There are new men in both of the Liberty Stadium dugouts, Steve Cooper and Grant McCann squaring up to each other as their Swansea City and Hull City sides square off in this intriguing opening fixture of the 2019/20 Championship season. Can Cooper tame the Tigers in his first competitive fixture as Swansea City’s Head Coach? ATFV chews over all the details in our opening day match preview…
An unbeaten pre season surely saw the new manager work towards a preferred line up for this all important opening fixture but it’s fair to say the last couple of days have left Cooper with conundrums at either end of the pitch.
Thursday’s capture of young Newcastle ‘keeper Freddie Woodman on a season long loan has added another twist to the intrigue surrounding the Swans stopper of choice whilst yesterday’s confirmation that last season’s top scorer Oli McBurnie has been sold to Sheffield United blows a huge hole in Cooper’s attacking plans.
Woodman’s arrival surely spells the end for either the much maligned Mulder or the even more maligned Nordfeldt, and as both Cooper and goalkeeper coach Martyn Margetson know all about Woodman through the England age groups set up it’s almost certain that the new boy will go on to be the Numero Uno this season. That’s Number One for those of you reading in Skewen. However, today’s game is likely to be too soon for Woodman to claim the jersey with little chance to train with his new teammates and so I’d expect to see Mulder and Nordfeldt battling for the start with the loser packing his kit bag and leaving for pastures new.
With no injury concerns amongst the back four Cooper has some interesting options to choose from. Connor Roberts will likely see off the challenge of Kyle Naughton for the right back slot whilst on the other side new signing Jake Bidwell has surely done enough over pre season to gain selection ahead of Declan John. It’s two out of three for the centre half shirts with Joe Rodon and now ex-Captain Mike van der Hoorn in pole position leaving another new boy, Ben Wilmot, on bench duty. That triple fight for two jerseys could be an interesting one…providing Mikey VDH doesn’t find himself on the move before the transfer window closes. Eek!
Wilmot of course can also play as a holding midfielder but the competition to partner last term’s player of the season and new Swansea City captain Matt Grimes is fierce; Jay Fulton and George Byers will be vying for the slot, the latter having recovered from the knock that kept him out of last week’s friendly against Atalanta. The competition is set to get even hotter with Tom Carroll edging close to fitness but not yet ready for today. With concerns about our firepower further forward though I have the feeling that Jay Fulton will get the nod, having been pretty prolific during pre season. When I say prolific I mean more Steve Watkin than Lee Trundle prolific – gotta put these things in perspective, see‽
Outside of the two holding midfielders the competition is even more fierce with yesterday’s arrival of Kristoffer Peterson from Dutch side Heracles giving Cooper an embarrassment of riches…well, maybe not quite that as both Barrie McKay and Joel Asoro continue to frustrate with their lack of confidence, composure, output and, at times, effort. Factor in the inconvenient injury to the suddenly super influential Wayne Routledge and it’s more than a possibility that Peterson will go straight into the team with either McKay or the veteran Nathan Dyer lining up on the opposite flank.
I can’t help but employ my very best Alan “Fluff” Freeman voice as I type ‘and in at Number 10, it’s Bersant Celina’ which of course will mean absolutely nothing to our younger readers…and will just leave the older readers rolling their eyes…ahem. Leaving aside dodgy impressions of old time radio DJs, Celina will take the attacking midfield slot and there will be a huge onus on him to continue getting into scoring positions – as he’s done so brilliantly throughout pre season – but start adding some composure to his finishing. The Kosovan is going to be crucial to our hopes this campaign and Cooper will be hoping that the talented footballer can pull the strings on a more consistent basis whilst weighing in with a ten goal or more haul that should not be beyond someone of his technical ability.
And so we get to the tip of the Swansea spear…except the Blades have swiped the sharpest spearpoint we had, snapping up the only prolific forward on our books, the £17m+ offered for Oli McBurnie too good for Chairman Trev to turn down, despite the inconvenient timing. It leaves Cooper with a choice between the still raw Courtney Baker-Richardson or the still defrosting Borja Baston who’s been out in the cold so long he makes Frosty the Snowman look like the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch! Having re-introduced Borja for the last two pre-season friendlies it seems the Spanish misfit has been Cooper’s contingency plan with doubts over McBurnie’s presence growing ever larger as Sheffield United’s bids for him grew ever bigger. I can see Borja getting an hour before giving way to either Baker-Richardson or just as likely Kristoffer Patterson, the Swede being more than capable of switching from his wing to play up front.
The Anticipated ATFV Line-Up: Mulder; Roberts; Rodon; van der Hoorn; Bidwell; Grimes; Fulton; Peterson; Dyer; Celina; Baston
The Tigers travel to South Wales in similar shape to the Swans with a new manager providing some unexpected optimism to counterbalance a bleak financial situation caused by a controversial ownership.
Grant McCann took over from Nigel Adkins just before the beginning of pre season and the former Peterborough and Doncaster gaffer has set about reshaping the squad he inherited by shifting out experienced performers like Frazier Campbell and David Marshall and bringing in several interesting recruits; George Honeyman signed today and the former Sunderland skipper joins the likes of striker Tom Eaves, ‘keeper Matt Ingram and young Everton winger Josh Bowler in the Arrivals Lounge.
But Hull’s hopes of staving off a heavily suggested relegation will probably rest on their ability to keep their star players out of the clutches of higher placed predators with plenty of interest in Kamil Grosicki and the prolific Jarrod Bowen, who scored three times in two games against the Swans last season.
Another of Hull’s wanted men, Markus Henriksen, is likely to be left out with McCann worried that the attacking midfielder’s head has been turned by interest from abroad whilst striker David Milinkovic misses out through injury.
McCann will be every bit as keen as Cooper to make a winning start in his new job and he’ll be buoyed by Hull’s recent form against the Swans, winning three and drawing one of the last five fixtures between the sides. McCann will be hoping that Jarrod Bowen can keep up his hot scoring streak against the Swans at one end and former Swan Stephen Kingsley can contribute to a clean sheet at the other end.
Both sides have undergone major changes over the summer and there is genuine reservation underneath the surface optimism. A good start is essential for both in order to take the pressure off new managers but perhaps the pressure is that much higher on Steve Cooper due to home advantage and a slightly higher expectation of a comfortable season. Hull have been heavily tipped to struggle but that won’t scare McCann into compromising his expansive game and in Jarrod Bowen he has a weapon of mass destruction when the Swans is the target. However, even with the departure of McBurnie amputating our attacking options I’m still backing the Swans to seal the win with a single goal enough to deliver a debut victory for Steve Cooper. Swans 1 v 0 Hull.