Premier League preview: Swansea City

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Promoted to the Premier League as recently as two seasons ago, Swansea City have taken the middle of the league table by storm. Almost unheard of for newly promoted teams, Swansea have finished 11th and 9th in their first two seasons, and won the League Cup last season to mark their first major piece of silverware. Known for their recent raid of the Spanish Primera Division, Swansea were brought to the top flight by current Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, and despite the managerial change after just one season in the Premier League, the club has grown rapidly. They’ve managed to lure some quality transfer targets, and things appear to be on the rise for a club that was in the lowest tier of English soccer as recently as 2004.

Transfers in: GK Gregor Zabret (NK Domzale, Slovenia), D Jernade Meade (Arsenal, England), D Jordi Amat (Espanyol, Spain), M Jose Alberto Canas (Real Betis, Spain), M Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool, England), M Alejandro Pozuelo (Real Betis, Spain), F Wilfried Bony (Vitesse Arnhem, Netherlands)

Transfers out: D Kyle Bartley (Birmingham City, England), M Mark Gower (Charlton Athletic, England), M Kemy Agustien (Brighton Hove & Albion, England)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: Despite last season’s fantastic form by goalkeeper Michel Vorm, the main man at Liberty Stadium remains Spanish import Michu. Arriving from Spain’s Rayo Vallecano for just £2.5 million ($3.9 million) as a relative unknown, Michu blast onto the Premier League scene last year with 18 league goals to his name, and 23 throughout all competitions.

The success story of Michu made manager Michael Laudrup and chairman Huw Jenkins look like utter geniuses, and helped the Swans to their first major trophy in club history. In the League Cup final – a 5-0 drubbing of Bradford City – the 27-year-old bagged the assist on the opening goal and scored the second, cementing the trophy.

The big question this season is can he keep up the pace. One Premier League season usually provides enough of a sample size that it’s a good bet he will, but the time off has halted good runs of form in the past, so it’s on the attacking midfielder to prove he wasn’t a fluke. If Michu can continue bagging goals, it’s a good bet the Swans can make another great run in the league this season.

Manager: A former player at Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barcelona, Danish boss Michael Laudrup took over for the departed Brendan Rodgers last summer, and impressed the European soccer community mightily. So much, in fact, that he had to ward off interest from bigger clubs such as Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Everton, and Fenerbahce.

Laudrup has had a relatively rocky relationship with chairman Jenkins, but so far it hasn’t been turbulent enough to drive him away from the club, and he signed an extension until 2015 just last March.

A former attacking midfielder himself, the Dane’s use of a 4-2-3-1 is the main reason Michu has catapulted to such success, as the offense is centered mainly around the attacking mid rather than the striker up top. However the recent acquisition of reigning Eredivisie Player of the Year Wilfried Bony could see some of the weight lifted off the Spaniard’s shoulders.

Outlook: With Laudrup guiding the club to a 9th place finish last season, they were able to not only lure Bony to Liberty Stadium, but also secured another season of central midfielder Jonathan de Guzman, who developed a wonderful relationship with Michu in the middle. De Guzman assisted seven goals last year, five of which went for Michu scores. The Swans are in the Europa League this year thanks to their League Cup victory. If De Guzman, along with Michu and new acquisition Jonjo Shelvey, can continue to click, this season could see Swansea challenge for a top 7 spot and maybe even Europa League success.

Manuel Pellegrini takes the reins at West Ham United

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West Ham United was said to be chasing Rafa Benitez, and instead got a manager with more recent big time success.

Manuel Pellegrini is the new boss at West Ham, returning to the league which saw him guide Manchester City to a Premier League title and two League Cups.

[ MORE: Man Utd after pair of mids ]

The 64-year-old Chilean is well-traveled, and most recently managed Hebei China Fortune. He was released from his contract with the Chinese Super League side last week.

Pellegrini has also led Villarreal, Real Madrid, and Malaga since arriving from South America in 2004.

From WHUFC.com:

“I think that West Ham had a difficult season last season and I hope that next season we are going to play football that will delight the fans. I always play attacking football and we must try to reach important targets in the season.

“Every time you have a meeting you have feelings about whether it was a good meeting or a bad meeting and I had the meeting with him, just talking about football and talking about West Ham.  We agreed on a lot of things he wants for this Club in the way I think a football club must be managed, so we have a lot of common ideas.”

Pellegrini is missing more than a few elements to play the way he’d like to play, and his arrival could spell the end for long-time players like Mark Noble. It could also be a boon for Pablo Zabaleta as the former Man City pair is reunited in London.

