What's changed since last season?
Squad depth. Last season, Michael Laudrup leaned heavily on a small group of 13 or 14 players for the majority of games, and was reluctant to include fringe players in any capacity. The implication was clear; Laudrup did not rate the weakest quarter of the squad that he had inherited from Brendan Rodgers. As a result, the side saw out the last half a dozen games of the season with tired legs and little enthusiasm. This season, things will be different.
Laudrup has used the summer to re-tool the squad with useful players who can expect to play. Leroy Lita, Alan Tate, Kemy Agustien and Luke Moore have been told to find new clubs, whilst Kyle Bartley has been sent on a season-long loan to Birmingham. In their stead, Laudrup has brought in Jonjo Shelvey, Alejandro Pozuelo, Jordi Amat, Jose Canas and Wilfried Bony. With another striker and perhaps another defender on the way, Laudrup will have a deeper and more competitive squad at his disposal this season.
Key to this campaign?
Rotation. The Swans will be competing on four fronts this season; the Premier League, the FA Cup, the Capital One Cup and the Europa League. That's a lot of football for any squad, even factoring in Laudrup's new additions. What's more, Swansea don't have many match-ready under-21 players with which to legitimately boost the numbers beyond the 25-man cap.
Laudrup will have to make intelligent decisions about which personnel to field in which games, but foresight and meticulous planning can still be upset by injuries and suspensions. If certain key personnel are over-worked, weaknesses will open up. The Swans will need to find consistency and tenacity if they are to achieve respectable results in all four competitions. If the Swans cohesion starts to suffer, a tactical withdrawal (i.e. allowing a defeat) from one of the domestic cup contests might alleviate the strain, although Laudrup is famously fond of cup competitions.
Predicted finish/realistic goal
Winning the Capital One Cup again is probably too much to ask, though certainly possible, whilst the FA Cup can also be considered a winnable competition. With the Swans in Europe for the first time in 20 years, the ambition will be to progress to the group stages. Meanwhile, maintaining Premier League stability remains the club's primary focus.
Assuming the domestic cup competitions will be the usual crapshoot, a solid mid-table finish and representation at the group stages of the Europa League will therefore represent a successful season. Anything beyond will be a bonus. With a lot of managerial flux among Premier League teams so far this summer and Laudrup's good track record in knockout competitions, there is a real chance the Swans can do even better. However, consolidation remains the main target.
Make or break season for...
Wilfried Bony. Swansea put their previous record transfer fee in the shade when they shelled out £12 million for the Ivorian striker. Clearly, Laudrup has faith that Bony can bring the scoring touch which saw him net 31 times in 30 games for Vitesse to the Premier League. However, striker imports from the Eredivisie have historically proven to be a boom or bust trade.
It is vital not just for Swansea but for Bony himself that he makes the transition. The striker is fast becoming a regular fixture in his national team, and is on the verge of establishing himself as an elite goal scorer. With a chance to show his quality in arguably the best league in the world, Bony is at a critical point in his career. His imposing physicality, heavyweight shot and clever movement suggest he'll make the most of that chance.
One to watch
Jonjo Shelvey. The Swans move for the ex-Liverpool midfielder was both fast and unexpected. At £5 million, Shelvey represents an affordable gamble, and will give Laudrup a different type of player to throw in the mix. Shelvey's striking appearance makes it harder for him to hide when things aren't going his way, and whilst he has his detractors, the early evidence suggests he might find a niche in Wales.
Shelvey's pre-season appearances for Swansea have been encouraging. His box-to-box game, big engine and long passing ability give the Swans some new weapons. If Shelvey can cool his temperament and add some polish to his game, he'll have been a bargain, but for that we'll have to wait and see. At any rate, Laudrup's concentration on flooding the midfield ranks with talent this summer should mean the Swans won't have to rely on the success of the Shelvey project, which in turn ought to take some of the pressure off the player.