Talking tactics | Preston North End v Swansea City
Football stats experts WhoScored identify loan midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White as a key man in Swansea City's Championship opener against Preston North End at Deepdale on Saturday (3pm).
A new season is upon us. It feels like only yesterday that the Championship campaign drew to a close, yet we're around 24 hours away from 2020-21 kicking off as Swansea City aim to improve upon their playoff semi-final exit at the hands of Brentford.
First up for the Swans is a testing trip to Preston, who have been fairly solid in pre-season. Indeed, Alex Neil's team have lost just the once in pre-season, that coming at Goodison Park as they fell to a 2-0 defeat at Premier League side Everton.
However, their home form towards the end of last season is what ultimately cost Preston a play-off spot as they won just one of their remaining five matches at Deepdale. That said, their home form was impressive to say the least, with Preston picking up 40 of their 66 points in front of their fans, so Saturday's clash will be no walk in the park for Cooper's men.
Yet Swansea have a solid record in their league meetings with Preston. The Swans are unbeaten in five of the last six clashes between the pair, winning three of those. They have also secured credible points on their last two visits to Deepdale, so they know what it takes to come away with a result.
Swansea boasted one of the best away records in the regular 2019-20 Championship season having picked up 35 points on the road last term - only Leeds and West Brom (both 43) earned more on their travels. What's more, only Sheffield Wednesday (39) and Leeds (37) scored more away goals than Swansea (36) in England's second tier last term and the goalscoring exploits on their travels should boost morale coming into the season opener.
And the weekend's clash in Lancashire will likely see Morgan Gibbs-White make his league debut for Swansea. The 20-year-old moved to the Liberty last month on a season-long loan and he'll be looking to make an immediate impact in the middle of the park against Preston.
While the youngster was unable to fire Swansea into the next round of the Carabao Cup last weekend, Gibbs-White has the Premier League and European experience to become a viable asset for Cooper's team this season.
As Swansea look to build on their impressive away goal haul from 2019-20, Gibbs-White has the quality to pry apart the Preston backline. He has developed statistically-calculated WhoScored.com strengths of 'through balls' and 'key passes' and these traits to his game bode well ahead of the meeting with the Lilywhites.
However, Gibbs-White will have his work cut out if he is to boss the midfield at Preston. Key man Ben Pearson is expected to anchor the midfield in Neil's favoured 4-2-3-1 as the 25-year-old looks to keep the Swansea offensive at bay. While Pearson's approach to protecting the defence can land him in hot water, he is a key player for a side that conceded just 54 league goals last season - one of the better returns in the Championship.
Gibbs-White, though, has crucial top-flight experience that will serve him in good stead in the Championship. A host of young players have dropped down a division to gain regular game time, with Rhian Brewster and Conor Gallagher both excelling under Cooper last season, and the Wolves loanee will hope to follow in their footsteps, starting with the visit to Preston.