It’s the moment we’ve waited all summer for! Ten weeks after Paul Clement pulled off the Great Escape and kept Swansea City in the Premier League we get ready to kick off our seventh consecutive top flight campaign, travelling to the South Coast to tackle a transitional Southampton.
Mixed in with all the excitement is a touch of trepidation too; it’s not been an ideal summer for the Swans with Gylfi Sigurdsson, our best player by a country mile, ostracised from the squad as a protracted £50m move to Everton drags on and on.
It’s hard to tell with our current owners if planned targets have been put on hold to accommodate better purchases with the additional millions a Sigurdsson sale would bring in, or we simply have to sell in order to fund any further purchases at all.
The net result is another zero net spend and just two significant additions to the squad that struggled so badly for much of last season, plus we’ve all but lost Sigurdsson – at least until the transfer window closes and his fate is sealed one way or another until January.
The two signings we have made, Tammy Abraham and Roque Mesa, do however look like quality, astute additions. And on the back of the injection of quality in January – Carroll, Ayew and Olsson all made huge contributions to our survival – and a manager that actually knows what he’s doing in the dug out, there’s as much room for optimism as trepidation.
Our opponents of course have their own problems with a new manager yet again, the former Liverpool defender Mauricio Pellegrino, and a want away star player in the formidable shape of defender Virgil van Dijk. There’s plenty of people tipping the Saints to struggle this season – but that’s been the case for the last four or five years and they’ve defied the claims each time. It’s a tough away game to kick off the season, that’s for sure, but a winnable one too.
Let’s take a closer look at our season 2017/18 opening fixture…
Four wins and a draw in the last five matches of a traumatic season suggests the Swans will start this campaign in great form but the loss of our twin strike weapons, Gylfi’s heart if not his body (yet) to Everton and Fernando Llorente to injury, is cause for concern. The absence of our most potent goal threats places a huge responsibility on the ever improving Jordan Ayew and on loan Chelsea starlet Tammy Abraham but the pair do seem to have struck up an understanding during pre season and I have the feeling they could be capable of some fireworks.
It looks like PC will put Wayne Routledge into the attacking 10 role; now I’m no fan of Routledge the Winger but maybe Routledge the Attacking Midfielder will make more of a contribution and I’m willing to give him every chance to do so. One thing’s for sure, we might not have the brute force of Llorente or the finesse of Sigurdsson but a top end trio of Tammy/Ayew/Routs will have movement galore and if it clicks it could be entertaining and effective.
Further back, Tom Carroll will continue taking the set pieces in Sigurdsson’s absence whilst Leroy Fer should get the nod to provide some much needed forward thrust and physical presence. In between them it will almost certainly be The Legend Leon, captain, playmaker and inspiration. Britton was the difference between us scraping survival and going down last season and we still have no-one better to provide the leadership and sheer guts that will be needed in abundance this season. Of course at 34 it’s unlikely Leon will make the full 90 so expect to see a full debut for the only cash signing so far this summer, Roque Mesa. Described as ‘Leon on Steroids’ our latest Spaniard could be a real star…he promises to be an entertaining watch if nothing else, that’s for sure.
At the back there’s finally a look of continuity and stability. Alfie Mawson and Fede Fernandez look odds on to resume their growing centre back partnership and Martin Olsson will again provide forward momentum from left back. With no new right back brought in Kyle Naughton will complete the familiar looking back four. The obligatory new fourth choice goalkeeper was signed this summer but there’s no doubt that Lukasz Fabianski will be between the sticks come 3 o’clock.
Transfer activity at St Mary’s has been limited so there will be a pretty familiar look to the Saints at kick off. That just reinforces the fact that this is a difficult fixture; Southampton finished eighth last season and narrowly lost the EFL Final to an often outplayed Manchester United.
As well as they did, insipid Claude Puel was never popular as manager and he was edged out once the season finished. Hopes are high that Pellegrino will match his countryman Pochetino’s success at St Mary’s and the signs are that he will adopt a more palatable style of football than the one served up by Puel.
Pellegrino is though hampered by the loss of van Dijk who has handed in a transfer request in order to force through a move to a Champions League club…probably Liverpool…what is it with these Scousers and unsettling other teams’ star players eh?
The hulking Fraser Forster will be in goal and he’ll be protected by Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida. Ryan Bertrand had some envious glances over the summer but he’s still a Saint and no sinner like van Dijk so he’ll provide menace from left back whilst European Championship winner Cedric Soares will look to contain Martin Olsson on the other side.
Steven Davis abd Oriel Romeu are likely to provide a midfield screen and allow the enigmatic Sofia Boufal to drift into dangerous areas. There might also be a first start for big summer signing Mario Lemina, a box to box midfielder that arrived from Juventus earlier this week.
Spearheading the attack will be one time Swans target Manolo Gabbiadini, a dangerous natural finisher that seems to have settled straight into Premier League life.
Which side will miss their star player most? Can the Swans find goals through its new look front three and make the most of the Saints vulnerability at the back with out their own star man van Dijk? The Swans’ pass and move game will give the Saints problems but goals are my main concern; Tammy Abraham is a talent without doubt but his ability to turn goals in the Championship into a prolific Premier League strike rate will be crucial in the absence of Llorente.
THE DANGER MAN
Another former Swans target will pose problems this afternoon. Nathan Redmond successfully converted to a striker last season but he’ll likely be back on the wing today, utilising his pace and trickery to make stabbing thrusts at the fringes of the Swans defence. If he’s allowed to run then he has the quality to either pick out the capable Gabbiadini or finish things for himself.
We haven’t done well against Southampton in recent times and our less than ideal summer and lack of reinforcements suggest we won’t reverse that trend in this season opening away fixture. But do you know what? I have a feeling in my short and often too soft bones that we are going to come out on top in this one. There’s a togetherness about this Swans squad that seems to have only grown as a result of Sigurdsson’s stand off and resulting banishment from the first team picture. And there’s a determination not to be involved in another relegation scrap. So I’m putting my balls on the chopping block and backing the boys for a 0-1 win this afternoon!
Is the ATFV Editor mad to back a Swans win away at Southampton? Will the Saints shove his faith in the Swans down his throat or will the Ed being triumphantly shouting “I told you so” at the celebrating Swans fans come 5 o’clock? Sound off in the comments and offer YOUR prediction!