Like Reading from the previous preview, I have a fond place in my heart for Swansea after last season. They were a great surprise, they played the sort of attractive passing football that made them more interesting to watch than the typical gritty mid-table success, and they brought in my new favorite non-Arsenal Premier League player in Gylfi Sigurdsson. Oh yeah, there was a ton of fantasy value to be had in the form of the regularly spectacular Michael Vorm, Angel Rangel, Scott Sinclair, Danny Graham, and Gylfi. Just as similar to my Reading good feelings, I am trying to be wary in my season preview that I don't confuse what I'd LIKE to happen with what is likely to happen.
There was a reason that everyone was surprised by Swansea's performance last season. There were a few strong players playing in the right system with the right coach. With some of those key players - Sigurdsson for sure and seemingly Sinclair and Joe Allen - leaving with unproven replacements and a new manager having to make it all work, even treading water with a mid-table finish seems like it would entail a high degree of difficulty. I hope that Michael Laudrup and the replacements for the departed and likely to depart players are up to the challenge but it is certainly going to be hard to bet on early, especially now that so many of the players have prices that reflect their unexpected success last season.
Let's break down this season's edition of the Swans and see how fantasy managers should react as they prepare for the beginning of the season.
Quick Recap of Last Season: As mentioned in the intro, Swansea were a great story finishing 11th overall after being a pre-season favorite to go right back down. Swansea were especially effective at home while not being very impressive on the road. By any measure this was more than even the most passionate Swans supporter could have expected.
What Changed: Now to the downside, with unexpected success on a tight budget comes a great deal of attention from bigger, richer clubs directed at your players and the manager. Gylfi Sigurdsson has already gone after a great half season loan with Michu the most obvious replacement brought in. Brandon Rodgers has also departed for the deeper pockets of Anfield and the Fenway Sports Group. Joe Allen seems likely to follow Rodgers to Liverpool with Mark Davies targeted from Bolton as his likely replacement. Scott Sinclair appears to be well on his way to moving to Manchester City's bench to take over the seat that Adam Johnson has been warming for the last few seasons with no obvious replacement yet identified. Jonathan de Guzman has also arrived to bring another option in attacking midfield. Exactly how he'll be deployed (as far as I can tell he generally plays higher up the field than Allen but plays centrally so isn't an obvious replacement for Sinclair). That's a lot of change and a lot of question marks.
Real World Projection: As much as I'd like to talk myself into all of the off-season moves working out, it seems likely to me that Swansea will drop down a tier and replace QPR in the group of teams fighting to stay out of the drop zone. I think they have enough talent to narrowly avoid that fate but it certainly won't be as easy as it was last season. I'll guess 16th for the Swans in 2012-13.
Fantasy Production: In their exceptional 2011-12 season, the Swans produced 2572 fantasy points in the Yahoo scoring system, about 25% more than QPR who narrowly avoided relegation. Michael Vorm was the big star leading the way with 258 points but Swansea put 6 players over the 200 mark (compared to 1 for QPR) including one (Sigurdsson) who was on a 400+ point pace over the second half of the season. The nice thing about the Swans was that Rodgers kept his line-up very consistent with 10 players garnering 2127 of Swansea's 2572 points (that's more than the entire QPR squad). It remains to be seen if Laudrup will be as consistent.
Fantasy Gold: Michael Vorm was among the very best at his position last season - beyond that Danny Graham, Angel Rangel, and Scott Sinclair were very good but not quite great. The downside, which we'll address below, is that prices have gone up in most cases.
- Michu - He scored 15 goals in Spain last season and resembles Gylfi in stature (over 6' tall). He may not produce as much in the way of "phantom points" as Gylfi did but even if he makes up 75% of the Icelander's production, he'll be a great bargain.
- Jonathan de Guzman - It isn't clear how he fits in to the line-up picture since I haven't seen Swansea in pre-season but his reputation is as both an attacking midfielder and a very strong set piece-taker. With the cost of a new player, this represents some solid potential upside.
- Michael Vorm - With a potential dip in results, Vorm is very much vulnerable to a dip in production (wins turning to draws, draws turning to losses, and more goals allowed) which could hurt a lot given his much higher price to start the season. For Vorm to even break even on value at his current price just about everything will have to work out with Swansea's summer makeover. The only thing Vorm has going for him is the huge volume of saves he makes.
- Angel Rangel - Rangel is similarly at risk given the potential to drop some clean sheet points on a weaker team. Like Vorm, the mitigating factor is that Rangel gets a solid number of phantom points in addition to clean sheet points.
- Chico - With Steven Caulker headed back to Spurs after his loan last season, Chico has a chance to have some serious upside as the presumptive replacement starter at a new player's cost. He scored on his pre-season debut against MLS competition (San Jose) but I wouldn't expect him to do more of that as he only has 6 goals in over 120 matches for his various clubs across a couple of divisions. He is probably a solid guy to consider on a spot starting basis when Swansea have a good home match-up early in the season.
- Mark Davies (provisional) - If he is the Joe Allen replacement then he has a chance at some solid upside in a better team. Joe Allen, who I'll grant you is a better player, threw off about 150% of Davies' fantasy points last season. If Davies plays more regularly and is about 80% of the player Allen was last season then he has a chance to be a solid bargain in the mid-6s.
First Five Weeks: @QPR, WHU, Sunderland, @Aston Villa, Everton - Not a bad early schedule at all. It won't be a cake walk by any stretch but there's not a Top 6 team in the bunch and three of the five are at home where Swansea were much better. Definitely a good time to give Michu an extended run and it wouldn't be unreasonable to have an additional player or two (de Guzman? Chico? Davies?) if you need some inexpensive fillers who could get you some points.