Swansea City's Michu reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Arsenal at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea

Will the rise of Swansea City continue in 2013-14?


In their first season in the Premier League Swansea City opened eyes with fluid passing and positional interchanges reminiscent of a baby Barcelona. In their second season the stylish play continued to impress and led to the club hoisting the League Cup, its first major piece of silverware in the Swans’ 101 year history.

So with the news that the Welsh side could swoop for up to six players in the summer transfer window, is the 2013-14 Premier League season set to be yet another chapter in the rise of the Swans?

The biggest concern in South Wales is not who the club will bring in so much as who they will transfer out. The list of possibilities is quite long and topping it is manager Michael Laudrup. In his first year at the Swansea helm the Dane has earned praise across the league not only for his team’s stunning performances but also for the players who he’s brought into the squad.

The $3/£2 million signing of Michu (pictured) from Rayo Vallecano gets the most attention but bringing in Chico from Genoa, Jonathan de Guzman (on loan) from Villareal, Ki-Sung Yueng from Celtic and Pablo Hernández from Valencia have all paid huge dividends for Swansea. It’s not often that a manager signs five players who in the first year of being at a club all assimilate so seamlessly. Such is the masterstroke of Laudrup.

Following the Swans 5-0 destruction of Bradford City in the Capital One Cup, chairman Huw Jenkins signed Laudrup to a contract extension through to June 2015. The signing came amid speculation that Laudrup could be tempted to depart the Liberty Stadium for greener pastures. And while those concerns abated slightly by the manager’s decision to re-up many still feel that if that right situation presented itself, the former Denmark captain would be out that door just like his predecessor Brendan Rodgers.

Player wise, there are numerous concerns as well.

Michu has been marvelous in his first season for the Swans, scoring 16 goals in 29 matches. The beanstalk forward makes his living between the opposition’s midfield and defense and is equally adept at poaching as he is striking from outside the box. Although few hard and fast transfer rumors have emerged, Sir Alex Ferguson has noted his awe at the player on a number of occasions. Don’t be surprised if come this summer the United gaffer throws a low-ball offer Jenkins’ way.

Ashley Williams is the heart and soul of the club, leading the back four since his arrival in 2008. A powerful player and wonderful organizer, Williams has traveled a long road from association football to the Premier League. Now, an elder statesman at the age of 28, Williams is finally being recognized as one of the best center-backs in English football. With Liverpool, Arsenal and United all rumored to be plotting bids for the Welsh international, Swansea will need to take a hard look at bringing in new blood at center-back.

Michel Vorm has been a revelation since arriving at the Liberty Stadium from FC Utrecht in 2011. The 29 year old was one of the best keepers in the league last season and despite suffering a rash of injuries this year (including a nasty partial adductor rupture), the Dutch international has still impressed. With rumors that Barcelona and Arsenal are both interested in Vorm’s services, Swansea may need to reload between the pipes if they aren’t convinced that backup Gerhard Tremmel can get the job done.

While Michu, Williams and Vorm are the three most likely to be plucked from South Wales, other Swansea men could go just as easily. De Guzman has expressed his desire to extend his loan but the center midfielder has shown such immense quality that it’s hard to think Villareal won’t be interested in bringing him back to Spain. Nathan Dyer’s tremendous speed and slippery nature makes him a menace on the wing even if the 25 year old has yet to prove his consistency. And even one-time journeyman, Wayne Routledge, is likely to have a number of potential suitors this summer after proving that he can pull the strings with the best of them.

When it comes to the future of Swansea City Football Club, anything is possible. But if they manage to hang on to Laudrup one feels the majority of the players will be convinced to stay put. Then, factor in the possibility of six new faces arriving at the Liberty this summer and 2013-14 could prove to be a very entertaining season for the Swans.

Juninho hoping Willian breaks his Champions League free-kick record

xxxx during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 3, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.
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Willian has scored six goals for Chelsea this season, with all six coming from free kicks.

Four of those have been scored in the Champions League, as the Brazilian has tied the record for the most free-kick goals in a single UCL campaign.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]

Willian is tied with his fellow Brazilian Juninho, known as one of the deadliest set-piece takers of all-time, who scored four times for Lyon during the 2005-06 campaign.

When asked about the possibility of his record being broken, Juninho was glad it would be by another Brazilian player, and said Willian will likely surpass him in the coming matches.

It’s good it’s a Brazilian, and from this new generation of good players we have.

It is very gratifying for me because when I scored these four goals, no one said anything.

I’m being remembered by what Willian has achieved, and I think he has everything to beat the record. The Champions League has barely reached half way and Chelsea still have a few more games to play.

Willian has converted 6 of 12 free kicks this season, scoring at an unheard-of 50-percent clip. All of his goals have come from almost the exact same spot on the pitch, about 20-25 yards out at the corner of the box to the keepers right.

[ WATCH: Jamie Vardy scores in record 11th straight Premier League match ]

Chelsea’s next Champions League match is on December 9 at Stamford Bridge against Porto. The Blues need a draw to advance into the knockout round.

