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3
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1
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 By Max Hicks

Premier League Preview: Swansea

The ESPN FC panel preview Swansea's season and contend that Wilfried Bony is key to their success.

Lessons from last season

If last season should have taught Swansea anything, it's the value of squad depth. Competing in four competitions with as few as 14 or 15 first-team regulars took its toll, and at times there seemed to be more players in the treatment room than on the substitutes bench.

A full complement of 25 useful players would be a bonus this season, even if Swansea won't have the Europa League to worry about. Garry Monk's summer recruitment drive has so far seen fragile players (Michu, Pablo Hernandez) replaced with potentially more robust counterparts (Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jefferson Montero) and deadwood exchanged for depth.

Last season also saw the end of Michael Laudrup's reign and, with it, the end of Swansea's recent flirtation with glamorous or careerist managers. Chairman Huw Jenkins appointed ex-player Monk as Laudrup's replacement, having feared the standards of his club were being eroded under the Dane's leadership. Jenkins' judgment has so far proved sound, but rookie Monk represents the chairman's biggest risk to date.

Predicted starting lineup

Gylfi Sigurdsson's return to Wales and the addition of Jefferson Montero should add some grit to the Swans attack.

What's new?

It has been a summer of significant change in Swansea. Last season's fractious squad is quickly being disassembled, and the revolving door of the Liberty Stadium has been spinning off its hinges as Monk looks to impose his vision. Laudrup's Spanish cadre has been broken up, with Michu, Pablo and Alejandro Pozuelo, already gone and Jose Canas set to join them. Newcomers Lukasz Fabianski, Bafetimbi Gomis, Montero and Sigurdsson all come with big-league experience and exciting skills.

Beyond the big names, there has also been some upheaval. Monk has been weeding the shrubbery as well as the flowerbed, clearing out fringe players who barely featured (Leroy Lita, David N'Gog) and replacing them with either solid squad players who will make some impact (Marvin Emnes) or with promising youngsters (Stephen Kingsley, Jay Fulton). Granted, some of the younger players joined before the summer, but could be given one or two real chances this season under Monk.

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Strengths

If Wilfried Bony stays, Swansea can expect to score goals. Gomis is an athletic presence up front, and he'll give Monk two bona fide strikers to play with -- either together or in relief of each other. Montero has devastating pace on the flank, while Sigurdsson matches Pablo's eye for a pass but offers considerably more consistency, resilience, long-range shooting ability and set-piece specialism. Fabianski offers a significant height upgrade in goal, which should help address Swansea's long-standing weakness against high balls.

The Spanish purge has been a painful process in some ways -- Michu will forever hold a place in the hearts of many Swans fans -- but there is a sense of unity among the new-look squad that was missing from last season. Ironically, that is perhaps the result of recruiting players from a mixture of nationalities and leagues, rather than from just Spain. These players are all new to each other and therefore have a stronger imperative to bond instead of slipping into convenient passport-delineated factions.

Weaknesses

Swansea have a soft centre and a vulnerable defence. Although capable, few of the Swans defenders are especially quick, and some (Angel Rangel) could be considered slow of foot. An emerging Kyle Bartley, the Swans' most athletic defender, could help remedy that. Chico Flores probably has the best balance of speed, experience and skills, but his eccentricities all too often counteract his obvious ability.

The real hole, however, is in defensive midfield. Leon Britton is not getting any younger and was never one for a physical fight anyway. He can set the tempo and he can read the game, but he won't win many 50-50 balls against younger, stronger forwards. Swansea's attack-minded, passing-based system needs some contingency, and a destroyer to shield that back four -- often a back two -- would be nice.

Garry Monk has cleared every obstacle so far in his term as Swansea manager.

Manager - ESPN FC profile

Opportunity knocks for former defender and club captain Garry Monk. Monk's appointment was seen by his fans as a deserved honour and by his detractors as an unmasked attempt by Jenkins to install a puppet at the helm.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Monk was fast-tracked to the position -- he didn't even have the necessary badges -- and there is no doubt he and Jenkins are birds of a feather. A safer play would have been to appoint a neutral, experienced manager from outside the club, but Jenkins backed his own man instead.

Doubts were cast as to Monk's ability to attract new players to the club, but his incoming transfer business so far has been excellent. As a young manager, one might expect him to be ahead of the curve tactically, a student of the modern game rather than a stalwart of the old, and that should bode well if it turns out to be true. On the other hand, there is a risk Monk's managerial naivety will cost the Swans dearly. The big question is if it all goes wrong, how soon will Jenkins pull the trigger, knowing that to do so would damage both his reputation and pride?

Key player

Jonjo Shelvey. Bony is of immense importance, and he'll score goals because that's what he does, but he might not be with the team come September. Midfield is what ties it all together, and Shelvey is one of the few players who can take over a game on his day. He can also ruin a game when it's not his day, but as last season wore on, we saw less and less of the error-prone Shelvey and more and more of the midfield general.

Shelvey will play as many games as possible, and his old-school, box-to-box ability makes him a rarity by contemporary standards. A team is only as good as its midfield, and the former Liverpool man is the fire to Britton's ice in the middle of the park -- surging forward to support the attack and dropping back to help out in defence. Britton is not getting any younger, and there is a leadership vacuum in the Swans midfield that Shelvey looks destined to fill. It is important that he meets the responsibility and continues to take strides in his development. It is incredible to think he is still only 22.

ESPN Stats & Information
Information from ESPN Stats and Information.

Predicted finish: 10th

To say this has been a transitional summer for Swansea is to put it mildly. However, the changes have so far been positive, and this season's "small fourteen" teams don't look especially scary. If Bony stays and Monk adds a first-class defensive midfielder, then eighth might even be achievable as a best-case scenario. Much will depend on how well Monk handles the finer points of management.

Taken as a whole, his results at the end of last season were not great, only mediocre, and the hope is that having had a full summer to do some reading, he'll have developed enough nous to make those crucial in-game adjustments that make a manager a manager and not merely a dressing-room warden. So far, he has at least assembled the best part of a very useful-looking squad, and that's a strong start.

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