West Ham has spent freely in recent years, and Pellegrini’s status could help it land a breed of player unavailable to Sam Allardyce, Slaven Bilic, and David Moyes.

Transfer rumors: Man Utd after pair of midfielders; Liverpool eyes Lascelles

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The transfer rumors continue as players hope to have their futures sorted ahead of next month’s World Cup.

Manchester United is being linked with a pair of big money midfielders.

[ MORE: Brighton nabs World Cup defender ]

Anderson Talisca, 24, could be leaving Besiktas to join United following a $47 million offer, according to Metro. His 14 goals were fourth in the Turkish Super Lig and his seven assists tied for the team lead. He scored four more times in eight UEFA Champions League matches.

And then there’s highly-sought box-to-box midfielder Jean Michael Seri of Nice, linked with United as well as Manchester City. Club president Jean-Pierre Rivere hinted that the 26-year-old would certainly be headed somewhere this offseason.

Mika Seri is … a very good player who has brought a lot to the club and can legitimately have that desire to go and play abroad.”

— Liverpool could really strengthen its center back situation by buying captain Jamaal Lascelles from Newcastle United, though the hinted fee of $19 million seems low for an integral part of the Magpies’ back line (especially given that English players usually net higher fees on account of being English).

And Lascelles has said Newcastle “is the right club for me at the right time. We have a huge fanbase, an amazing manager, and this club is massive. It has so much history.”

The Chronicle also said Liverpool is also looking at Burnley star center back James Tarkowski, and that Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez has his eye on 19-year-old Sevilla mid Alejandro Viedma.

— A wild rumor out of Diario Gol says Alvaro Morata is set to fight for his starting role at Chelsea and is encouraging Real Madrid buddy Marco Asensio to join him at Stamford Bridge. The report says Asensio would be an important part of any Chelsea sale of Eden Hazard.

— Cardiff City is said to be signing Hamburg striker Sven Schipplock when his Hamburg contract expires in June. He did not score for HSV last season.

Brighton adds Nigerian World Cup defender from Mainz

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Brighton and Hove Albion has added some depth to their center back pairing of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy.

Leon Balogun has arrived from Mainz, the 28-year-old Nigerian heading to the World Cup and then hitting the Amex Stadium on a free transfer.

[ MORE: Zidane praises Ronaldo ]

Mainz avoided relegation by three points this season, and Balogun played in 14 matches. He had been with the Bundesliga outfit since 2015, and has 16 caps.

Balogun has also spent time at left and right back.

Ezequiel Schelotto just finished his first season as a Brighton right back, playing 28 times, but also moved up the right side. Bruno played plenty there as well, but is 37 years old.

Gaetan Bong and Markus Suttner split time at left back. All four of the players will be with the Gulls next season.

Brighton already had a top-half defense in terms of goals allowed. This should only help that.

Xabi Alonso: Liverpool-Real to be “such a special game”

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Xabi Alonso is part of a unique brand of footballer to have played with both Liverpool and Real Madrid.

The retired 36-year-old spent five seasons with each team, winning a UEFA Champions League with both, and now will watch his alma maters tangle for a UCL crown on Saturday.

[ MORE: Zidane praises Ronaldo ]

Alonso said he’s just rooting for “an unbelievable game to watch,” and seems like he’ll be happy either way.

“I have feelings for both clubs. I was lucky enough to win this trophy with both clubs so for me it’s difficult to pick one and I will be happy whatever happens, that’s for sure. For Liverpool, for Madrid [they are in] different circumstances, but it’s such a special game.”

The Spanish legend also seemed a bit torn as to whether Real’s experience or Liverpool’s newbie excitement could tilt the scales:

“For the Real Madrid guys, it’s the opposite. They have played so many finals in the last few years, so they can manage the situation better. Later it’s just 90 minutes for both sides, whatever happens. But the build-up is different.

“For sure it’s good to have that experience. But it’s good as well to have that excitement, that hunger, but you need to control as well the over-relaxation and the over-motivation.

“You need to find the right point of activation for the game. That’s not difficult because you know what it means to play in a Champions League final and you don’t have many chances during your whole career, and that’s one of the key psychological sides of this game. And the emotional side is almost as good as the football side.”

Maybe it’s simply playing both sides of the fence, and there’s no shame in that, but it does seem a hard match to choose. Both have been wildly inconsistent in league play as well as the group stage, but have been quite good in the knockout rounds.

It’s hard to pick against Real, but that’s why they play the games.