Can Swans find style again in Stoke?
SWANSEA City travel to the Potteries this weekend under pressure to perform after the first awkward spell of the Michael Laudrup era.
A scratchy performance at Aston Villa was followed by a miserable effort against Everton last time out in the Premier League so, even after an uplifting midweek triumph at Crawley, Swansea head north with a point to prove.
There were long faces all around the Liberty last weekend, frustration reigning after the most comprehensive home reverse since Swansea climbed out of the Championship made it three league games without a win.
But if Swansea feel they owe their supporters a performance tomorrow, Stoke City will run out at the Britannia with expectation weighing them down.
"Swansea is a big game for us," Tony Pulis conceded this week.
"In terms of performances, this is well as we have started a season.
"But we need a result now."
The Potters have looked promising in the first few weeks of the season, and seem a stronger Premier League proposition than ever after a summer of shrewd-looking transfer business.
But the harsh fact is that after six games of the 2012-13 campaign, Stoke are yet to taste the winning feeling.
"I think the performances have certainly merited more than what we have got so far," suggests Charlie Adam, one of a clutch of eye-catching Stoke signings.
"We have acquitted ourselves extremely well, but sadly we just haven't reaped the rewards we maybe deserved."
Stoke have suffered only two defeats so far.
The first was a shock on home soil against League One side Swindon Town in the Capital One Cup, and the second came last weekend thanks to Ashley Cole's late goal at Chelsea.
Even the 1-0 Stamford Bridge loss was sweetened by positives for Stoke, who felt it was their best away display against one of the big guns since they were promoted to the Premier League four years ago.
Their two home league fixtures so far this term were against Arsenal and Manchester City, and Stoke emerged from both those games with creditable draws.
They have also picked up points at Reading and Wigan in the early weeks of the season, but for Stoke, the time has come for a maximum.
And in the eyes of the home contingent, the visit of Swansea represents a golden opportunity to put a victory on the board.
Stoke were well beaten at the Liberty early last season, but they eased past Swansea when Brendan Rodgers's side went to the Midlands for the return fixture in February.
The challenge for Laudrup is to ensure his Swansea team are not overpowered at the Britannia as the class of 2011-12 were.
Swansea were brushed aside by Stoke last time round, Pulis's heavy-hitters leaving Joe Allen and the rest on the canvas.
They will endeavour to do exactly the same tomorrow and, should Swansea perform as they did against Everton, they can brace themselves for a long afternoon.
Laudrup's team gave the ball away too cheaply against the Blues and then gave away a flurry of cheap free-kicks trying to win it back.
If they do the same in Staffordshire, Peter Crouch et al will have a field day.
Pulis is a manager who believes that size matters, and Stoke are a team of giants.
They are likely to include eight or nine six-footers in their starting XI, so Swansea have next to no chance if the contest turns into a physical battle.
Stoke's game is to gain territory and then rely on a sprinkling of creative players to open their opponents up.
On top of weapons like Michael Kightly and Matthew Etherington, they have a long line of big guns who can do damage at set-pieces.
How Swansea cope with Stoke's dead-ball deliveries is likely to go a long way towards deciding the outcome of the match.
Phil Neville, Everton's veteran skipper, suggested this week that Swansea were missing the physical presence of Steven Caulker after David Moyes's men romped home in SA1.
And certainly, having one or two units like Caulker around would do Swansea no harm tomorrow.
Perhaps in the next transfer window, Laudrup will look to beef up his team.
For now, though, Swansea must go with what they have got.
That means Chico Flores is likely to go straight back in at the deep end following his three-match ban.
What the former Real Mallorca player will make of Stoke — and what the noisy natives will make of him — could make for interesting viewing.
What Swansea need from Flores is the sort of disciplined, dominant display which he produced on the opening day at Queens Park Rangers.
Ashley Williams will be required to stand tall after his little sticky spell, while big performances will also be needed from Angel Rangel, Ben Davies and the rest if Swansea are to frustrate their hosts.
The truth is that if Swansea spend the majority of the 90 minutes defending their own penalty area, they will be very lucky to come away with a result.
The key to their hopes of securing what would be a rousing away success will be how well they maintain possession.
Swansea must take care of the ball, they must hide it from the home side and try to play their way through to Asmir Begovic's goal.
The likes of Nathan Dyer, Wayne Routledge and Michu have the ability to make life hard for Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and the rest.
But for their frontmen to shine, Swansea must produce the sort of crisp passing game which has been central to so many of their successes in recent times.
Swansea's style is what sets them apart from sides like Stoke, who may be less attractive but can be just as effective.
That style was absent against Everton.
If it goes missing again tomorrow, Swansea can expect another difficult day.