Summer additions give Monk formation options
Three years ago, as part of the preparations for their first Premier League season, Swansea City hosted Real Betis at the Liberty. Nobody knew it then, but the Betis side the Swans faced that day included three future Swans. Alejandro Pozuelo and Jose Canas made appearances from the bench, but the player who really caught the eye was Jefferson Montero.
Wearing No. 11 for Betis, Montero was the best player on the field -- constantly threatening, incredibly fast, and irresistible to watch. Clearly, he made enough of an impression for the Swans' top brass to have remembered him, and duly brought him to Swansea permanently this summer. Tuesday's opposition might not have been the same class Montero will face in the Premier League, but the Ecuadorian looked good in his 45 minutes against Exeter.
Montero has a great first touch as well as pace, and he is capable of sufficient two-footed trickery to make room for crosses and pull backs. Operating on his favoured left flank, Montero is a classic winger. Whether he cuts inside more often when played on the right is yet to be seen, but the presence of a player your grandfather might refer to as a 'flying winger,' along with the addition of Bafetimbi Gomis, suggests a tactical shift is possible for Swansea this season.
Gomis himself scored his first Swansea goal on Tuesday from a header, and Wilfried Bony's aerial brilliance is already well-documented. With Nathan Dyer a suitable complement for Montero on the opposite flank (although crossing has never been Dyer's strong suit), the Swan's forward lines could easily resemble something from the 4-4-2 textbook (or even 4-2-4 -- remember that?).
That's not to suggest Swansea went old school on Tuesday -- there was never a time when all four players were on the field together, and the usual intricate build-up, fullback overlap and through balls were also in evidence. However, the range of players now available to manager Garry Monk does lend itself to multiple approaches. Monk himself suggested in his post-match interview that he was trying to develop different partnerships, with the Gomis/Bony link-up just one of many.
The 4-2-3-1 system favoured by the Swans for so many years now is flexible enough to morph into several other configurations quite easily, and on the hoof if need be. Pull the wingers back a little and push the hole player forward, and you've got a 4-4-2. Push one of the holding midfielders between the wingers and drop the secondary attacking line back a touch, and you've got 4-1-4-1. You could even have the wingers attack the goal more directly, and bring the hole player deep, to make a 4-3-3.
What's more, Monk more-or-less has the personnel to affect such changes, though it will be interesting to see how Gomis and Bony are accommodated, considering either striker might seem wasted in the hole. I would expect Monk to stick with the tried and tested to begin with, which means a 4-2-3-1 and a lone striker. As such, Gomis might find himself joining the action from the bench, either as direct replacement for Bony, or as an additional striker in a shift to a 4-4-2 to chase a goal.
The midfield could still use a strong presence, especially considering Leon Britton and Jay Fulton are likely to miss the first few weeks of the season, and Monk has suggested he would like to add a few more players to his new-look Swansea squad before the start of the season. The players he has already secured are very much starting to look the part, and with lightning-fast Montero and aerially powerful Gomis in the fold, it's safe to say Swansea will be playing with width in the coming campaign.
World football's back-three revolution which dictates that the fullback and winger fold into a single player isn't about to take hold in South Wales just yet, but with a new injection of talent, neither is Swansea's 4-2-3-1 looking particularly passe.
Sportswriter and ESPN FC correspondent for Swansea City. Follow him on Twitter @maxwellhicks