The Swans and manager Francis Guidolin badly need these players to step up if they hope to avoid relegation.
With the recent announcement of Andre Ayew’s departure and Ashley Williams leaving for Everton, Swansea City’s fairy-tale journey in the Premier League may be approaching its final chapter. Although the Welsh club finished impressively last season at 12th place with 47 points, they staved off relegation for virtually the entire season, leading to manager Garry Monk’s sacking in January.
Enter Francesco Guidolin, a manager with a decent record in Serie A but unrecognizable outside his home country. So much so that captain Ashley Williams had to Google search the man tasked with keeping his side in the Premier League. Only a few weeks after Guidolin’s arrival though, it was clear that Swansea had made the right choice in appointing the low-key Italian.
But such is life in England’s top division that Swansea are once again tipped to be prime relegation candidates, alongside teams like Burnley, Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Hull, and Middlesbrough. Jamie Carragher, for instance, has predicted Swansea, Hull, and Burnley to finish in the bottom three this season.
A series of big-name summer departures (including long-time captain Ashley Williams, top-scorer Andre Ayew, and most accurate shooter Alberto Paloschi) always causes football fans to panic. And after the Swans’ terrible first half of last season, fans at the Liberty Stadium have good reason for concern.
However, most of the top-class talents that led Swansea to a club-record 56 Premier League points have stayed at the league’s only Welsh side. Moreover, two big-name signings have arrived to give the Swans a big boost of confidence going into the new season. Not to mention Leroy Fer, signed from Norwich for £4.4 million, who scored Swansea’s first goal of the season this weekend against relegation rivals Burnley.
Here are the players whose performances this year will mean the difference between relegation and another club record-breaking season:
If not for Gylfi Siggurdsson’s exceptional performances last season, Swansea’s No. 1 would surely have been voted their Player of the Year. Once referred to as Lukasz “Flappyhandski” by Arsenal fans for his frequent mistakes and poor handling, the Polish international has developed into one of the league’s best and most reliable men in goal.
After signing for Swansea in 2014, Fabianski has not only improved his punching and catching by leaps and bounds, but has also put in the kind of remarkable goalkeeping performances that crush opposing fans’ hopes of scoring even one goal. If his fantastic saves in the opener against Burnley are any indication, the Polish 31-year-old will once again be essential for Swansea staying up this season. And considering the departure of Ashley Williams, the “most consistent Premier League center-back of the past 4 seasons” according to Rio Ferdinand, Fabianski’s saves will be even more important.
Voted Swansea’s Supporter Player of the Year for 2014/15, the South Korean midfielder scored eight goals that season, a fantastic return for any midfielder and the most any Asian player has ever managed in England’s top flight. Consequently, it was no coincidence that his steep decline in form last season matched his team’s struggles in the league. Sluggish and low on concentration, Ki’s deficiencies last season led to his benching by new coach Guidolin for a few games.
However, at the top of his game, Ki Sung-Yueng is one of the most complete midfielders in the league. He exhibits exceptional work-rate, ball control, positional awareness, vision, and most of all, a fantastic passing range, one of the most accurate in England at 90.9% for 2015/16. Alongside Jack Cork in midfield, Ki is key (sorry) to dictating the tempo of Swansea’s passing and building play from the back. If the Korean can reach his goal-scoring heights of two seasons prior, then the Swans should expect another top-10 finish.
Because this is the last player on my list, many of you will be scratching your heads at the exclusion of Gylfi Siggurdsson and 31-year-old Fernando Llorente, who just signed from Sevilla for an undisclosed fee. Well, I excluded Siggurdsson, Swansea’s clear Player of the Season last year, because he’s been brilliant for two seasons now and is simply a top-class attacking talent. The Icelandic international seems to have finally found his footballing home at the Liberty, and his consistently great performances are a testament to that.
I excluded Llorente because he is an experienced Spanish international who has played and scored at top clubs all over Europe. I wouldn’t expect more than 10 goals from him, but his exceptional hold-up play and strength in the air will surely be on consistent display this season. And sure enough, Leroy Fer scored Swansea’s only goal at the weekend after Llorente’s header rebounded off Burnley keeper Tom Heaton.
Borja Baston, on the other hand, is certainly Swansea’s riskiest buy of the summer. Costing a club-record fee of £15m from Atletico Madrid, the Spanish striker scored 18 goals on loan at Eibar last season—an extremely impressive tally for a tiny club always in danger of relegation. After Wilfried Bony left for Manchester City last January, the likes of Paloschi, Eder, and Bafetimbi Gomis have all been unable to fill his goal-scoring shoes, and all three consequently left the club this summer.
At just 23 years old, Baston is clearly an investment for the future. But if he can’t adapt to the Premier League in time to score at least 10 or more crucial goals this season, then the Swans will struggle to stay out of the bottom three. Watch his highlights from last season below, and decide for yourself whether this risk will pay off.
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