Swansea City's Kyle Bartley gears up for Liverpool 'nightmare' Luis Suarez
KYLE Bartley is bracing himself for a baptism of fire this weekend as he wonders whether he will land the first Premier League start of his career.
Bartley is in a battle with Garry Monk to play in the centre of Swansea City's defence at Liverpool on Sunday with Chico Flores on the sidelines.
And if he does get the nod, the 21-year-old will have the job of smothering one of the finest players on planet football right now, Luis Suarez.
That would be some way to start for a man who got his first taste of the Premier League when he replaced Flores after 33 minutes of last weekend's win over Queens Park Rangers.
"Suarez is a nightmare for a defender," Bartley concedes.
"Aside from all that has happened with him, if you strip it down, he's an amazing footballer.
"He gives 100 per cent every game and he has amazing ability."
Bartley refers to Suarez's tendency to attract the wrong kind of headlines.
The Uruguayan has had plenty of criticism over his alleged playacting since arriving on these shores for around £23 million just over two years ago.
There was also the ugly spat with Patrice Evra and, earlier this season, the storm surrounding Ashley Williams's book.
Williams, who is the one certain starter in the centre of Swansea's defence this weekend, revealed that he would like to "knock out" Suarez because of his manner on the pitch.
Their meeting at the Liberty Stadium in November passed off without any great incident — and with a Swansea clean sheet.
Something similar would do very nicely this time out as Swansea look to stretch their unbeaten run against Liverpool to five games.
Key to their chances of doing so will be how Williams and Co cope with Suarez's immense threat.
Michael Laudrup will not have forgotten the flow of Swansea's Capital One Cup victory at Anfield back in October, when the visitors were comfortable defensively until Suarez — and Steven Gerrard — came off the bench at half-time.
Suddenly the Swansea rearguard were under pressure, and Suarez's goal kept Liverpool in the tie for a while.
"You can't give him too much space," reckons Bartley.
"All he needs is half a yard to get a shot off or to cause a bit of damage.
"But he's not the only one we have to keep an eye on with players around him like Gerrard and (Daniel) Sturridge, who are equally dangerous.
"Everyone will have to be on top of their game if we're going to get a result."
Sturridge, who signed for £12 million from Chelsea in January, expects to be fit for the Swansea clash after missing Liverpool's home defeat by West Brom last Monday with a thigh injury.
And that is good news for Brendan Rodgers given the impact the new man has made since arriving on Merseyside.
Sturridge was outstanding in Liverpool's draw at Manchester City a couple of weeks back, and his absence against the Baggies was seen as part of the reason for the hosts' poor result.
Sturridge's contribution to date has justified Rodgers's move for him — and shown why he was so keen to bring him to the Liberty on loan during his time as Swansea's manager.
With the England man in form alongside Suarez, Liverpool's attack would give any side problems.
But Swansea are entitled to go to Merseyside feeling confident.
They have the best away defensive record in the Premier League, after all, having conceded only ten goals on their travels this season.
"We can take confidence from the previous win at Liverpool, and we've also been to Newcastle, Arsenal and Chelsea and got positive results," Bartley points out.
"There isn't anything to be afraid of. We will go there, play our own game and hopefully get a positive result.
"We're not afraid of anyone in the league.
"Over the last five or six months the boys have been terrific and I don't think they have played any game and been afraid.
"We will go there to match Liverpool and it should be a good game."
It will be interesting to see whether Laudrup goes for Bartley or Monk. Alan Tate is another option, of course, although he looks to be last in the pecking order for the moment.
Flores has been a shoo-in for the Swansea starting side since his £2 million move from Genoa, but the Spaniard now seems set for a spell out of team with an ankle injury.
So Laudrup must choose between the experience and know-how of Monk and the emerging talent that is Bartley.
Neither player has let the Dane down when called upon this season, so the manager's decision may not be a simple one.
Whoever gets the vote at Liverpool will presumably remain in the team a week later, when Swansea play in their first ever major final against Bradford City at Wembley.
These are massive games, so Laudrup's is a big call.
Either way Swansea should feel optimistic. Flores has been increasingly impressive as the season has gone on, but Laudrup's other centre-backs have also delivered when required.
Either way, Swansea remain well capable of getting good results in what is a huge week.
"Liverpool is a massive match for us, just like every game in the Premier League," says Bartley.
"We don't feel safe yet and we need to keep going.
"And it would be nice to take a bit of confidence going from Anfield into the final."