Swansea City Michael Laudrup hopes for another enjoyable trip to Cardiff
MICHAEL Laudrup heads east for his maiden South Wales derby tomorrow — but it won't be the Dane's first trip to Cardiff.
Laudrup has visited the capital before, so knows a little about the city and Bluebirds supporters.
"I was not exactly anonymous, but they treated me well," he said through a smile.
"Even the people with football tattoos — I could see where they came from and it was not Swansea!
"But they didn't hit me, they were nice enough."
Swansea are unlikely to receive such a friendly welcome tomorrow when they journey 40 miles down the M4.
This is a fixture renowned for its hostility, something illustrated by the fact Swansea fans wishing to attend the match have to travel on a supervised convoy of coaches.
Laudrup may not have sampled this particular brand of animosity first hand, but he has some experience in facing flak.
The former midfielder was once subjected to crippling abuse from Barcelona fans when he lined up for arch rivals Real Madrid in El Clasico shortly after leaving the Camp Nou in 1994.
Despite Laudrup's considerable experience, he has since admitted that the reception was so ferocious that it shook his focus away from the game.
In a swirling cauldron of emotions, Swansea must keep things especially tight against Cardiff.
Then they need to shut out the crowd.
"The people are in the stands and we are still playing 11 v 11 with referee and linesmen," said Laudrup.
"You have to think about that. I know it is not always easy for a player as you feel these emotions, you feel the surroundings and all that.
"But you still have to play the game and focus on the things that you have to do and try to win it.
"You must not get too involved if one decision from the referee goes the wrong way.
"You have to try to keep on playing your game with all the things you have to do, being aggressive, being focused — all the things that we ask the players to do every game."
As well as the environment, Swansea will have to cope with a high-octane approach from a Cardiff side renowned for their ability from set-pieces.
Fraizer Campbell scored twice from corners to hand Malky Mackay's side a shock 3-2 win over Manchester City.
In the past Swansea have struggled against such an aerial threat, for their team of technical passers is not ideally built to combat such tactics.
But Swansea stood up well to a barrage against West Ham last week, keeping a clean sheet despite the odd scare.
And Laudrup believes his side are now better equipped to defend in the air.
"We will play our way, like we do in any other game," he said.
"We analyse the opponent, see how they play, where they are strong and where we can hurt them. That's what we do with all the opponents and that's what we'll do with Cardiff.
"It's possible Cardiff will try to press us high up the pitch, but we have played other teams before that we knew would probably try to press us high.
"What we do know is that Cardiff, like the team we played last Sunday and the team we play next in the league, Stoke, concentrate on set-pieces.
"Most teams do, but some do it more than others.
"I think we have improved in this area.
"Apart from the penalty against Tottenham, which was a very soft one, I think we have improved on defending set-pieces against."
Swansea go into the match in ninth, two points ahead of 16th-place Cardiff and are seen as favourites by many because of their greater top-flight experience.
No team has ever completed a South Wales derby double, and Laudrup believes Premier League position at the end of the season is what matters most anyway.
"Finishing above Cardiff should be more important than the game itself," he said.
"It is about where you find yourself (in the table) at the end, but the fans want to win both the derbies and be above the other team.
"I could turn it around and say Cardiff are at home so they are favourites.
"I don't think you can have favourites in derbies. That's my experience. You can arrive at the game in very different form but in 90 minutes it doesn't matter.
"I've played games when my team has been in much better form and lost and the other way around."
Laudrup has played in some of the world's biggest derbies, both in Spain and Italy.
And many of his players have sampled matches between neighbouring sides.
But some have questioned whether Swansea's overseas stars will appreciate the particular significance of this occasion.
"You cannot ask a guy from Spain to understand completely," added Laudrup.
"But they have their own derbies. There are players who have played in Sevilla v Real Betis, which is a huge derby in Spain.
"They know when they hear the word derby — they know what it means.
"Wherever you are around the world, one thing these games have in common is their importance to the fans.
"During the game it will be very tight, the atmosphere in the stadium will be something different.
"But it's still a football game and we will try to win it.
"It will just be another chapter. What it will give the winner is a boost of confidence. But talking about the table, it's just one more round in the Premier League. It is not decisive."