x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Contrasting battles for survival in Premier League

Norwich City and Swansea City play a different brand of football from the other, but they have the same unenviable challenge in 2012/13 – to avoid relegation.

Norwich City, in yellow, and Swansea City are under pressure to remain in the top flight. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images
Norwich City, in yellow, and Swansea City are under pressure to remain in the top flight. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images

They came up together and they sat side-by-side in the final Premier League table of last season, only goal difference separating them after a campaign when Swansea City and Norwich City competed endearingly for the unofficial title of the division's great overachievers.

But their prowess brought a penalty. Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert, architects of their exploits, have been lured away by bigger clubs. Now Swansea and Norwich are united again: each is adjusting to life under a new manager and seeking to avoid that most dangerous of footballing illnesses, second season syndrome.

"What Swansea achieved last season was fantastic," said their new manager Michael Laudrup. "But we all know that in any country, the second season when you have come up to the highest level is very difficult."

This is the danger for the Dane and for his Norwich counterpart, Chris Hughton. Finish any lower and some will deem it failure. In the bigger picture, it is not. Survival is success. With typical common sense, Hughton explained the challenge. "It's about the club moving forward," he said. "That's not just about the finishing position, but about assuring the club's status for many seasons."

That task should not be underestimated. Swansea have only stayed in the top flight twice in their history. Norwich were in third-tier League One three seasons ago.

Both squads are packed with players with ample experience below Championship level. Both have individuals who have performed above themselves in the last two years. That does not necessarily mean they will forever.

Some difficult decisions have to be made. Andrew Crofts is one example. If the Wales international rarely made the headlines, that is precisely the point.

Yet he was an energetic presence in the Norwich midfield in 24 league games last season before Hughton quietly sold him back to former club Brighton.

His top-flight career may prove a one-season interruption to a worthy working life in less glamorous surroundings.

For others, success can seem to change everything. After Wayne Rooney, Grant Holt, the 31-year-old former tyre fitter and non-league striker, was the top-scoring Englishman in last season's Premier League. His legendary status at Carrow Road was endangered when the target man handed in a transfer request in May. It has since been retracted, but it is a reminder that ambition can disrupt footballing fairy tales.

Meanwhile, covetous glances are being cast at the Liberty Stadium, and not just from Liverpool. Rodgers has returned to his former club to sign Joe Allen, one of his midfield metronomes. He wanted Gylfi Sigurdsson, too, but after the on-loan Icelander agreed a fee with Swansea, Rodgers left and Sigurdsson plumped for Tottenham Hotspur instead.

In Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor and Scott Sinclair, Laudrup has inherited others with admirers. Perhaps these Swans were too stylish for their own good.

And this is where the two Cities differ. "If the style here was more kick and rush, I would probably not be here now," Laudrup said in June. "It's about the philosophy."

Swansea's passing principles have underpinned their rise and the Spanish influence has increased with the appointment of the former Real Madrid and Barcelona creator. His first three signings were the Spaniards Michu and Jose Manuel Flores and the Dutchman Jonathan de Guzman, borrowed from Villarreal.

In contrast, Norwich are defiantly British. Lambert bought almost exclusively from lower divisions, finding hungry players others had ignored. Hughton has continued the same policy. Of his four recruits, only Michael Turner has played Premier League football and he is among the many in the Canaries squad with a promotion on his CV.

The defender Steven Whitaker joined the exodus from the Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers, Jacob Butterfield came from Barnsley and Robert Snodgrass is part of the sizeable former Leeds United contingent in Norfolk.

He is also a goalscoring midfielder, an addition to a side who were scarcely short of firepower.

If Swansea are unique, Norwich are less distinct and more direct but also more prolific.

Contrasting approaches have propelled the Premier League's most westerly and easterly clubs forward but very little has separated them.

Now, once again, they are looking for an unlikely form of harmony, each aiming to ensure their sophomore year is not a dramatic comedown after the highs they reached as newcomers.


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