Swansea could rebound in 2014-15
Swansea's preseason fixture list wraps up on Saturday with a home match against Villarreal, a week before the season opener. Garry Monk's preparations for his first full campaign as manager have so far included a complete squad overhaul, with key players leaving and joining at virtually every position.
While the manager would like to add one or two more players before the transfer window closes, the majority of the squad is in place and has been looking good.
Here are three things the Swans preseason has shown us:
Monk might actually know what he's doing
In the 3-1 victory against Reading, Monk started Wilfried Bony and Bafetimbi Gomis together. In itself, that wasn't surprising; most Swans fans expect to see both strikers together at some point this season.
What was surprising is that Monk didn't use a 4-4-2 formation to do it. On the surface he did; the lineup featured a back four, Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-yueng in central midfield, Wayne Routledge and Gylfi Sigurdsson on the flanks, and the two big men up front. However, the execution was considerably more sophisticated.
In practice, right back Dwight Tiendalli was given license to get all the way forward on his flank. In turn, Sigurdsson cut inside from the right to play centrally behind the strikers, Routledge remained on the left, the centre mids stayed deep, and the remaining defenders made a makeshift back three. Technically speaking, this produced a 3-2-3-2 when it happened, a variation on the 4-2-3-1 where (numerically speaking) a defender is lost and a striker gained while using more or less the same personnel. It's clever stuff.
The system isn't rigid, and its amorphous quality is partially what makes it so effective. It's difficult to mark players when a side can switch and drift so effortlessly. If nothing else, it means the Swans will not be as predictable this season.
This season's Swans might be the most exciting yet
Gomis, Sigurdsson and Jefferson Montero have added depth and quality to an existing front line of Bony, Routledge and Nathan Dyer. This has given the Swans six compatible, skillfully diverse and somewhat interchangeable players to torment defences with. There's also Marvin Emnes, the possibility of playing Shelvey further forward and the attacking fullbacks.
The combinations seem endless, with each presenting different nuances that Monk can use to exploit his opponents' varied weaknesses. On the evidence of the preseason matches, and particularly the game against Reading, this Swans squad has serious scoring potential -- enough to set all but the most composed defences spinning on their heels.
The additions of Sigurdsson and Gomis have tripled the physicality of what was previously a lightweight attacking line (Bony excepted), and that can only add menace to the Swans goal-scoring threat.
It actually hurt me to write that, because I still think Michu is a great player. However, the players coming in have looked so good in Swansea colours that it's been hard to remember or care too much about those who have left.
On paper, Swansea have lost starting goalkeeper Michel Vorm, starting left back Ben Davies, starting attacking midfielder Pablo Hernandez and star goal scorer Michu (from two seasons ago), along with a load of spare change players.
The only other side that has seen departures of that magnitude this summer has been Southampton. Whereas the Saints have managed to restock their locker room with only Ronald Koeman's incredulity, Swansea have restocked theirs with like-for-like replacements, some of which can be considered upgrades and none of which are anything like a step down in class.
What's more, in this season's squad, everyone can play. There are few mediocre players left (though there is still some deadwood bundled outside the Liberty waiting for collection by the highest bidder, or any bidder), which should mean that this squad has some built-in contingency against injuries. There's almost certainly no replacing Bony -- or Gomis on the early evidence -- but fortunately both men look tougher than a Liberty Stadium pie crust, so that shouldn't be a problem.