Before looking at what Swansea can hope to achieve in what is set to be one of the most competitive Premier League seasons to date, it is important to first place into context the achievements of Swansea City in last year’s campaign under the ever-impressive tutelage of Gary Monk.
Story of Last Season
The Swans recorded a best ever finish of 8th in the Barclays Premier League last season, missing out on a place in the Europa League qualifying stages by a mere four points. They recorded 16 wins and a further 14 draws, meaning that only 8 occasions last term did the side fail to put points on the board by the end of the weekend. Even the transfer of Wilfried Bony to Manchester City proved to be a big positive, as the club added a welcome £26 million in transfer funds into an already debt-free bank balance, giving the club a stable foundation to head into this campaign with.
An opening day victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford certainly raised eyebrows as the Swans made the perfect start to the season, taking a further two wins over Burnley and West Brom en route to a perfect August. They would then record just two points until the last week of October when a barren run was ended with a home victory over then-struggling Leicester City. The rest of the campaign would be one of mixed results for Swansea, a brace of victories often being bookended by draws or losses, however fans were left delighted with completing the double over both United and Arsenal, demonstrating the progress that Swansea have made in the last few seasons in the top flight. On the domestic cup front, two disappointing runs were put to bed by Blackburn and Liverpool respectively, but the League form will have given Gary Monk and his coaching staff plenty of optimism heading into the new term.
In terms of transfers, the arrival of Marseille winger Andre Ayew is a statement of intent by the club as they look to break into European football and compliments the strong playing squad already at the club. He will be looking to replicate the 44 goals he netted in 160 appearances for the French side, and securing his services on a four-year deal could pay dividends for Swansea in the long run.
Also joining are forward Eder from Braga, defender Franck Tabanou and goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt from Heerenveen for a combined total of £9.1 million. All three have penned three year contracts at the Liberty Stadium and; with a wide range of domestic and international experience, they look to be further signs that Swansea have no intention of resting on their laurels following last year’s unqualified success. Tom Holland has also signed on a free from Manchester City, with young forward Oliver McBurnie also joining on a undisclosed fee from League One side, Bradford City. Clearly the focus on this summer’s signings has been to consolidate the high standard of football already in place at Swansea whilst also blooding the next generation of talent.
Having started all but a single game last season, club captain Ashley Williams was an ever-present at the heart of Swansea’s defence, and the highest ranked Welsh side will need their skipper on top form again this campaign if they are to scale further up the table. The Welsh captain’s height at the back gives Swansea an added edge in the air, especially from set pieces and his consistency thus far in his Premier League career has been impressive. If he can start to score a few goals this season and firm up the defence in a team that conceeded more than it scored last year, he will yet again underline his valuability to Swansea City.
It seems hardly possible to discuss the strength Swansea have in their playing squad without pausing to reflect on Jonjo Shelvey‘s performances last season. The ex-Charlton and Liverpool midfielder netted just three times last season but proved to be a versatile and at times mesmerising playmaker for his team-mates. According to The Guardian, Shelvey has also hired a personal trainer in the off-season in order to keep his fitness levels high and ensure he returns ahead of this campaign in the best possible shape. It will be fascinating to see if this move correlates directly into even better form than he is already displaying. Regardless, Shelvey’s ability in the middle of the park will prove vital if Swansea are to improve their goal count this season.
Bafetimbi Gomis enjoyed some of the best form of his career at the back end of last season and could quickly develop a reputation as one of the league’s best strikers if he can continue that form through this season. Firmly stuck in the memory are his sublime brace against Hull City, his winner against Arsenal scarcely a minute after appearing as a substitute and again in a 1-0 reverse over the Gunners later that season. With Swansea boasting a selection of high quality strikers, the occasional French international will need to surpass the club’s top scorer from last season, Wilfried Bony, who netted 9 times before joining City, otherwise Swansea may yet again find themselves struggling in the goals department compared to their closest rivals.
Quite simply, last season underlined Garry Monk’s credentials as one of the brightest new managers in the game. His methods have compliments spilling in from all corners of the footballing community and his work was best represented in that surprise 8th place finish last season. Whilst he himself has already admitted that performing beyond that marker with his current squad will prove a difficult challenge, his summer additions could be the boost that Swansea need to challenge for a Europa League spot. This demonstrates that; despite only having a relatively short period of time under his belt as a manager at the highest level, he clearly has a good concept of who and what he needs to take his team forward. Monk and Swansea have been a match made in heaven thus far; whether or not it will continue to the same effect this season remains to be seen.
First Six Fixtures
Swansea’s campaign will start with the most challenging test of them all – a trip to Stamford Bridge to face reigning champions Chelsea, who should have too much quality in depth for the Swans to take the three points. Subsequent fixtures against Newcastle United and Sunderland should give Garry Monk’s men the opportunity to score two victories and put themselves in the mix at the sharp end of the table. Manchester United then travel to the Liberty Stadium, where the Swansea faithful will be hopeful of claiming the Red Devils’ scalp for the third consecutive fixture, but United’s stronger side may pay dividends on match-day. Watford should provide little resistance in the following fixture, whilst Everton will be Swansea’s first true test of where they stand relative to the opposition, with that game being the first, perhaps, where a draw would be an expectable outcome.
Final Standing Prediction – 10th
Garry Monk’s summer signings bolster an already strong Swansea side and; with the achievement of last season behind them, I firmly expect them to build upon it this season and attempt push on for a Europa League spot. Whilst teams such as Chelsea, Manchester City and co. are still far superior, the Swans have demonstrated that, on their day, they can take points from the big guns, and this could prove crucial if they are to score a higher finish this term. Players such as Gomis, Shelvey, Fabianski, Williams and Eder will need to be on top form, as will manager Garry Monk, but if everything comes together then a great season could be in the offing. It is still more likely however for them to have to settle for a position closer to the middle of the table.[separator type=”thin”]
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Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?
The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.
As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.
The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.
There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.
But what about Bojan Krkic?
The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.
He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.
Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.
At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.
He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.
Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.
For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.
Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.
However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.
Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.
So where did it all go wrong for him?
He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.
The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.
In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.
However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.
Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.
Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.
Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.
There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.
If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.
Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer
The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?
The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.
Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).
However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.
Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.
The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.
Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray
The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.
Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.
Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.
Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.
Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.
If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.