Last season's first meeting with Watford marked the beginning of the end for then-manager Garry Monk. A miserable 1-0 defeat derailed Swansea's fast start and precipitated a plunge towards the bottom of the table which eventually cost Monk his job. With Swansea having the exact opposite start this season -- a cluster of defeats rather than wins -- perhaps this fixture can provoke positive changes instead.
Bob Bradley acquitted himself well in his first test as a Premier League manager during last Saturday's 3-2 defeat to Arsenal. His team struggled to keep the ball out of their own net, but more than doubled their own average goal output. Bradley ought to tighten up Swansea's defence and few sides will match Arsenal's talent, but the five goal splurge suggests that matches involving Swansea are about to become a lot more entertaining.
That's probably good news for neutrals ahead of this Saturday's tilt. Watford grounded out perhaps the dullest 1-0 win of the season so far against Middlesbrough last Sunday, while Swansea's play this season had been characterised by too much caution and too little invention. Both of last season's matches between the sides ended 1-0 with a victory apiece. Whichever side wins on Saturday will likely need to score more than once to do so.
Watford are scoring more goals per game (1.6) and conceding more (1.6) than the league average (1.4 for both). Swansea's defence is also conceding above the average (1.9), and while the side is only averaging 1 goal per game, Bradley's influence suggests that figure should shoot up. Before the American took over, the side were among the league's lowest scorers with 0.86 goals-per-game -- he has already improved Swansea's goal output by 33% in just a single match.
His secret has been getting back to the basics. Swansea's defence was frequently appalling against Arsenal, and the midfield looked like they might need a couple more weeks to adjust to the more direct style Bradley is set on. However, in attack the changes were immediate and positive.
Swansea used the pace of winger Mo Barrow as their primary creative outlet, and flooded the box with targets for him to aim for. It is hardly revolutionary stuff -- purists might even consider it a regression of sorts -- but it is perhaps the first time since Swansea joined the top flight that the focus has been so centered on scoring.
Multiple players were getting chances. Aside from goal scorers Gylfi Sigurdsson and Borja Baston, Barrow got a rare header, Leroy Fer had four attempts, and even three of the back four got shots away. It seems Bradley appreciates that at its heart, football is still a game based on scoring rather than stopping goals.
This Saturday he should have more options for his rejuvenated attack, with Fernando Llorente likely to be available following injury and Borja likely to be fit enough to play from the start. Swansea did well enough last week, with midfielder Sigurdsson playing up front for the first hour. With two dedicated strikers available, perhaps some of the chances which were wasted last Saturday will be converted this time around.
Scoring is not just the key the winning games, it is the key to Bradley winning over the Swans faithful. Goals more often than not turn into points in the standings, but an entertaining loss like the one last Saturday in which it felt as though Swansea could score at any moment will always be preferable to a cautious defeat.
The club have for so long been a possession-oriented side playing a lone striker that scoring seemed in danger of becoming just another sacrifice for the sake of style, gone the same way as robust tackling, headers and breaking a sweat. After last season's capitulation under Monk robbed the team of its swagger, Swansea became a squad of aesthetes suddenly forced to play dirty.
Francesco Guidolin was brought in and did an excellent job of saving the club from relegation, but struggled to inspire a thirst for goals in his players. Bradley seems to have correctly prioritised that single shortcoming. Swansea are not a strong defensive team. The back four lack authority and the team has no clear destroyer among a midfield full of lightweight passers. They will improve by playing better collectively, but up front the side is surprisingly full of sharpness.
Llorente, Borja, Sigurdsson, Fer, Barrow and Montero are all first rate weapons and geared to play the way Bradley sees the game -- quickly, directly and efficiently. By concentrating on Swansea's hidden strengths -- for no team with such a dangerous attacking unit should average less than a goal per game -- Bradley is giving Swansea their best chance of recovery. And if the goals are going in, the rest will follow.