Swansea are deserved evens favourites to finish the season higher than compatriots Cardiff and Premier League regulars Stoke City, but the Potteries club may be the value at 19/10 if they can adapt quickly to new boss Mark Hughes’ methods.
The former Manchester City and Blackburn chief will be relieved to be back in top flight management after his calamitous spell at QPR, but Hughes’ previous form vindicates Peter Coates’ decision to bring him in following Tony Pulis’ May departure.
Aside from that nightmare at Loftus Road and an ill-fated stint at Man City, Hughes has impressed in the Premier League, with multiple top half finishes at Blackburn Rovers and some shrewd business in the transfer market – most notably when picking up Moussa Dembele for £5 million at Fulham.
Transfer progress has been slow at Stoke this summer, with only young defenders Erik Pieters and Marc Muniesa coming in from PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona respectively, but with big, physical presences Ryan Shawcross, Steven N’Zonzi and Jonathan Walters sure to suit the new manager’s combative style, Hughes will expect his team to push for 10th place or better this season.
A disappointing 2012/2013 campaign saw Stoke eventually finish in 13th place – just four points behind the Swans in 9th – and while they did post their worst points score since entering the division five years ago, Hughes can be confident that he has the personnel to improve the club’s fortunes.
Michael Laudrup’s Capital One Cup heroes have been joined at the Liberty Stadium by last year’s Eredivisie top scorer Wilfried Bony and former Liverpool bruiser John Joe Shelvey, but at 46 points they were one down on Brendan Rodger’s sole top flight season at Swansea and could find teams tougher to break down this year, particularly away from home.
Cardiff boss Malky McKay’s capture of potentially brilliant centre-back Steven Caulker from Tottenham Hotspur is one of the transfer coups of the summer, but with a tough opening weekend fixture at West Ham followed by home ties with Man City and Everton the Glaswegian will be hoping the Bluebirds survival boat isn’t sunk before it gets out of port and are unappealing at 11/4 to top this trio.