Leon Britton: Everton must be Swansea City's only focus
LEON Britton admits Swansea City cannot afford to be distracted when they run out at Everton today.
A hectic schedule of seven games in the past three weeks could easily have left Michael Laudrup's side in a spin.
And after Wednesday's stunning Capital One Cup semi-final first leg win at Chelsea, Swansea dare to dream of Wembley.
But their focus will have to be entirely on the Toffees this afternoon.
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Everton have proved something of a bogey team since Swansea climbed back into the top flight 20 months ago.
David Moyes's side won a tight game at Goodison Park just over a year ago and have since beaten Swansea twice in SA1.
Leighton Baines and Nikica Jelavic struck as Everton won 2-0 at the Liberty last season, and they returned to record an even more emphatic 3-0 triumph in September.
That scoreline could have been even greater as the Merseysiders overwhelmed Swansea.
"Everton really is a match where you can't afford not to be on your game," said Britton.
"They've played us three times in the Premier League and beaten us three times pretty convincingly to be fair.
"We've been definitely second best in all the games so it's obviously a match where we've really got to be on top of our game to come away with anything.
"They've done really well. I actually watched their game against Chelsea at Goodison and they were unlucky, they were really good in the first half."
Swansea's chief tormenter in those defeats has been Marouane Fellaini.
The towering Belgian midfielder scored in the last meeting, while his aerial ability and frame caused the diminutive hosts real problems.
"He's a handful, the arms and legs are everywhere and he nicks it every time," said Britton.
"For last season, he was arguably the best player I played against in the two games.
"He's a big lad and physical but good on the ball and showed this season he's a top, top player.
"There's been talk of him moving for £25 million or whatever, so to be talked about in that bracket just underlines what a good player he is."
Swansea's top-flight campaign has taken a back seat over the past week. An FA Cup draw with Arsenal last Sunday was followed by that incredible result at Stamford Bridge.
Goals from Michu and Danny Graham have put Swansea in pole position to secure a place in their first ever major cup final.
But Britton insists they will not neglect the league.
Ninth-placed Swansea are closing in on top-flight survival as they face an Everton side pushing for a Champions League spot.
The Goodison Park outfit are fifth in the table, just three points behind third-placed Spurs.
"You can't afford not to be completely focused on what's in front of you in the Premier League, whether it's against a team at the top of the league or at the bottom, you can't go into games not being on it," said Britton.
"We're not at a level as a side where we can stroll for a second and hope for a result.
"We know we can play well as a team but we're not a team who thinks they can just turn up, especially not against Everton.
"We have to be at our best to get results in this league every week so it won't be a case of having one eye on the cup second leg. We have to perform every game and we will make sure we recover well."
Norwich are the only other side to have beaten Swansea in three Premier League matches since their return to the top flight.
Rarely shown up since that elevation, the last game against Everton was one of the few occasions Swansea have been outclassed.
Everton's consistency against Swansea has led some to suggest they have worked Laudrup's side out, that they have discovered an Achilles heal in the Swans' patient passing approach.
"We haven't performed against Everton under this manager or before; whether that's because Everton seem to do something different than other teams against us I don't know," said Britton.
"But I would love to see us put in a performance and try to get something because the last three games they've been clear winners."
Though the case against Swansea getting a result today seems to be mounting, they do have one key weapon in their armoury.
Laudrup seems to have created a team of away-day specialists. A carefully developed counter-attacking strategy has helped secure victories at Liverpool, Newcastle and Arsenal this season, not to mention last Wednesday's success at Stamford Bridge.
Swansea sit back, frustrate their opponents and then break with blistering pace.
The number of late goals they have scored is testimony to the effectiveness of this approach — which normally involves Michu finding the net.
Swansea's Spanish top scorer netted for the 16th time this season when he struck the first goal against Chelsea three days ago.
"We talked about it in the changing rooms after Chelsea, we seem to be able to sit back, defend well and hit teams on the counter with the pace we have," added Britton.
"And when you've got someone like Michu up top, you give him a chance and he'll score, which helps.
"We've done well away from home and we can conserve our energy a little bit by sitting — although you can't drop too much because you come under pressure so you have to get the balance right.
"But when you do win the ball, we have the players where we can break with pace and hurt teams. I even had a ref come up to me after an away game that we won saying he couldn't keep up with the pace of our counter attacks."
Swansea also look to be blazing a trail to Wembley.
But after three games in which they have been left behind, Laudrup's side must make sure they are not again outstripped by Everton.