On paper, Swansea City head into the 2014/2015 campaign on the back of one of the most significant campaigns in the club's 102 year history.
Not so long ago, the prospect of a twelfth placed finish in the Premiership, a run to the last 16 of the FA Cup, and a place in the knockout stages of the Europa League, would have been considered fantasy land for the Liberty faithful.
Throw in historic cup wins over Manchester United at Old Trafford and Valencia in the Mestalla Stadium, and such fantasy would have been deemed almost delusional.
And yet strangely, Gary Monk's men will return to Old Trafford for their opening league game on August 16th, knowing that vast improvements are required after a season that ran anything but smoothly.
The sacking of Michael Laudrup, the injuries to key players, and the often lacklustre domestic displays, added up to an unstable campaign that left the Swans perilously positioned in a battle to avoid relegation.
Indeed, three wins in the final four league games, against Newcastle United, Aston Villa, and Sunderland respectively, glossed over a difficult season that proved a far cry from the euphoria that surrounded a first ever League Cup triumph the year before.
To his credit Monk, entering his first full campaign as a manager, has been proactive in a summer transfer market that has yielded both good and bad news for the club.
The departures of Miguel Michu (loan to Napoli) and Michel Vorm (Tottenham Hotspur) were sadly inevitable. Both proved sensational bargains in their early days at the Liberty – but both have since been hindered by injury and discontent, and the captures of Lukasz Fabianski (Arsenal) and Bafetimbi Gomis (Lyon) should ensure they are adequately replaced.
The signing of Marvin Emnes (Middlesbrough) will enhance the depth, if not necessarily the quality, of Monk's attacking options - while the return of Gylfi Sigurdsson (Tottenham Hotspur) may prove a master stroke if he recaptures the commanding form he displayed during his loan spell at the Liberty in the 2011/2012 season.
The departure of the peripheral Alejandro Pozuelo to Rayo Vallecano will go largely unnoticed, while Jose Canas and Jonathan De Guzman are yet to have their futures resolved.
But it is the sale of Ben Davies that has raised eyebrows.
The highly rated left back was allowed to join Spurs in a deal that paved the way for the return of Sigurdsson, but many felt the club missed a financial trick when comparing the deal to that of Luke Shaw. The former Southampton youngster, deemed to be of similar ability to the 21-year-old Welshman, moved to Manchester United for £30 million.
Swans fans will now desperately hope that Neil Taylor, whose appearances were last season hampered by the emergence of Davies, can return to the form he displayed prior to his horrific leg break against Sunderland in September 2012.
But of course, the Swans most critical bit of business this summer still hangs in the balance – and for Monk and Chairman Huw Jenkins, it is about keeping a player, not signing one.
After a slow start, Wilfried Bony proved a revelation last season, with many of his 16 Premiership goals coming at pivotal moments. And with continued rumours of interest from elsewhere – it was heartening to hear Monk recently say only an 'astronomical' fee would prize him away.
Of course, Monk himself will be aware that he enters his first full campaign as a manager with the jury very much still out.
Some see him as a steady hand, whose vast love and experience of the club makes him an ideal candidate to take Swansea forward. And yet, he is deemed largely unproven.
His main challenge will be to overcome the notion that the rest of the Premiership has worked Swansea out. The fluid passing and possession football, such a breath of fresh air during the first two seasons in the top flight, has become predictable and all too easy to counter.
The pre season results have thus far told us little, with routine wins over Plymouth Argyle (4-0) and Exeter City (2-0), following a US tour that yielded a draw and defeat against Chivas Guadalajara (1-1) and Minnesota United (2-0) respectively.
But when the real business starts, Monk needs to find a way of combining the artistic style that Chairman Jenkins clearly craves, with more dynamism in the latter third.
In short, he needs to introduce a 'plan b'.
Of course, the Swans possess more than enough quality not to become embroiled in another relegation battle – and yet, a top half finish appears a tough ask.
Keep Wilfried Bony, and mid table security beckons.
Lose him, and the Swans faithful are in for a bumpy ride.
Article by Fraser WATSON
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