Laudrup rings the changes and wins
In response to the Swans' Christmas schedule of four games in ten days, Michael Laudrup dared to make seven changes to the first team -- and still got the result.
The clash with Fulham at Craven Cottage might not have been the most exciting game, but a consummate away performance ticked all kinds of boxes for the Swans. Win without Michu? Check. Get a goal from Danny Graham? Check. Look like Manchester United? Check (where did the green socks go?).
The win also demonstrated how much this side have evolved under Laudrup. Here are just some of the ways Swansea have expanded their game to remain dangerous in the Premier League and make a mockery of the so-called 'second season syndrome'.
Possession is not everything
Swans' former boss Brendan Rodgers had (and still has, as Liverpool fans are finding out) an obsession with possession, at times almost suggesting that he felt possession was more important than scoring goals.
Under his charge, last season's Swans exemplified Rodgers' personal beliefs to an almost preposterous degree; and when the goals dried up, the chorus of "possession's all well and good, but..." from all corners of the football world was almost as loud as Hymns and Arias at the Liberty on a Saturday afternoon.
Against Fulham, the Swans were happy to let the home side have the lion's share of possession (roughly 60/40 depending on your source), content in the knowledge that the team as a unit could sit back, defend without the ball, and play the counter.
Short isn't always sweet
Another hallmark of last season's Swans was the short passing game, and while that is largely still the case, this season's side are far more comfortable throwing the odd long ball up the field as well -- something which almost never happened last season. Doing the unexpected is always dangerous, and it stands to reason that a long ball will be unexpected from a side renowned for a short-passing game.
Lately there has been a trend for the Swans to occasionally launch long goal kicks towards a fast player lurking on the edge of the opposition area, often Nathan Dyer, and especially when playing away from home, as was the case against Fulham. The gambit hasn't produced any cheeky "route one" goals yet, but it has come close and most importantly, it has kept the opposition on their toes. Kemy Agustien's return to midfield also gives the Swans a deadly long passing weapon.
Small squads demand versatility
When he arrived at Swansea, Laudrup made it clear that he preferred to work with as small a squad as possible, in order to maximize the efficacy of training and resources. For a small squad to succeed, its players must be versatile enough to cover multiple positions; Laudrup made seven changes to the first team for the Fulham game, bravely opting for an attacking-flavoured XI away from home.
Late in the game, with the Swans protecting a one goal lead, Laudrup introduced left back Ben Davies for right winger Pablo. Davies slotted in at left back to boost the tiring defensive unit, with starting left back Dwight Tiendalli shifting to right back (his favoured position), and Angel Rangel in turn (who started at right back) pushed forward to fill the vacated right wing slot.
It wasn't the first time Rangel has been used in a forward position; Laudrup's confidence in his players to assume different roles has inculcated a degree of interchangeability among the players which gives the team greater fluidity.
It won't be remembered as their best game this season, but the Swans took three precious points, and did so with a professional performance, even if Fulham's ascendancy in the latter stages of the game threatened to take the shine off. What's more, Graham not only got a start, but he also got a goal. Has he made a case to start more games? Or just increased his transfer value at exactly the right time?
Positives: Radically changed first team did enough to win. Graham getting a goal. Pablo's return, albeit a subdued one.
Negatives: Fitness issues towards the end of the game, though the defence held.