Michael Laudrup plans for Crystal Palace — and to finish above Cardiff
SWANSEA City face another of the promoted clubs this weekend, but already talk turns to Cardiff City.
Michael Laudrup faced questions from the fans at a forum last week — and it was only a matter of minutes before someone mentioned the neighbours.
It was practically the first enquiry of the night, in fact.
Do you think we will finish above Cardiff, Laudrup was asked.
"I really hope so," he said.
"And I like your question because you ask if we will finish above them.
"I have been at other clubs where people say the most important thing is to win the two games against your local rivals, but the most important thing for me is to finish as high as possible in the league."
Laudrup is well aware of the meaning of a derby.
He has played in a few heavyweight local collisions, after all.
But when pressed on Cardiff again by a different supporter, he made his stance clear.
Do you think we will beat them, he was asked this time.
"I will turn the question back on you," Laudrup said.
"Would you prefer to beat Cardiff twice and finish below them or finish above them in the league at the end of the season?"
His query went unanswered, those Swans fans present discussing the alternatives between themselves rather than responding.
Presumably, the consensus would be that defeats in the derbies would be bearable should Swansea end the season better placed in the table than Malky Mackay's team.
That is how Laudrup views it — and that makes Sunday's game at Crystal Palace just as significant to him as the trip to Cardiff which awaits on November 3.
Laudrup understands what it means to take three points off the team next door, but he might remind you that Swansea would earn the same number of points should they win in South London.
Every game comes with major significance — even those which arrive at the end of draining weeks.
Laudrup's players have had to pour everything into meetings with Liverpool and Valencia in the last few days.
Now comes the rather less glamorous assignment that is a visit to Selhurst Park.
Palace are being tipped to struggle by everyone and anyone having beaten Watford in May's Championship play-off final.
In fact they are favourites for the drop with the bookmakers ahead of Hull, Sunderland and Cardiff.
Yet just like Swansea, Ian Holloway's team have won one of their four league games so far this season.
They went down narrowly against Tottenham and away at Stoke, and only lost 2-0 at Manchester United last weekend despite losing Kagisho Dikgacoi in controversial circumstances just before half-time.
Publicly at least, Holloway opted not to grumble afterwards.
He was already banned from the touchline, after all, for complaining that smaller clubs get a raw deal following a dubious Spurs penalty on the opening weekend of the season.
But the former Blackpool manager will feel he is due a change of fortune.
He will also be eyeing the visit of Swansea as a chance to chalk up some points, for Palace must surely thrive at home if they are to survive at this level.
For the Eagles, games in the backyard against sides who are not among the division's heavyweights are the ones which need to be won.
The fact that Swansea are coming into this one on the back of two sizeable fixtures in the week will only add to the feeling that opportunity knocks for Holloway's team.
Gary Neville knows plenty about European trips, and the former Manchester United man suggested this week that Swansea simply cannot expect to be at their best come Palace on Sunday lunchtime.
"You've got home in the early hours on Friday and you haven't been able to train properly," he said.
"You cannot be on top of your game after that."
Neville is not a lone voice.
Brendan Rodgers said something similar the other night, and it is generally accepted that Europa League participation will hinder a team's Premier League form.
Laudrup's challenge is to manage his squad accordingly, to find a way to prove the pundits wrong.
He must try to pick teams which are good enough — and fresh enough — to compete in every game Swansea play.
It looks a tricky task, but then Swansea did all right at West Brom on the back of their trip to Petrolul Ploiesti.
Swansea have proved already that results are possible even after European travels, and another this weekend would be most welcome.
A point would be a decent return on the road, a win would be excellent in the circumstances.
What Swansea do not want is to be beaten by one of those sides who seem set to be competing somewhere towards the base of what Laudrup calls "our league" this term.
Their start to the new season has been littered with difficult fixtures, with United, Spurs and Liverpool already out of the way and Arsenal to come next at the Liberty.
West Brom was the only fixture so far that might have been regarded as eminently winnable — and Swansea duly took the points.
Now comes a game where despite being away from home and despite their hectic week, Swansea begin as favourites with the bookies.
If you offered him a draw now, however, Laudrup would probably take it.
Swansea, after all, would be one point closer to finishing above the neighbours.