After arriving at the helm in controversial fashion from MK Dons, new boss Russell Martin began his Swansea City tenure with a 2-1 defeat at Ewood Park.
Goals from Sam Gallagher and Ben Brereton either side of the interval placed the hosts in the driving seat, and while debutant Jamie Paterson struck gold to threaten a comeback, Rovers stood firm to chalk their first three points on the board.
Already, though, the paradigms and encapsulations of Martin’s precise style of play were showcased; Swansea maintained 72% possession – the second highest of any side across the EFL last weekend – and racked up a pass success rate of 81%.
However, Swansea’s stumbling block on the day was an inability to translate continuous ball possession into final third progression, or clear cut goalscoring opportunities. Martin’s men only took seven shots at goal, created one big chance, five total chances and came out with an xG of 1.07.
For context, Blackburn produced 21 shots, created six big chances, twelve chances overall and had an xG of 3.46.
It shows that there is plenty of room for improvement, yet there is also a clear philosophy being implemented and Swansea supporters will no doubt endear to it, given the footballing approach that the club has became intertwined with over the years.
Currently, Swansea find themselves in a rebuilding process and Martin will be looking to reconstruct the pieces as swiftly as possible. After suffering play-off heartbreak at the hands of Brentford in an epic Wembley contest back in June, disarray followed.
Head coach Steve Cooper departed amidst disillusion over the club’s trajectory, whereas talismanic Ghanaian International Andre Ayew – who scored 31 times in two years for the Jack Army – left on a free upon the expiration of his contract, with Swansea being unable to pay his substantial salary. He eventually joined Al-Saad in the Qatar Stars League.
Meanwhile, loanees Marc Guehi and Freddie Woodman both returned to Chelsea and Newcastle respectively, leaving a number of gaping holes in the team that have been tricky to address with notably limited funds.
They have been shrewd, mind you, bringing in former Bristol City duo Jamie Paterson and Liam Walsh in on free transfers, as well as Flynn Downes, Kyle Joseph and highly-regarded PSV Eindhoven forward Joel Piroe. These are all players with technical quality and can embed into Martin’s ethos.
Coming up, the Welsh outfit’s next challenge lies ahead at home to newly-relegated Sheffield United on Saturday evening, where they will be locking horns with the only side to have dominated the ball more than they did during the opening match week.
Along with that, the Blades enjoy pressing in numbers and creating an intense approach in all areas of the pitch, meaning that Martin’s possession-based modus operandi will be much more difficult to carry out.
As he continues to enforce his ideologies upon his new troops, what headaches does he have?
We take a look:
Is it time to hand Joel Piroe an opportunity?
Instead of opting with the new recruit, Martin deployed a strike-force of Jamal Lowe and youngster Liam Cullen, who, it must be said, struggled at times during the fixture.
Piroe did not even make the squad and the former Norwich City defender provided the scope on the mysterious absence, telling WalesOnline: “I had a good chat with Joel about it yesterday (Friday). I have to pick a squad and team that I feel is best suited to the game in hand.
“We don’t know each other so we’re still getting to know each other.
“He’ll be involved on Tuesday (against Reading). He’ll have an opportunity to take up his chance, as will a few others on Tuesday I’m sure, so it’s up to him to take it.”
The Reading match opened a huge window for Piroe to prove his worth in Swansea colours.
It turned out to be an opportunity he seized, with the youngster scoring his side’s third goal in a 3-0 rout in Berkshire.
Now, he will not doubt be itching to show he can brave the testing waters of frequent Championship football – but for that, though, there will be plentiful competition.
Lowe appears the bonafide first choice at this moment in time, while three young prospects in Piroe, Cullen and Kyle Joseph will all strive for a starting berth.
Having that many options will only be a positive headache for Martin to have, as he looks to unearth his best eleven and get Swansea rocking and rolling once again.
Where does Yan Dhanda fit in?
Another component of Swansea’s young, exciting contingent, this season has been billed by many as a monumental one for 22-year-old Yan Dhanda after taking time to acclimatise to life in the second-tier.
Since trading Merseyside for South Wales in June 2018, the former Liverpool academy star has showcased real glimpses of talent, married with the hallmarks of his extensive footballing education obtained during his time in the North West.
Encouragingly, Martin is a manager who has displayed his willingness to trust in younger players when he feels they are capable of making the step-up, which could pave the pathway for Dhanda to make good of his potential and truly kick on this term.
And, similarly to Piroe, Dhanda embraced the chance presented to him at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday evening. Awarded a starting spot in his favoured number 10 role, he notched two assists, as well as creating the most chances (5) and completing the most dribbles (2) for any player on the pitch.
He will hope that his showing has been enough to enforce his way into Martin’s plans on a consistent basis, but again, though, he will be faced with competition.
The signing of Paterson, who also operates in the number 10 role and, like Dhanda, enjoys drifting into pockets of space, creating and breaking lines, will present a real dilemma to Martin. Yet, with the ex-Derby County man’s experience at this level, he could pass on his know-how and Championship tuition to the young starlet.