The international fortnight is usually a chance for club sides to take a breather and recover but for Swansea City this break has been the mini pre-season Russell Martin never had.
Martin had big ambitions when he took over from Steve Cooper in the summer but with less than a week between his appointment and the start of the season, he didn’t have any time to settle in.
He had to get to know his squad, introduce a totally different style of play and try to fashion results, all at the same time. Between taking over on August 1 and Swansea’s last match against Preston, Martin averaged a game every four days, meaning he had not received the luxury of a full week’s preparation until this international break.
It has been like watching a circus performer spin plates and juggle simultaneously while motorcycling across a tightrope.
Martin would have known before joining Swansea that he was walking into a hurricane and fans were well aware that patience would be required for this kind of overhaul with no proper pre-season. During the opening weeks of the season any fans who did not appreciate the scale of the challenge facing Martin have been shown exactly how audacious this project really is.
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Martin has encouraged his players to convert entirely to his way of thinking and the culture change has undoubtedly been challenging.
They now have some of the best possession stats in the entire Football League but are yet to work out how to use that possession effectively, with some of the worst chance creation figures in the Championship. The Swans also have issues at the back. Only Reading and Blackpool have allowed more shots on their own goals than Swansea so far.
The Swans have won just one of their first five Championship games and the last time Swansea picked up fewer points from their first five league games was a quarter of a century ago, at the start of the 1996-97 season. If you’re looking for a positive omen, Jan Mølby’s side managed to turn it around that year and eventually made it to the play-off final, where they were denied promotion in cruel fashion.
There’s no point sugar-coating it, the opening weeks of the season were every bit as tough as Swansea fans expected them to be. The disappointing nature of their last defeat away to Preston showed how much work Martin has ahead of him if he is to fulfill his vision for this team.
The international break traditionally has a disruptive influence on Swansea’s form but its arrival was warmly welcomed this time around and hopefully it will have provided Martin with his best opportunity to work with the players.
The past two weeks have given the squad a chance to rest after a busy start to the campaign which is always very important. It also enabled the Swans to bring in some fresh faces to strengthen the team and while it was disappointing to lose one or two favourites on the final day of the transfer window, the Swans also managed to add the likes of Michael Obafemi, Olivier Ntcham and Rhys Williams, all of whom should make a difference to this side.
But arguably most importantly it has given Martin time to properly assess his squad on the training ground.
With barely any of his senior players away on international duty and several players rejoining the group after suffering injuries or having to recuperate following Covid-19 diagnoses, he had the rare luxury of a near-full squad over the international break too.
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In a frantic league like the Championship, where the fixture list can feel relentless, managers don’t get too many chances to spend this kind of time with their squad during the season. After getting so little time to work closely with the players in the summer, this fortnight should have been invaluable for Martin.
During his mid-week press conference he said: “It’s been really nice to have a block of time to work with the players and get more ideas across and more clarity in what we’re doing.”
Nobody should expect all the issues to suddenly disappear after two weeks away but hopefully we will see signs of progression in upcoming games.
The next three matches also present the team with an opportunity to pick up points. Today’s opponents Hull, so often a bogey team for Swansea over the years, have not scored since the opening day of the season although they picked up a commendable 0-0 draw against Bournemouth in their last game.
On Wednesday they will face Millwall, whose only victory this season was an unconvincing last- minute win against struggling 10-man Blackpool. The Swans then travel to Luton next week, where Nathan Jones’ team has had a mixed start to the campaign.
As much as fans insist on patience and feel the emphasis is on improving performances at the moment, results are still important even at this early stage. The Swans need to take points off teams like Hull, Millwall and Luton to avoid getting dragged towards the bottom end of the table.
Eight of the 10 teams waiting to face Swansea after Millwall are currently in the top half of the table so there’s a tricky run on the horizon and Swansea need to make sure they have a few extra points on the board ahead of that two-month slog in order to keep the pressure off Martin and his players.
But after spending valuable time on the training ground, getting his message across to the squad, hopefully we can see further progression over the coming games and maybe even the odd confidence-boosting win.
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