Jerome, Marouane Chamakh and Jason Puncheon – in their front six. “It looked like they were strangers,” said Holloway, who did insist that his own enforced absence from the touchline was why his team looked so disjointed.
Swansea, though, had their own new signings playing in Shelvey, Jose Canas and Alvaro Vazquez, but they have gelled far faster. “We did not buy players from picking them out of a bucket,” Laudrup said, “we chose them because we knew they could adapt to the way we play.”
At half-time, with Damien Delaney injured, Holloway introduced Jose Campana, with Mile Jedinak moving back into defence. A good idea, but rendered irrelevant when Swansea scored again, straight after the re-start. Michu span off Danny Gabbidon and fed Vazquez. His shot was saved and he squared the rebound to Dyer who did the necessary.
That was essentially that, with Swansea happy to pass their way through the rest of the second half. Jonathan De Guzman came on for Vazquez, further enhancing their control, and they made chances to kill the game but could not take them. Palace managed one hooked shot wide from substitute Dwight Gayle and little more.
“Not in a million years could we have beaten Swansea today, they were embarrassingly good,” said Holloway. “The cleverness of all of it. I’ve got to aspire to getting our identity with the ball better than it is. That structure with and without the ball, I’ve got to sew it all together. We’ve got to do it so fast that it’s frightening.”
Crystal Palace: Speroni 6; Mariappa 5, Gabbidon 5, Delaney (Campana, 45, 6), Moxey 4; Jedinak 5, Gueidiora 5; Puncheon 5, Bannan 6 (Thomas, 67, 5), Jerome 4 (Gayle, 67, 6); Chamakh 5
Swansea: Vorm 6; Rangel 6, Chico 7, Wiliams 6, Davies 8; Canas 7 (Britton, 78), Shelvey 8; Dyer 7 (Pozuelo, 71), Michu 8, Routledge 7; Alvaro 7 (De Guzman, 61, 7)
Man of the Match: Michu