Swansea City vs Stoke City
Venue: The Liberty Stadium
Referee: Anthony Taylor
A nightmarish week for Swansea City is likely to end in more heartbreak as they play against already relegated Stoke City.
After an eventful week for the Premier League’s only Welsh side, which included the near confirmation of relegation, the removal of a manager and the loss of two playing legends, Swansea’s fans would be forgiven for wishing they didn’t have another game to watch. Mathematically Swansea can still escape the drop but it would have to arrive in the most unlikely of circumstances: Swansea would have to win (which hasn’t happened in ten games) and hope a ten goal swing occurs between them and Southampton. Planning for the Championship has already begun with the confirmation that Carlos Carvalhal will not be renewing his contract and an inquest into what went wrong is well underway. Such an inquest would have to look back a few years to find the beginning of the end, as the danger signs and rapid deterioration of identity has plagued the team since Garry Monk replaced Michael Laudrup in 2013. Hopefully this final fall will help the club rediscover their old ways, capture the imagination once again, but caution must be had when viewing relegation as a perfect solution.
Stoke have already confirmed their relegation after a 2-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace, and only one win in thirteen games for Paul Lambert has probably sealed his fate as their manager for the season ahead. Stoke will be viewing the last ditch safety of Southampton as the evidence of a missed opportunity; both sides had talent that did not merit a downfall to the Championship and perhaps it was a lottery to see which club could harness their best players at the vital moments. The sad fact for Stoke however is that their players just did not seem to care at the most crucial of moments, especially their most talented ones – Xherdan Shaqiri, for all of his immense skill and talent is a deeply frustrating personality, who cited a ‘lack of quality’ in his players just weeks before relegation was confirmed. More so than Swansea, who do not have such obviously talented yet uninterested players on their wage bill, Stoke will have to perform a massive reshuffle when moving to the Championship. Whether teams will be willing to take on such poor signings, such as 18 million pound Gianelli Imbula, remains to be seen.
Leon Britton and Angel Rangel, legends of Swansea City, will potentially play their final minutes for the club against Stoke this weekend. Carvalhal is under obligation to play his strongest side, with safety being theoretically possible, but it would not be a surprise if the game turned into a farewell gesture for not only the Premier League, but for these long-serving icons as well. Although Paul Lambert has pledged to play his strongest team, the trio of Eric Choupo-Moting, Bruno Martins Indi and Kostas Stafylidis are all unavailable for Stoke.
Prediction: Swansea City 1 – Stoke City 1
A game that is unlikely to mean anything in the context of the league will likely not be a match to remember either. It is an unfortunate, unsatisfactory way for these two sides in the Premier League, as well as Leon Britton and Angel Rangel, to say goodbye. This is surely going to be a game that is repeated next year in the Championship: how each club will deal with the blow of relegation is anybody’s guess.