Garry Monk has signed some good attacking players to inject more penetration into his side but he must keep Wilfried Bony
Guardian writers’ predicted position: 10th (NB: this is not necessarily Stuart James’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 12th
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 4,000-1
In August last year, 24 hours after Swansea City lost 4-1 at home against Manchester United on the opening day of the season, I sat outside a hotel in Cardiff chatting to Garry Monk about his coaching and managerial ambitions. Monk was a Swansea player at the time, one of 24 candidates on the Uefa A licence course run by the Football Association of Wales, and he was not sure where and when he would get his first break. Twelve months later we met up again, this time in the manager’s office at Swansea’s new training ground.
Named as Michael Laudrup’s temporary replacement in February and tasked with keeping Swansea in the top flight, Monk did enough during three months in charge – five Premier League wins and a total of 18 points from 14 matches to secure 12th spot – to convince Huw Jenkins, the chairman, and the rest of the board at the Liberty Stadium that he deserved the job on a permanent basis.
The temptation is to say, or write, “now the hard work starts for Monk”, but the reality is that he has been flat out ever since he took his first training session, three days before the south Wales derby against Cardiff – a game that ended in a 3-0 victory. He is from the first-one-in-last-one-out management mould, which has not exactly been the case with all of those who have gone before him at Swansea.
Monk needs no telling that he will be under much greater scrutiny this season, and he is also aware there is a school of thought that he is too inexperienced for the job. Only time will tell whether that proves to be the case but Jenkins has always held Monk in high regard and, furthermore, he knows that the man who has captained the Welsh club in every division will reinforce the values and principles that he feared were being eroded last season. More about that later.
It has been a busy summer at the Liberty Stadium, with plenty of comings and goings, but there is no reason to think that the team has been severely weakened. If anything, Swansea lack depth, not quality, at this moment in time.
As for the departures, Michel Vorm and Ben Davies have both left for Tottenham Hotspur. Vorm, an accomplished performer during his time at Swansea and the Holland No2, has been replaced by Lukasz Fabianski, a goalkeeper with a point to prove after spending seven years in the shadows at Arsenal.
Davies has enjoyed a meteoric rise, benefitting from the fractured ankle that Neil Taylor suffered two years ago and, in fairness to him, taking his chance superbly. Taylor, the Team GB left-back at the 2012 Olympics, was unable to get his place back when fit because of Davies’s excellent form but, in truth, there is not a great deal to choose between the two players.
Monk, ideally, would have kept hold of Davies but the player made it clear that he wanted to go and the deal became more attractive to Swansea when Gylfi Sigurdsson was included. Sigurdsson enjoyed an impressive loan spell at the Liberty Stadium in the second half of the 2011-12 season and Swansea will be hoping for more of the same this time around.
Michu is another player who has headed for the exit, joining Napoli on a season-long loan with a view to a permanent move after a miserable last 12 months at Swansea when he seemed either injured or out of sorts. Outstanding in his first campaign with the club, when he scored 22 goals in all competitions, including 18 in the Premier League – he was arguably the best top-flight signing of that 2012-13 season – Michu was not the same person or player last year and it was clear that he needed a change of scenery.
The Spaniard’s toils would have been a bigger cause for concern but for Wilfried Bony, who must now be worth double the £12m Swansea paid Vitesse Arnhem last summer. Bony plundered 25 goals in all competitions for Swansea – 17 in the Premier League – and looked more and more comfortable as the season went on (strangely, Laudrup never seemed to show that much faith in the Ivorian). Swansea need to keep Bony. Plain and simple.
The signing of Bafétimbi Gomis on a free transfer from Lyon means that Swansea have two proven strikers up front, and Monk is open to the idea of starting the pair of them together, as he did for the first time in the pre-season win over Reading the Saturday before last. Playing with two conventional forwards would break with recent tradition at Swansea but Monk is likely to be flexible with systems and tactics throughout the season.
Bringing in Jefferson Montero, the Ecuador international, has offset the loss of Pablo Hernández, who wanted out and made it clear that his time was up at Swansea. With his electric pace, Montero offers a different outlet to Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge on the flanks. Sigurdsson could play in the middle of that trio, with Jonjo Shelvey, Ki Sung-yueng (assuming he stays), and Leon Britton competing to be the holding midfielders. Another defensive midfielder is expected to arrive before the transfer window closes.
At the back, Ashley Williams is here to stay after signing a four-year contract in what felt like a significant piece of business for the club at the time but also for Monk, who has a strong relationship with the Swansea captain (the way Williams embraced Monk on the touchline after Routledge’s opening goal in that Cardiff game in February said it all). With Chico Flores continuing the Spanish exodus (Ángel Rangel and Jordi Amat are the only Spanish players left at the club), Swansea have been left short at the back and are set to bring in Federico Fernández from Napoli to partner Williams in central defence. They arguably still need more cover in that area and also remain in the market for a right-back.
While Swansea’s playing philosophy will remain the same, Monk is hoping to inject some more penetration into their play this season and encourage the players to take the game to opponents. Once again they featured near the top of the possession charts last season – only Arsenal made more passes – but at times Swansea’s approach play was too methodical and lacked intensity.
Another area where they will look to improve is with their results against the Premier League’s better teams, after picking up only two points from a possible 48 in the meetings with the top eight clubs in 2013-14. Some Premier League clubs target the games against the teams “in and around them” and treat any results picked up elsewhere as a bonus but that is not the case with Swansea, and certainly not with Jenkins, who in an interview in the Observer last November voiced his concern about the worrying change in mentality that he had picked up on.
“We have to make sure whoever comes in to manage, coach and play for us in the future, they can’t be talking about different levels of leagues within a league. To me, that is complete failure,” Jenkins said at the time. “When I hear some of our players and staff talking [about getting to 40 points] now it really upsets me that they can actually think like that, because you are more or less conceding a third of the games you play in before you start. I find that the hardest thing to take, that we have actually got staff and players that struggle at this point in time to see where we can compete.”
Swansea will get an early chance to show their mettle against the Premier League’s elite, with a visit to Manchester United on the opening day of the season followed by a trip to Chelsea in their next away game. In between those two rather daunting fixtures, Swansea entertain Burnley and West Bromwich Albion. A few early points on the board would be welcome at the start of a fourth season in the Premier League and a campaign that, with their attacking talent, ought to deliver a mid-table finish.