Paul Lambert and Brendan Rodgers prove one man can make all the difference

The Weekend Dossier

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The "exceptional circumstances" defence used by Tony Pulis this week to avoid a driving ban in part claimed that Stoke City's Premier League status, and the knock-on benefits for the Six Towns, was dependent on his management. Can one man really be so central to success?

There is evidence elsewhere in the top flight to suggest he can. The impact Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert have had on Swansea City and Norwich City cannot be understated. When the two clubs were promoted last May it was anticipated that they would now be locked in a grim battle for survival in the Premier League basement.

Instead Swansea, after three successive victories, sit eighth, 11 points clear of the relegation dogfight. Despite one point from four games, Norwich are three points behind. Swansea, who host Everton today, already look safe. Norwich surely will be should they take advantage of wounded Wolves today. Meanwhile Queen's Park Rangers, who won the Championship, spent £20m on such Premier League veterans as Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Bobby Zamora, Luke Young and Anton Ferdinand, are 17th and fearing the drop.

Swansea have not only been relatively parsimonious, they have squads of ingenues. The main players used by both Norwich and Swansea have just a smattering of Premier League experience. Of Norwich's core players, only Andrew Surman, with seven games at Wolves, and goalkeeper John Ruddy, who made an isolated appearance for Everton six years ago, had ever played in the top flight. As recently as May 2009, Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson were facing each other in the League Two play-off final. City's other lead striker, Steve Morison, was also at Wembley, playing in the FA Trophy final for non-League Stevenage.

Swansea have more experience on the wings with Wayne Routledge a top-flight veteran – not that it earns him a start most weeks. Scott Sinclair, Garry Monk and Danny Graham had also tasted life in the elite, but not very often.

If nothing else, this proves there are plenty of good players outside the Premier League, if only they can be fitted into the right environment. Which is where Lambert and Rodgers come in. The two men have backgrounds that reflect opposite extremes of the playing spectrum. Rodgers never made it, largely as a result of an injury which finished his career at 20. Lambert, a shrewd and economical midfielder, won 40 caps for Scotland, including at the 1998 World Cup finals, and won the European Cup with Borussia Dortmund in 1997.

The similarities are in their post-playing careers. Both took coaching qualifications and worked their way up. Lambert began at Livingston, where he struggled, then achieved success at Wycombe and Colchester before switching to Norwich shortly after the Us had won 7-1 at Carrow Road in August 2009. Rodgers learned his trade in the youth ranks, at Reading and Chelsea, before entering management at Watford. He, too, has had setbacks, notably at Reading where his attempt to change the style of play from Steve Coppell's hard-running, balls-forward-into-channels method, to a short-passing regime, proved such a culture clash that relegation threatened. He would not change his tactics, so Reading chairman John Madejski reluctantly changed the manager.

Swansea, already tutored to play a passing game by Roberto Martinez, have proved a much better fit. Helped by consistency of selection, Swansea have won many plaudits for their football, even out-passing Arsenal. In midfield, Leon Britton is the pivot, rotating possession and determining the tempo; on the flanks, Sinclair and Nathan Dyer provide pacy outlets; in attack, Graham leads the line with strength, enthusiasm, and the occasional goal. Just as teams began to work them out, Rodgers brought in Gylfi Sigurdsson on loan to give them a fresh dimension.

Norwich, though they mix it up more, also play attractive football. Lambert is prepared to be flexible, fielding a lone striker or a partnership ahead of a midfield which is usually anchored by David Fox with others, such as Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan, pushing on.

Both teams are made up primarily of home-grown players though a Dutch goalkeeper (Michel Vorm), a Spanish right-back (Angel Rangel), and, now, Icelander Sigurdsson have been key players for Swansea.

Rodgers was talking yesterday of kicking on. "I believe in the next two or three years we can really settle into this league," he said. They may do, but it is a tough division. The cautionary tale is that of Reading a few years ago, who collapsed in their second season when players found it impossible to sustain the level of performance from their debut year when the excitement wore off. Then there is the spectre of injury, especially at Swansea where resources are limited and the board will not take financial risks. The other concern, for fans of both, is whether they can hold on to their managers for, as even a court recognised, they are the men who shape a club's destiny.

Five Asides

1 Maybe Di Matteo should now listen to Terry – a bit

Had John Terry been on the sidelines to orchestrate a change in tactics when Carlos Tevez came on in midweek, would Chelsea have held on to victory at Manchester City? We'll never know, but what is certain is that, had he been there, and been seen directing operations from the technical area, there would have been a torrent of columns complaining about player-power.

But if it had worked, as it did against Napoli, why not? It has long been felt that Chelsea's senior players, notably Terry, exercise a disproportionate influence behind the scenes. If Roberto Di Matteo recognises this and co-opts Terry, he is stronger, not weaker – as long as he has the final say.

2 First winners of European Cup take on Herne Bay

Thirty years ago, when football was rare on television, Dennis Waterman appeared in a drama about the Sir Thomas Lipton trophy, an early sort of European Cup played in Turin and won by West Auckland in 1909 and 1911 (defeating Juventus in the latter final). A century on and West are back on the trophy trail. Today they make the 620-mile round trip to play Herne Bay in the first leg of the FA Vase semi-final with a place at Wembley for the winner.

In the other semi-final Staveley Miners Welfare, of Chesterfield, play Dunston UTS, the Gateshead team, who would love to be able to call on Dunston's most famous son, one Paul Gascoigne.

