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THE PREMIER LEAGUE may be about the best of the beautiful game, but it is a brutal place.
And if Swansea City weren’t aware of that before their first steps into their new surroundings, they do now.
This night, the club’s first foray back into the top flight, was always more about the occasion rather than optimism over the result.
But that does not hide the harsh fact that the Swans’ return to this level ended in a four-goal defeat and a ruthless reminder about what they will be up against from now until May.
Of course, Swansea’s season on the big stage will not be decided over these 90 minutes but over the next nine months.
And it certainly will not be every week that they face such an incredible array of talent that Manchester City possess.
Indeed, the transfer costs of their three second-half goalscorers – Edin Dzeko, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, twice – total £89m.
And the fact Swansea held their own for a large part of this match, frustrating Manchester City and flowing with their football in equal measure, can be seen as priceless.
Swansea’s passing game impressed and imposed itself in the opening half and made the FA Cup winners and title hopefuls work for their win.
Take that on, take the confidence from the knowledge they can play their way in this division, and this night can still mean much in terms of this campaign.
Of course, winning friends – as Swansea will do – does not always keep you in the Premier League. Winning games does.
But that is for another night.
A pride-battering defeat may sting, but this is a side that will benefit from just getting this first fixture out of the way.
After all, there were only 38 Premier appearances among this Swansea side before last night. Gareth Barry alone has made 436.
And better to learn these lessons against a top-four contender than those in the mini-league around the bottom that Swansea will look to win.
The sides at that end will simply not enjoy the kind of ability brilliant Aguero has having tapped one in, set Silva up for a second and brilliantly finish a long-range third – but only after Dzeko had finally got the better of impressive Michel Vorm.
Because what was important here was that Rodgers and his side’s talk of sticking to principles was not cheap, and that obvious from the off. Obvious from the team selections even; Stephen Dobbie’s starting role a sign that there would be intent from the visitors despite the odds. As the passes came, the confidence flowed, so came a series of Premier League firsts to allow the Swans to get into the swing of top-tier things. A first corner on eight minutes and a first shot on goal as Dobbie tried his luck, albeit wildly.
And, all of a sudden, with Man City not seeing much of the ball, there was hope as Nathan Dyer made the most of a loose ball on Gael Clichy’s side and darted towards a delivery, the cross just a little too deep for Graham and the omnipresent Kompany seeing danger away.
Mancini was not happy, emphatically telling his players from the touchline as he stood as agitated as he was animated.
Certainly, with their side impressing, fearless and enjoying far more of the ball – close to 70% possession in these early stages – the vocal travelling support would have been perfectly pleased to have seen Mike Dean blow up there and then.
Because the ability of the hosts’ front players remained a constant cause for concern, whether they saw the ball regularly or rarely.
Indeed, when there was a sloppy Swansea pass – like Angel Rangel’s in-field pass while out of position – the sky blue shirts pounced, Clichy on the overlap in that 18th-minute example and his cross needing to be tidied up by Sinclair.
But while Sinclair showed his worth in the opposite box soon after, beating Micah Richards and forcing Nigel de Jong to intervene, the City screw was being turned. A first corner came on 24 minutes as Adam Johnson grew into the game, taking it short to Silva, who gave Vorm the first chance to show his talents with an eye-catching, one-handed effort.
However, with Vorm’s distribution not as accurate as Swans’ would like, Man City remained on the front foot as Swansea failed to find momentum. With Toure almost unstoppable when on a charge, it was his run that opened up Swansea before his pass to Johnson gave Silva a side-footed chance – the bar Swans saviour. Vorm was beaten then, not so when Dzeko turned Steven Caulker inside the area only to be smothered quickly by the Dutchman with a minute before the break. Yet he needed his woodwork once more as Gareth Barry’s first meaningful touch smashed the ball against the bar as a corner was not sufficiently cleared. It was clear Swansea needed half-time more than their hosts, using the break to respond positively after it, with Dyer countering on 53 minutes and giving Dobbie a silly amount of space to run at defenders. A shot seemed hopeful when there were potential passes on, yet the Scotsman’s effort did see Joe Hart scramble to save.
But the white-shirted attacks were increasingly few and far between, those in blue more often and more threatening.
And while it at one stage appeared as if Vorm would lead a charmed life on his debut, when Johnson swept in a shot from wide on 57 minutes, the new boy could only palm into the path of Dzeko, the Bosnian almost unable to miss.
The size of the task already huge, the sight of £38m man Aguero entering the fray did little to fuel belief of a way back. The Argentine ace was soon involved, feeding off Toure to shoot and ask Vorm to save once more.
And with Swansea wanting to push back, the City fans’ Poznan dance was being displayed again on 68 minutes when Aguero tapped in at the far post as Richards beat the offside trap to deliver across the box.
Sadly, it wasn’t over.
And as if Swansea needed the bad luck of a bad refereeing decision, it came on 71 minutes. Having lost Williams and lobbed over Vorm, Aguero’s pullback for scorer Silva did not come until after crossing the byline.
It stood and Swansea tried to stand tall, Sinclair and sub Joe Allen both pushing at the death – only for a screamer from Aguero to kill things off in injury time.
Swansea, though, will live to fight on.
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