Swansea City: Cesc Fabregas hails fantastic Swans
MICHAEL Laudrup chuckled at the suggestion that he has started winning admirers in Barcelona after Cesc Fabregas saluted Swansea City.
"I have some there already," smiled the man who won four La Liga titles as a Barca player.
He has a few in South West Wales, too.
So spectacular has Laudrup's start to life as Swansea manager been that the club's new £5.5 million record signing will almost certainly have to make do with a place on the bench when Sunderland visit next weekend.
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Ki Sung-Yueng was paraded in front of a throbbing Liberty Stadium crowd before Saturday's rousing game with West Ham United had got under way.
Not eligible yet to make his debut, Ki then took his seat in the directors' box to see Laudrup's team dispatch the Hammers.
Over in Spain, meantime, Fabregas was watching the game on television.
"I love the way Swansea plays…respect," the former Arsenal captain said on Twitter.
Coming from a player who turns out for perhaps the greatest club side and possibly the finest international team football has seen, this was praise indeed.
Laudrup has tweaked Swansea's approach, asking his wide players to operate closer to the striker so they can influence the game more often and telling his team to work the ball into dangerous areas faster than they did under Brendan Rodgers.
So far, the Dane's plans are working a treat.
"Six points, eight goals and none against — I could not have expected this," Laudrup conceded.
"It's impossible to get better than that."
Laudrup admits that Swansea's first two performances this season have not been faultless.
"At Queens Park Rangers we defended too deep, and here we gave away too many corners and free-kicks," he added.
"Some day that will cost us, because nearly all the teams in this league are stronger than us at set-pieces.
"We have to remember to keep the ball better in certain moments."
Swansea may have altered their tactics following a change of management in the summer, but possession remains king in SA1.
At times in the first period against West Ham, they were guilty of giving the ball away too cheaply and hence they were not always in control.
In the second half, however, Swansea displayed more consistently the confidence and composure on the ball which has become their trademark in recent years.
"We all know in football that the result is the most important thing," Laudrup said.
"But there are many ways to get a result — that's what is great about this sport.
"We feel at this club — and this club has felt for some years — that this is the best way to do it.
"We try to find players who can adapt to this kind of football and when we win playing this way of course we are happy, because that's what we are all about."
At one point late in Saturday's game, Swansea put together a sequence of no fewer than 44 passes before George McCartney finally got a foot in to break up the play.
When West Ham managed a handful of passes moments later, their own fans offered ironic 'Oles'.
The team who represent the Academy of Football were given something of a chasing by Swansea as the contest wore on.
Their only real threat in the game had been set-pieces, and even they dried up as the minutes ticked by.
Swansea were a little fortunate to have gone ahead earlier in the piece, Laudrup's team taking advantage of mistakes from Sam Allardyce's two most experienced players.
First Jussi Jaaskelainen, who has been playing in the Premier League for three-quarters of its existence, made a hash of Angel Rangel's cross-shot and diverted the ball into his own net.
Then James Collins, once of Cardiff City, delighted the natives by making a mess of an attempted back-pass.
Michu capitalised, beating Jaaskelainen to the ball and poking home his third goal in two Swansea appearances.
Kevin Nolan, West Ham's rugged captain, had seemingly set out with the intention of winding Michu up.
But Swansea's summer recruit from Rayo Vallecano paid little attention.
Presumably, the Spaniard could not understand Nolan's Scouse lilt, so he responded by putting the ball into West Ham's net.
Swansea might have been further ahead before the break had Jaaskelainen not pushed Neil Taylor's rising shot over the top.
At the other end, meantime, Ashley Williams and Co had to work hard to repel a flurry of typically menacing Allardyce-inspired set-pieces.
Michel Vorm's goal led something of a charmed life for a spell.
The Dutchman leapt brilliantly to save a volley from Matt Jarvis, the £10.75 million new boy on the West Ham flank who otherwise had a fairly quiet afternoon.
When Vorm was beaten, by Carlton Cole's header, Leon Britton poked out a leg to clear off the line.
What a satisfying day this must have been for Britton, a player who was cast aside by the Hammers a decade ago and was enjoying a first chance to show them what they have been missing.
Britton's was one of a number of very fine performances in the home ranks, with the rejuvenated Wayne Routledge probably the pick of the bunch.
Danny Graham might have stretched Swansea's advantage as they assumed total control in the second half, first with a curler which Jaaskelainen parried and then with a shot which flew inches wide.
Any fears that Swansea might be made to pay for that miss soon faded as the visitors showed no sign of clambering back into the contest.
And Swansea were home and dry in the 64th minute when some lovely work from Rangel and Nathan Dyer ended with Routledge crossing for Graham to claim his first goal of the season.
With that Swansea were — for a few hours at least — top of the early-season table, at the summit of English football for the first time in 30 years.
"That's great for the supporters because for them football is about dreams," Laudrup said.
"But for us on the pitch and on the sidelines, we cannot permit ourselves to dream. We have to look at reality."
And the reality is that with six points on the board already, Swansea's second crack at the Premier League is going rather well.
Another home victory against Sunderland next weekend and they will be almost a quarter of the way to achieving their primary goal for the nine months ahead.
No wonder Laudrup was grinning when word from Fabregas came through.