3 If all else fails, Mr Chairman, just sack the manager

Fortunes change swiftly in football. In January, the Burton Albion manager Paul Peschisolido rejected an approach from Bristol Rovers. This week, 11 games later, he was fired. So much for loyalty, but perhaps understandable with the Brewers losing the last six matches.

More perplexing was another dismissal in League Two, mid-table Rotherham sacking Andy Scott after 11 months. That is not long enough for anyone to build their own squad. You have to wonder sometimes what chairmen expect.

4 No apologies from Moscow over Samba's banana

The progress Russia needs to make when combating racism was further illustrated this week by the row between Lokomotiv Moscow and Anzhi Makhachkala over a banana thrown at Christopher Samba last weekend. Not only is this far from an isolated incident, Lokomotiv's refusal to accept any blame reveals an unpleasant official mindset.

5 A great British design – are you watching, Scotland?

The new GB Olympic kit looks as if it was designed to persuade the Scottish FA to allow its players to take part. Presumably the away kit will be styled to bring in the Welsh.

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This weekend's team news...

Chelsea v Tottenham

Odds Home 5-6; Draw 13-5; Away 10-3.

Kick-off Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC1 10.20pm)

Team news John Terry (calf) is expected to return for Chelsea and midfielder Oriol Romeu has recovered from a knee injury, although Branislav Ivanovic (thigh) is a doubt. Tottenham are again without Aaron Lennon (hamstring), while Emmanuel Adebayor is doubtful with the same injury. Ledley King will undergo a late fitness test.

Arsenal v Aston Villa

Odds Home 1-3; Draw 4-1; Away 9-1.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.20pm)

Team news Arsenal will not risk Abou Diaby (hamstring), while Per Mertesacker and Jack Wilshere (both ankle) remain sidelined. For Aston Villa, beaten here in the FA Cup two months ago, Charles N'Zogbia is hopeful of overcoming a knee injury, while Andreas Weimann is in contention for a starting position up front after scoring the winner against Fulham a fortnight ago.

Bolton v Blackburn

Odds Home 7-5; Draw 12-5; Away 19-10.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.20pm)

Team news Bolton return to action for the first time since midfielder Fabrice Muamba's collapse at Tottenham last weekend. Manager Owen Coyle will allow any player who is not in the right frame of mind to miss the game. French fullback Gaël Givet is Blackburn's only injury doubt after aggravating a hamstring problem prior to Tuesday's victory over Sunderland.

Liverpool v Wigan

Odds Home 2-7; Draw 9-2; Away 10-1.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.20pm)

Team news Martin Kelly is expected to be fit for Liverpool after coming off injured in both of the club's last two matches. Charlie Adam (knee) will undergo late checks but Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Craig Bellamy remain on the sidelines. Wigan have doubts over striker Hugo Rodallega (knee), while midfielder David Jones (knee) and goalkeeper Mike Pollitt (shoulder) are nearing returns.

Norwich v Wolves

Odds Home 8-11; Draw 11-4; Away 15-4.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.20pm)

Team news Norwich have Anthony Pilkington available again after he missed last Sunday's defeat at Newcastle. Wolves are without Ronald Zubar after the defender was sent off in the home drubbing against Manchester United last weekend, with Roger Johnson standing by. David Davis (rib) has joined Karl Henry (hamstring) and Jamie O'Hara (groin) on the injury list.

Sunderland v QPR

Odds Home 10-11; Draw 12-5; Away 3-1.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.20pm)

Team news Stéphane Sessègnon returns from suspension for Sunderland, although Lee Cattermole is still banned for a further match, and John O'Shea (hamstring) will undergo a late fitness check. Armand Traoré misses out for Queen's Park Rangers after suffering a hamstring injury in the surprise win against Liverpool in midweek, but Clint Hill (back) could make the squad.

Swansea v Everton

Odds Home 6-5; Draw 9-4; Away 12-5.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.20pm)

Team news Swansea welcome back defender Ashley Williams after the Welsh international missed last week's 3-0 victory at Fulham due to illness. Nathan Dyer serves the final game of his three-match suspension. Everton could have midfielder Darron Gibson (knee) available, but manager David Moyes is still without midfielders Jack Rodwell (hamstring) and Seamus Coleman (thigh).

Stoke v Manchester City

Odds Home 5-1; Draw 11-4; Away 8-13.

Kick-off Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC1 10.20pm)

Team news Matthew Etherington (ankle) returns for Stoke after missing Wednesday's draw at Tottenham Hotspur, while Jonathan Woodgate could also return, but striker Ricardo Fuller remains suspended. Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany (calf) could return, but fellow defender Joleon Lescott (hip) remains out. Carlos Tevez is expected to again start on the bench again.

WBA v Newcastle

Odds Home 5-4; Draw 12-5; Away 21-10.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2 10pm)

Team news Jonas Olsson returns from suspension for West Bromwich Albion, while manager Roy Hodgson retains hope of having Peter Odemwingie (hamstring) available. Newcastle await updates on key man Cheick Tioté, while defender Danny Simpson could return from an adductor strain.

Manchester United v Fulham

Odds Home 2-9; Draw 5-1, Away 14-1.

Kick-off Monday, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights Sky Sports 1 1am, Tuesday)

Team news Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley, Fabio, Paul Pogba and Phil Jones are in contention to return to the Manchester United squad after all successfully came through a reserve-team match. Fulham manager Martin Jol has no new injury concerns as his side come off the back of successive non-scoring defeats.

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