It's the opening day of the 2021/22 season and the first match of the Russell Martin era at Swansea City, and so there's no better time to unleash a different type of match preview as the Editor explores what's in his head leading up to kick off...
After the crushing defeat in last season’s Play Off Final and a car crash of a summer dominated by Steve Cooper speculation and the loss of key players, it was kinda hard working up any sort of enthusiasm for the coming season.
At one point, when it looked like the Swans and Cooper might have been stuck with each other, I considered red hot safety pins into my eyes rather than watch more timid, negative tactics without the likes of Ayew and Guehi to deliver a result. After all, you can’t do any real damage to your eyeballs if the pins are of the safety variety, can you. Can you??
As successful as Steve was (a debatable point in itself as we didn’t get promoted despite the opportunity we had) I just couldn’t find it in my heart to relish sitting through another forty odd games of playing percentage football, keeping everything tight and relying on a class act like Ayew to deliver on the one chance created in the game. I, like many others, wanted to enjoy even just a smidgeon of excitement with my 1-0 win.
And then Russell Martin came along…sexy Russell (as @ZoePPwales likes to think of him)…with promises of his sexy brand of possession based football…and all of a sudden my enthusiasm levels have gone from 0-60mph faster than Daniel James driving back from Elland Road as a transfer window slams shut.
So bring it on, I say! Let’s get this party started to the tune of a thousand ‘Oles’ from the thousand strong travelling Jack Army!
Manager Martin has inherited a squad thinner than Dennis Lawrence’s left leg and his cause won’t be helped by captain Matt Grimes currently feeling constant twinges in his transfer muscle, new signing Liam Walsh retreating to the familiar surroundings of the physio room, and Jay Fulton’s suspension for a slip-induced Jason Statham move on a Brentford player in the Play Off Final.
Hampering Martin’s cause even more is the fact he’s only had a handful of days to assess what he’s got in his new group let alone reverse the hypnotic commands that Steve Cooper installed deeply in the collective psyche forcing players to pass the ball sideways in ever panicky fashion before laying it back to Cabango to belt diagonally into the most uninhabited parts of the pitch.
On the plus side Martin’s options will be bolstered by yesterday’s arrival of Jamie Paterson on a free, increasing the options on the wings to four and at No.10 to…err…well…one.
It will be fascinating to see what shape and personnel Martin plumps for in his first game in charge – whilst it won’t set in anything in stone it will give us an indication of the direction Martin intends taking us in.
Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray is a man with problems. A side that fizzled and faltered to a fifteenth place finish last season has been shorn of experienced players like Stewart Downing, Lewis Holtby and Charlie Mulgrew and not a single player has been brought in as a replacement.
A significant injury list featuring Joe Rankin-Costello, Scott Wharton and Bradleys Dack and Johnson don’t help either. And Adam Armstrong is on the verge of a move the Premier League with Crystal Palace favourites to do a deal, which may mean the talented striker sits out today’s game.
But Mowbray’s biggest problem is the fact that he’s facing Sexy Russ on the touchline instead of Steve Cooper…
The Ed's XI
No doubt Sexy Russ will be learning about his squad all the time and today’s first competitive game will be the most informative lesson so far. To keep things as simple as possible I’m thinking Martin will go with what he knows, whilst keeping some continuity for the players that have been here all summer.
So I imagine that being known quantities to the manager Ryan Bennett, Kyle Naughton and Korey Smith will all start.
Steve Benda is almost certain to get the nod between the sticks, as much as he’s the ideal keeper for Martin as he’s so assured with the ball at his feet.
If Martin goes with the there centre backs then Bennett and Cabango are likely certainties whilst it will come down to a fight for the third shirt between Joel Latibeaudiere and Brandon Cooper, the former with edge in fitness and experience.
Left wingback will be fascinating as there’s genuine competition for that spot between Manning and Bidwell. Again, continuity makes me think that the latter will get the nod.
Midfield will be interesting and there’s a real decision to be made on whether to play Matt Grimes given he’s missed most of pre season an, similar to Blackburn’s issue with Adam Armstrong, there may be a need to protect a potential transfer and the income that goes with it. But it would be a big call to leave out the Captain and midfield lynchpin so my gut instinct is that he’ll start. Guess it depends on the fitness of Liam Walsh as he provides a genuine alternative.
Further up the field and it will all be about continuity meaning the few signings we’ve made this summer will all be left kicking their heels waiting for their opportunity. As the senior forward Lowe will start and our only natural finisher Liam Cullen will too. This season’s real wildcard Whittaker could come into the equation depending on the formation that Martin adopts.
So here’s my starting XI: Benda; Naughton; Latibeaudiere; Bennett; Cabango; Bidwell; Grimes; Smith; Dhanda; Lowe; Cullen
It’s a tough ask for Martin to come out of nowhere and transform a squad short on quality and options, instantly instilling his high risk style. It’s even harder to do so in a game away from home at a ground where you haven’t won since the very start of the seventies!
But Martin’s arrival has given everyone connected with the Swans a lift the size of which hasn’t been seen since Roberto Martinez swaggered back into the Liberty and planted his brown shoes firmly in the technical area to conduct a rendition of the beautiful game that became known as The Swansea Way.
And Blackburn are the club in disarray right now which levels up the playing field no end, and there’s enough quality stillin the Swans dressing room to capitalise on Rovers’ problems even while they learn to adapt to Martin’s far, far braver strategy than simply serving up ‘Coope Ball’.
So I’m predicting a narrow Swans victory…