West Brom’s Jonas Olsson backs Zlatan for Premier League move

SOLNA, SWEDEN - NOVEMBER 14: Sweden 10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic durring a European Qualifier Play-Off between Sweden and Denmark on November 14, 2015 in Solna, Sweden.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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With his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in the summer, where Zlatan will go next is one of the biggest mysteries in football.

Having already played in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and France, the Premier League would be a logical next step in Zlatan’s career.

[ MORE: Aguero injury update ]

However, at 34-years-old, Zlatan himself has said it is “too late” for him to play in England, adding more mystery to where he will end up.

Despite what Zlatan says, his teammate on the Sweden national team Jonas Olsson believes the PSG striker is more than capable of playing in the Premier League.

Olsson, who has made nearly 400 appearances for West Bromwich Albion over the past eight seasons, said Zlatan’s elite talent would be fit for England’s top flight.

He’s still at the top of his game. He is the strongest player I have faced. I really hope he comes.

Zlatan on his day is the most talented footballer in the game. He has played under Mourinho before and the only place where he’s not 100% appreciated is in the UK.

I think he can play for any team in this league – he is still that good.

Even at 34, Zlatan has proven he is still one of the best strikers in the world. He recently became Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time leading scorer, and has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons.

[ VIDEO: Jamie Vardy speaks after scoring in 11 straight Premier League matches ]

The Premier League certainly has the money to entice Zlatan, and it is the biggest league in the world that he hasn’t conquered yet. Expect his name to be linked with a move to every major club in Europe for the rest of the year, as we’ll just have to wait until June and see what he decides.

Three questions ahead of Sunday’s MLS Conference Finals

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Goal keeper Adam Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers slides in on Michael Barrios #21 of FC Dallas during the second half of the match at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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There are only two matches remaining before MLS Cup, with both conference’s top seeds in need of a big result.

FC Dallas lost to the Portland Timbers 3-1 in the first leg out West, while the New York Red Bulls fell 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC in the East.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Leg 2 of the Conference Finals will both be played on Sunday, as we will know the MLS Cup finalists by the end of the night.

WEST: FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET
EAST: New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET

With each home-side needing to overcome a two-goal deficit, here’s what to look out for in the Conference Finals.

Will FC Dallas capitalize on home-field advantage?

Despite being down 3-1 on aggregate, FC Dallas will be looking forward to Sunday’s second leg. Dallas finished the season 13-2-2 at Toyota Stadium, the best home record in MLS. After scoring a crucial away goal in Portland, a 2-0 win for Dallas will see the side advance to the final. Their 33 goals scored at home was the second-best mark in the Western Conference, as Oscar Pareja’s men will feel confident despite the aggregate.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores twice for Monchengladbach ]

Is Norberto Paparatto ready to replace Liam Ridgewell?

Norberto Paparatto has played just six matches for Portland this season, but it looks like he’ll be starting on Sunday. Liam Ridgewell, who started all 32 matches at center-back, injured his calf in the first leg and manager Caleb Porter said Paparatto will “most likely” be starting, as Ridgewell was seen warming up separately from the rest of the team in training. With FC Dallas in need of goals, Paparatto will have his hands full on defense, especially with the likes of Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz bombing forward.

Can Luis Robles keep a clean sheet for RBNY?

The Red Bulls’ Luis Robles was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year this season, and he’s going to need to play like that on Sunday. After losing 2-0 in the first leg without scoring an away goal, New York needs a 2-0 win themselves just to force extra-time. If Columbus scores at Red Bull Arena, New York needs to score four goals to advance. While it will have to be a collective team effort to keep the Crew off the scoresheet, Robles will have to make some big saves in goal to keep his side in it.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona win big in another dominant performance

<> at Camp Nou on November 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Catch up on all of Saturday’s La Liga action, as the trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar continues to terrorize defenses.

Barcelona 4-0 Real Sociedad

In case you haven’t heard, Barcelona is scary good. Coming off of brilliant 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Real Madrid and Roma respectively, the Catalans trounced Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. It was the usual suspects once again, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar (x2) scored the goals in another masterful performance. The M-S-N trio has accounted for 30 of Barcelona’s 33 goals in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

While the boys from Barcelona may be getting all the headlines, Antoine Griezmann has been having a great season for Atletico Madrid. The French international scored the game-winner in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Espanyol, his tenth in all competitions this season. The good news is that Atleti sit second on the table with a five-point lead over Real Madrid in third, while the bad news is that midfielder Tiago broke his leg in the match.

[ WATCH: Everton, Bournemouth trade late goals in stoppage-time thriller ]

Malaga 2-2 Granada

In a battle of teams fighting for La Liga survival, Granada came from behind to steal a draw at Malaga. The home-side was leading 2-0 until Granada tallied twice in the final ten minutes to take a huge point for the club. Malaga remains glued to the bottom of the table, while Granada is currently out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Las Palmas 0-2 Deportivo
Celta Vigo 2-1 Sporting Gijon
Getafe vs. Villarreal (Sunday, 6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET)
Rayo vs. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Valencia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)