Deep inside the Emirates Stadium last week, Arsene Wenger was talking about his scouting network ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Swansea in the FA Cup. He was aware of Michu during his spell at Rayo Vallecano, but admitted that the Spaniard was not on Arsenal’s radar at the end of last season. It’s a different story now.
After just six months in English football Michu is being talked about as one of the bargain buys of all time in the Barclays Premier League. Other summer signings, such as Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher, Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke and Reading’s Pavel Pogrebnyak, have all made an impression at various stages of the season. Nothing compares with the steal that is Michu, though.
For £1.7m Swansea’s manager Michael Laudrup signed a player with the versatility to play in a number of different positions without reducing his ability to hit the target. Depending on the game and the players available to Laurdup, Michu has played in three different positions for Swansea this season. Playing as an orthodox centre forward he has scored three goals in seven appearances for the Swans, but he is equally effective in a more withdrawn role. Michu has scored four times in five appearances in a conventional central midfield position and six in eight when he plays as the link man between the two. He even had an impact on Sunday when he put Laudrup’s side in front at the Liberty Stadium less than two minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Michu has settled into the pace of English football, and is the third leading goalscorer in the Premier League behind Robin van Persie (16) and Luis Suarez (15), level with Chelsea’s new boy Demba Ba (13). He opened up with a double against QPR in Swansea’s 5-0 win at Loftus Road on the opening day of the season and has not looked back.
Goals have followed against big clubs, including both in the 2-0 win at Arsenal on December 1 and the stunning strike that helped earn Swansea a point against Manchester United on December 23. Michu was being rested for the FA Cup third round tie ahead of Swansea’s Capital One Cup first leg at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea on Wednesday.
He has everything required of a modern day centre forward, able to operate on his own up front or with a partner. His strength in the air is one of his key attributes, as is his ability to hold on to the ball, as he demonstrated when he held off the challenge of Per Mertesacker. It was a moment of genuine quality, underlining his class when he broke clear of Arsenal’s defence to put Swansea in front in their third round tie.
His four WhoScored man of the match awards are thoroughly merited, well ahead of Swansea teammates Pablo Hernandez (2), Ashley Williams (1), Gerhard Tremmel (1), Angel Rangel (1) and Chico (1). In recent weeks his game has changed, particularly with the return of Danny Graham into the Swansea side.
Just before Christmas Laudrup admitted he was ready to let Graham leave because of a lack of first team opportunities, but he has become a useful option in attack in recent weeks. He has scored in his last three games – against Fulham, Aston Villa and Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Arsenal – and is providing the team with another attacking threat. Michu is the main man though, and his goals have propelled Swansea into ninth place in the Premier League.
In terms of forward thinking players he is the find of the season, but others have spluttered into life in the top flight. Reading signed Pogrebnyak on a free transfer from Fulham at the end of last season; the Russian is an out and out striker with the ability to score unexpected goals. He demonstrated a touch of class when he scored his first goal for the Royals in the 4-2 defeat at Chelsea and he has followed up with three more against Swansea, Reading and Tottenham. He has been decent, without delivering regularly enough to keep Brian McDermott’s side in the top flight.
Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke has also made an impression, signed by Paul Lambert last summer as part of a new strategy to bring in young players. The Belgian striker has done well, scoring six goals in the Premier League and making a significant contribution with four assists. In a season where Aston Villa have slipped down the table at an alarming rate he still has four man of the match awards, the same number as Michu. It is an impressive statistic in his first season in England and is way ahead of his Villa teammates Matthew Lowton (2), Barry Bannan (1), Nathan Baker (1) and Ron Vlaar (1).
Further north, Steven Fletcher’s finishing ability has impressed during his first season at Sunderland. Bought from Wolves last summer, he scored five times in his opening four games for Martin O’Neill’s team. He has scored eight in total for a struggling Sunderland side, but he is a long way down the list of leading goalscorers in the top flight. Instead there are some envious glances towards the top.