On the surface, Swansea appears to be stronger than where they left off last season. The club signed French striker Bafetimbi Gomis to solve the goalscoring issue, while Gylfi Sigurdsson returns to the club to add an impetus as an attacking midfielder. The Swans also finally acquired Marvin Emnes, who has moved to South Wales after repeated attempts by Swansea to sign the Middlesbrough dynamo. On top of that, Swansea has agreed a fee to sign Argentina World Cup defender Federico Fernandez. And don’t forget that the club still has Wilfried Bony, the clinical striker up top.
All looks rosy on the Welsh coast.
However, if you look deeper, there are issues. And most of them revolve around the identity and brand of football that manager Garry Monk wants to employ at the club. While it’s still too early to know for sure, it appears that Monk (based on preseason matches) is trying to change the system, relying less on The Swansea Way of maintaining the majority of possession by passing the ball and capitalizing on opportunities inside or near the penalty box. Plus, Monk has been experimenting with a 4-4-2, which is a polar opposite of Swansea’s proven 4-2-3-1 system.
Early signs are that Monk is trying to mix up Swansea’s play, so it isn’t so predictable. While on the surface, that sounds like a smart idea, the players haven’t seemed to have adapted to the variation on the theme as well as fans would like. An evolution takes time to adjust. And Swansea, who have chopped and changed players this summer, don’t have the players yet to make the transition a smooth one.
Swansea’s biggest problem right now is that the engine in the team, Leon Britton, is injured. Without Britton, the Swans are a completely different side. Everything goes through him. His ability to hold on to the ball, and start attacks by spraying the ball through to the midfielders is key. When he doesn’t play, like early last season when former manager Michael Laudrup was reluctant to play him due to a combination of rotation and injuries, the Swans were ineffective. The sooner Britton returns to the squad fully-fit this season, the sooner they can recover their identity.
Outside of Britton, there are other issues. In the 4-4-2, Gomis and Bony don’t get the service required from midfield to maximize one extra player up top and one fewer in midfield. So if the Swans return to a 4-2-3-1, will Gomis be willing to sit on the bench and allow Bony to get most of the playing time? Or will Bony leave for Liverpool as is expected, freeing up Gomis to be the solo striker.
In midfield, maestro Jonathan de Guzman hasn’t returned to the Swans for his third consecutive deal with the club, and looks likely to join QPR, which will be a real kick in the teeth to Swansea. In addition to Britton, De Guzman is the next most important part of the spine of Swansea’s midfield, becoming creator and distributing the ball well to midfielders Jefferson Montero (newly signed), and Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge.
Without De Guzman, the injured Britton and wantaway striker Bony, the Swans are automatically a much weaker side.
The club has lost Michu on loan to Napoli, but the man — who cut a frustrated figure last season — won’t be much of a loss to Swansea especially considering that Sigurdsson can play in the hole behind the strikers, and offers a threat from free kicks.
Meanwhile, Ki Sung-Yueng and Jonjo Shelvey, while talented in their own ways, are not the type of leaders or impact players that will make much of a difference in the middle of the pitch.
All in all, Swansea’s season could be severely impacted in what happens in the last two weeks of the summer transfer window. With the departure of Chico Flores, Pablo Hernandez, Jose Canas (impending departure), Ben Davies, Michel Vorm and Alejandro Pozuelo, it’s imperative that Swansea adds depth to the side in key positions as well as holding on to Bony and the rest of the team. If De Guzman isn’t returning, a like-for-like replacement is needed. Swansea needs a strong right back to challenge Angel Rangel for the full back position, as his output has been declining of late.
Beyond that, it’s important that Monk is able to develop a playing style within the Swansea squad that is focused on The Swansea Way. Booting balls into the opponent’s half isn’t going to benefit the Swans, who are lacking in height. The Swans need to continue playing the ball on the ground and using their speed to open up defenses. The key for Monk will be adapting his players to this style before time runs out.
Predicted finish: 17th