Swans face another big Royal occasion
MICHAEL Laudrup had his feet up at the end of a successful La Liga season when Swansea City last faced Reading.
While all around these parts — and indeed in Berkshire — were losing their heads, the Championship play-off final of 2010-11 was not on Laudrup's mind.
"I have not seen the game," he revealed this week.
Sixteen months on, Laudrup is Swansea's manager rather than the coach of Real Mallorca.
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The first meeting between Swansea and Reading since Wembley last year is very much in his thoughts.
Clearly, this fixture does not have anything like the significance of the last, when Brendan Rodgers's men ran out 4-2 winners on an unforgettable day under the arch.
That game, after all, was probably the most important Swansea have ever played aside from Hull City in 2003.
The stakes this weekend are minimal by comparison, for Swansea will have many opportunities to put things right even if they are beaten.
But that has not stopped Laudrup billing the match as one of the "three or four" key outings of the season for his team.
Why? They have just lost three straight league games, so Swansea could do with a victory.
The second international break of the campaign comes after the weekend, so Swansea could do with a victory.
And Reading, without a league win so far this term, look like being one of the clubs scrapping against relegation come May, so Swansea could do with a victory.
It is unusual for a manager to place such importance on one game so early in the season.
Presumably, it is an attempt by Laudrup to focus the minds of his players.
What he would say should his team's sequence of disappointing results continue would be interesting to hear.
Swansea, of course, hope they do not get the chance to find out.
Laudrup stressed only last week that it was important for all concerned at the Liberty not to get too excited when things go well on the pitch and, equally, not to let depression set in after a couple of defeats.
Yet he has raised the pressure ahead of this particular fixture — and is well aware that an improvement in performance level is needed.
Swansea last impressed in the Premier League just over a month ago when, despite Chico Flores's red card, they earned a draw with Sunderland.
After that came a scratchy performance against Aston Villa, then the alarming home defeat by Everton and a fairly lacklustre showing at Stoke.
Even against opponents who are yet to triumph in the league so far this season, Swansea know that better is required.
And Laudrup has a plan in place as he attempts to inspire an upturn in fortunes.
"What we cannot ever do is lose trust in the things we are good at," says the Swansea manager, "and that is playing the ball."
"But we have to admit that, especially in the last two games, there have been some things we have to do a little differently.
"Otherwise, it will be too easy for the opponent to close us down."
Reading may not be as physically imposing as Stoke — or indeed Everton — but they do have players with the potential to cause Swansea problems.
Laudrup has added six-footers like Ki Sung-Yueng and Michu to the squad he inherited from Brendan Rodgers, yet Swansea remain among the most diminutive sides in the top flight.
"The teams we are playing against will just say, 'Ah, Swansea, let them play and when they get to our half, we will just hammer them physically'," Laudrup adds.
"They will feel they can be too strong for us, and that means we have to adjust some things.
"It's not a question of changing everything, of course not, but we have to change some small things so it's not so easy for teams to read our game.
"That's what we have to do when we play against Reading."
It will be interesting to discover what Laudrup has up his sleeve.
Swansea, after all, cannot switch to playing a more orthodox, direct style because their squad is not built for it.
For a while during the Rodgers era, there were those who complained that his Swansea team did not have a plan B.
Under Laudrup the approach has been tweaked already, with Swansea trying to work the ball forward quicker and, as a result, not dominating possession as much as they have in the past few years.
Suddenly there are some in the stands grumbling that Swansea cannot carry out plan A anymore.
Swansea's followers were not moaning during the opening week of the season, when Laudrup's team demolished Queens Park Rangers in their own backyard and then dispatched West Ham.
Swansea were clinical in those early fixtures, taking a huge percentage of the chances that came their way, while they also stood up to everything their opponents threw at them.
In recent weeks that has all changed. Swansea have lacked teeth going forward and been short on bite when defending Michel Vorm's goal.
At Stoke last Saturday, there also appeared to be a lack of urgency running through Laudrup's team.
Improvements must come in all departments against Reading, who may not boast the most gifted set of players in the Premier League but are unlikely to be short on desire.
The Royals, remember, almost came back from the dead when they last faced Swansea at Wembley.
The chances are Brian McDermott's team will scrap to the end once more this weekend.
Swansea must be ready for the fight.