Life was good in 2011-12 for Swansea City after joining the Premier League via promotion. The Welsh outfit under then manager Brendan Rodgers finished 11th in the table, well clear of the relegation battle and managing to play a fairly entertaining brand of football for the entire season.
It was refreshing to see a promoted side not only compete successfully, but with a style that didn't involve dragging the game down in a desperate attempt to farm points. Rodgers and his team deserved a great deal of credit for their accomplishments and there was a certain level of excitement and optimism about what the Swans would offer in 2012-13.
Then the summer of 2012 happened. Rodgers and midfieder Joe Allen were snapped up by Liverpool and chairman Huw Jenkins was forced to find a new leader for his club. In comes former Danish footballer Michael Laudrup, who played for the likes of Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid during his career, while also amassing over 100 caps for Denmark.
Laudrup began coaching in 2000 as an assistant for the Danish National Team before taking over at Brøndby in 2002. He led Brøndby to the Danish Cup in his first season and a league/cup double in 2005. He moved to Getafe in 2007, leading the Azulones to the Copa del Rey final before resigning the next year. He took over at Spartak Moscow but didn't last the season before returning to Spain in 2010 and helping Mallorca survive financial struggles and avoid relegation.
Laudrup's teams have a history of positive, attacking play that should appeal to fans of the Swans under Rodgers, but just how much success he'll be able to have will have a lot to do with the team is able to field.
The transfer of midfield passing machine Joe Allen to Liverpool brought a nice influx of funds in to the club, but how well the reinforcements brought in to replace Allen fit in with the Swans will determine their success. Attacking midfielder Michu, who Swansea signed for £2m from Rayo Vallecano could be a huge pick-up for Laudrup. If they can hold on to Scott Sinclair, he could pair nicely with Michu and Danny Graham (who led the team with 12 goals last season) in the attack. Jonathan de Guzman also joins the Swans on a one-year loan from Villareal. The 24-year Dutch-Canadian attacking mid will help boost the Swans attack on free kicks and corners.
Defender Jose Maneul Flores, also called Chico, joined from Genoa and should bolster the defense in front of goalkeeper Michel Vorm, who was a huge part of Swansea's success last year.
Fortunately for the Swans there are several sides in the Premier League that should be much worse than them. That's not to say they will be bad, but with the coaching change and the loss of a key player, you can never be certain how a team will react. Luckily for the Welsh side, there should be enough bottom feeders to keep them safely out of the relegation zone. If they are able to match some of their form for last season, they could even move up a little higher.
If Michu, Flores and de Guzman failt to adjust quickly to the Premier League, there could be trouble, but there's still time for Laudrup to bring in some more players. The Swans have been linked with winger Gabriel Obertan and striker Italy Shechter, who despite being named Italy, is from Israel, so it's safe to say they might not be done in the transfer market.
Last year: 11th; 12W 11D 15L.
This year: 16th, nothing flashy but probably safe
Key player(s): Scott Sinclair and Michel Vorm. Sinclair, assuming he doesn't end up transferred, will be expected to help fill the gap in creativity left by Allen's departure, even if he plays a different position. How well he accomplishes that goal and how well he integrates with new faces Michu and de Guzman will go a long way in determining how successful the Swans are this year.
Meanwhile at the back, Vorm will need to be the super-keeper again this year and help anchor a defense that will inevitably be tested. Vorm's form will go a long way towards helping keep the Swans out of the relegation fight and helping them earn another year in the top flight.