Premier League 2016-17 season preview No16: Swansea City

Swansea City's Jefferson Montero and Stade Rennais' Mehdi Zeffane in action

Guardian writers’ predicted position 15th (NB: this is not necessarily Michael Butler’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position 12th

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker) 1,000-1

If the Premier League taught us anything last season, it is that synergy, experience and teamwork can be more important to success than the amount of money spent. The three top clubs emphasised this: Claudio Ranieri played largely the same Leicester City team in the same 4-4-2 formation and won the title. Second-placed Arsenal made just one summer signing – a goalkeeper. Third-placed Tottenham made a £14m net profit, as they trimmed the fat off their squad. Meanwhile, Manchester United and Liverpool both spent north of £100m and United failed to qualify for the Champions League, while Manchester City face a play-off. Newcastle United spent £88m and were relegated.

Spending and attempting to mould and gel new signings into a collective unit brings its own problems. Go to a pre-season match at the Liberty Stadium, and you will still see Leon Britton pulling on the armband and Wayne Routledge getting to the byline, and it will feel like 2011 all over again. Nathan Dyer and Ángel Rangel have both just signed new contracts. In a division flooded with money and a transfer window that more resembles an arms race, it is refreshing to see Swansea – a club free of debt and 21% owned by their fans – doing it their own way: bringing through youngsters from the academy and refusing to bow to mercenary agents.

Except now, Swansea have inexplicably started to implode, selling and releasing a raft of players (Alberto Paloschi to Atlanta, Euro 2016 hero Éder to Lille, Bafétimbi Gomis on loan to Marseille) at the beginning of the summer – without properly replacing them – and selling their best players at the end of it.

André Ayew’s £20.5m move to West Ham on Monday could be followed by the departure of Swansea’s captain and talisman, Ashley Williams, to Everton for £12m. In just a couple of days, Swansea have gone from mid-table lurkers to one of the favourites to go down. The manager Francesco Guidolin (who has no control over transfers since his ill-advised signing of Paloschi for £8m in January) now has four days to rewrite his playbook and prepare for the possibility that his side could be roundly beaten by Burnley on the opening day.

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The infuriating thing for Guidolin and Swansea fans is that now, with the shiny TV money rolling in, they don’t have to sell, certainly not so late in the transfer window, and certainly not to divisional rivals. In the recent past, players have had to be sold to balance the books: Wilfried Bony, Joe Allen, Jonjo Shelvey, Scott Sinclair and Danny Graham, among others, have all been bought or developed, sold for a princely sum, and replaced on the cheap. But now, money is the one thing Swansea have loads of – a net profit of £29.5m this summer – especially after an American consortium acquired a 60% controlling stake in the club in June for a reported £110m. It is quality in depth they need and there are no guarantees that the replacements they have bought or will buy will be up to it.

Having sold four strikers, Swansea have at least bought one: the World Cup winner Fernando Llorente, who signed last week from Sevilla, and – despite a horrendous open-goal miss on his debut in a friendly against Rennes – he has (very) high hopes for the season ahead. “It is possible to win one of the cups. I would also like to get back into the national side. I know that I will need to play well for Swansea all season if I want to do that. I would like to return to play for Spain – it would be a very special thing for me.”

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Another Spanish forward is expected this week, too, with the imminent arrival of Borja Bastón from Atlético Madrid, after the two clubs agreed a £15m fee – a club record for Swansea. The 23-year-old stood out in La Liga last season, on loan at struggling Eibar. Blessed with a quick brain and quicker feet, he has the potential to go to the very top, and it is a surprise that Diego Simeone seems willing to let him go, and that nobody else besides Swansea has tabled an offer. Meanwhile, the Holland Under-21 centre-back Mike van der Hoorn (who has shown he is prone to a goal-costing gaffe) has been snaffled from Ajax and with Williams gone, he will be thrown in at the deep end alongside Federico Fernández.

With Llorente and Bastón over six feet, it seems apparent what tactics Guidolin has in mind. Stay competitive in midfield, get the ball wide to Jefferson Montero, Routledge, Dyer, Modou Barrow (who has looked sharp in pre-season) and get the ball into the box for Llorente or the instinctive Bastón to finish. Simple. It is likely that Guidolin will not play Llorente together with Bastón but instead revert to his favoured 4-2-3-1, although the addition of another striker, which is badly needed, would allow Swansea to deploy a two-pronged attack if necessary.

Yet should Swansea require a plan B, and they will at some point, giving the ball to Gylfi Sigurdsson and yelling “shoot” appears to be the only alternative at present. The Iceland midfielder got into double figures last season in the league, and crucially signed a new four-year contract this month but might have greatly benefited from having somebody like Joe Allen alongside him this season.

How Swansea may rue not matching Stoke City’s £13m offer for their former player. Instead, following a successful loan spell at the end of last season, Leroy Fer completed a permanent move from Queens Park Rangers to add much-needed energy and bite into a creative but lethargic central midfield, who knows what state Ki Sung-yueng is in after his summer of military service in South Korea.

The jury remains out on Guidolin. Appointed when Swansea were in the relegation zone in January, he helped the club finish 10 points clear of the drop and earned a two-year contract. When asked recently what his target for this season was, he replied: “Forty points. And if it is possible, to play well.” At least the Italian is under no illusions as to the size of the task. Swansea have had a bad week, but underneath it all there is the bones of a good football team. If Guidolin is to get anywhere near his target or repeat last season’s 12th-placed finish, a few more additions are essential to help replace Williams and co, and with such a small squad, Llorente, Bastón, Van der Hoorn and Fer have to hit the ground running, or Swansea will surely face the drop.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Michael Butler, for The Guardian on Wednesday 10th August 2016 13.00 Europe/London

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