Swansea City season preview 2015-16: Can they improve?
Each season pundits seem to ask the same question about Swansea City - can they better the previous campaign?
Even by Swansea's high standards - and by manager Garry Monk's own admission - that will be hard to do this time around.
A record Premier League finish (8th) and a record Premier League points total (56) shocked many, so Monk's team are no longer a surprise entity.
Still, with even more TV money coming into the Premier League in 2016-17, the priority this season is simply to stay in the league.
The decision of the Swansea board to put a managerial rookie in charge met widespread scepticism in football circles. But now, pundits such as Mark Lawrenson - who'd predicted relegation for the Swans - have been made to eat their words.
Garry Monk's first full season as boss was spectacular. An opening day win at Old Trafford set the tone for the campaign ahead and later Manchester United would be beaten for a second time - a feat repeated in the home and away games against Arsenal, a 'double-double' that only two teams had previously achieved in the Premier League.
This is the club's fifth season in the league, so 'giant killings' haven't been too hard to come by at the Liberty Stadium. It's for that reason that Monk took as much pride in the scrappy wins against the likes of Burnley and Hull as he did against the top teams.
There's no doubt the 2014-15 campaign saw a definite steel in addition to the well-known finesse of the Welsh side. The turning point was the 5-0 thrashing at home to Chelsea in January, a defeat which prompted Monk to adopt a more defensive diamond formation against some of the bigger teams.
Those tactics ultimately resulted in more points, something made all the more impressive when you consider the January sale of prolific goalscorer Wilfried Bony to Manchester City.
Monk's achievements last season made him a realistic contender for the Premier League's Manager of the Year award and, inevitably, being linked to jobs elsewhere.
A key achievement for Swansea in pre-season (at the time of writing) has been keeping hold of their star players, so there's a lot to suggest they will pick up where they left off in the last campaign.
It's not an easy start away to champions Chelsea and then Manchester United at home later in August, but maybe it'll be good for them to get those fixtures out the way.
It'll be interesting to see how some of Monk's new recruits will perform, the most high-profile of these is the Ghana captain Andre Ayew.
"He is not going to be a one-player saviour for the team or anything like that," insists Monk, but it's fair to say that the club are putting a lot of faith in their star signing from Marseille.
It's certainly a move that raised a few eyebrows and after losing the goals of Bony to Manchester City last season, Monk will hope Ayew can chip in with his fair share.
Up front, Bafetimbi Gomis found good form towards the end of the last campaign and providing he is not tempted by a move elsewhere, he will be an important player.
Midfield continues to be strong area for the Swans with Ki Sung-Yeung, Jonjo Shelvey and Gylfi Sigurdsson providing firepower in an attack that also has the exciting Ecuador winger Jefferson Montero.
Jack Cork has impressed in a holding role since joining from Southampton in January and that could mean club stalwart Leon Britton could be on his way, with reports suggesting he could move to the MLS.
If Swansea are to have success this season, they will have to be defensively strong. Captain Ashley Williams has a huge season ahead as he also tries to help Wales reach Euro 2016 and goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski will want a repeat of his good form last season.
|Eder (£5m from Braga)||Rory Donnelly (free to Gillingham)|
|Andre Ayew (free from Marseille)||Ashley Richards (£500,000 to Fulham)|
|Franck Tabanou (undisclosed from St Etienne)||David Cornell (free to Oldham)|
|Kristoffer Nordfeldt (undisclosed from Heerenveen)|
A big season for...
Amazing to think that, at the age of 23, this will be Jonjo Shelvey's ninth season as a professional. Despite being a player of such natural talent, Monk has openly talked of his frustration at his lack of application at times and also his tendency to pick up careless bookings.
The word from the Swansea camp is that Shelvey has been working on his fitness, so maybe this will be the season he finally fulfils his potential.
Another player looking for another impressive campaign is goalkeeper Fabianki. This season he will be reunited with highly-rated coach Tony Roberts, who worked with the Polish international at Arsenal
What the bookies think
Title - 3000/1
Relegation - 8/1
Manager sacking - 25/1 next manager to leave
Odds supplied by William Hill
There's no reason to suggest Swansea will go backwards this season but with huge financial rewards on offer to avoid relegation, the Premier League is arguably the most competitive it has ever been.
Premier League: 10th. FA Cup: Fifth round.
Garry Monk: "In terms of the season coming up I think this will be the hardest season the Premier League has ever seen because of the TV money that will kick-in - simple as that.
"Owners, management and the fans will all know that, so the pressure and the intensity of the games will be higher than ever before.
"We're seeing it now, teams are spending a lot of money on the players and their squads to make sure they can compete and stay in this league to make sure that they are in the position to earn that money, and that's what will make every game so crucial."
Former Wales striker and BBC Wales pundit Iwan Roberts: "The heart of the team, the two central defenders are always strong. In midfield they've got plenty of options and are always strong.
"Last year they lost Wilfried Bony but Bafetimbi Gomis came in and to be fair scored some important goals - goals that won the club some important points.
"Can he step up to the mark again? I think that's the big question for me."