Ash raring to go for new season
Ashley Williams insists that the Swans are ready to push on once again this season - but warns they face their toughest campaign to date.
Michael Laudrup's men kick-off their third season in the Barclays Premier League as they welcome Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium this afternoon.
The Swans enjoyed a successful pre-season campaign, racking up seven wins before starting their European adventure with a 4-0 aggregate win over Swedish side Malmo.
But with the Europa League group stages on the horizon, attention now turns to the start of the Premier League as the reigning champions arrive in SA1.
And Williams believes he and his team-mates are heading into the new season full of confidence.
"I really enjoyed coming back for pre-season," he said. "We scored a lot of goals, the players were really positive and the new lads fitted in well straight away.
"But it's important to handle the expectations and not get carried away. We just want to stay in the Premier League and build on what we have achieved so far.
"We are certainly going about it the right way, doing things quietly, and that's the best way in my opinion.
"Even though we have improved every season, I think this year will be the hardest we will have faced in the top flight so far."
It has been another summer of change at the Liberty Stadium, with Michael Laudrup's first-team squad experiencing a number of comings and goings.
But it wasn't just on the field changes that made the players take notice.
Following the summer break, Laudrup's squad returned to train at the brand-new training complex at Landore, situated within walking distance of the Liberty Stadium.
And Williams believes the new facility is highly beneficial as the club aims for stability amidst the backdrop of billions that the Premier League has to offer.
"We have had to learn very quickly here," he said. "On the pitch we have probably moved a lot faster than we have off it, but the new training ground was the final piece of the jigsaw.
"It was a massive boost for everyone because it brings all the staff and players together. We've got a lovely gym there as well as a couple of great chefs, and all in all it makes you feel a lot better about yourself and I know that all the players are pleased with the outcome.
"We've got a great stadium and a great team, so in terms of our on the field structure we have got it spot on at the moment.
"But with the infrastructure we now have, I'm sure we'll be able to attract better players and push on even more."
The players in question have so far made a good contribution in SA1.
Jonjo Shelvey has impressed since arriving from Liverpool, while club-record signing Wilfried Bony has struck up an instant partnership with last season's top scorer Michu.
The trio of Jordi Amat, Jose Canas and Alejandro Pozuelo took the club's Spanish contingent up to seven - with Amat lining up alongside Williams for the first leg clash against Malmo in the Europa League.
And the former Stockport man revealed his bilingual streak as he bids to lead by example after taking over the captain's armband from Garry Monk earlier this summer.
"Jordi is asking a lot of questions which is good," he said. "He is only young, but he has played top-flight football before. He reads the game very well and he is not bad on the ball either, which is important given the way we play.
"It always takes a bit of time for centre-back partnerships to bed down, but we are speaking Spanish just to make it a little bit easier for him.
"But I haven't seen this sort of competition before at Swansea. There are a lot of players looking for places, but I'm sure we're going to need them as the season goes on.
"That can only push the players who are starting and make for good sessions every day in training, which will make us a sharper team come match day."
Williams himself was ever-present for the Swans last season, making a total of 49 appearances for club and country in what was a memorable campaign.
As well as a ninth-placed finish in the Premier League, the Wales skipper also got his hands on a first piece of domestic silverware as the club lifted the Capital One Cup at Wembley.
That triumph meant a first foray into Europe for Swansea in 22 years as the club bids to reach new heights on a global scale.
"Last season was a long, demanding campaign, which took a lot out of the boys," said Williams. "So it is great to get away from it all and just relax your body and mind.
"I had around two week off before I was back in the gym to ensure I was ready for the demands of pre-season.
"Any pre-season is important, but maybe this year it was even more important. If we can make it through to the group stages of the Europa League then there will be a lot more games on the fixture list.
"As a player, you always want to do well in every competition, and it's very important for the club to do well and put ourselves on the map that little bit more."
And it's fair to say that the Swans have their fair share of global admirers.
Since arriving in the Premier League just over two years ago, the world's media have swooned over the club's success both on and off the field.
But perhaps today will be another marker of how far the club has come, playing host to arguably the most well known brand in football in this little corner of south Wales.
And Williams sent out a defiant message as a new chapter gets underway this afternoon.
"It's such an exciting time to be a Swansea fan," he said. "Everyone has enjoyed the massive success the club has tasted recently, and now we are looking forward to another exciting adventure.
"Expectations may have been surpassed, but we can't live on that success. We have to start again and put in the hard work - and that hard work starts now."