It is not often that a managerial change halfway through the season works out for a team. It is therefore even less likely to work if a club relieves two managers of their duties. A lot of the time, it is a pre-requisite for relegation, however, Swansea have somehow made a double switch work.
Francesco Guidolin and then Bob Bradley came and went, with results not good enough for the Welsh club. They were staring relegation full on in the face at the beginning of January when Paul Clement was instilled as manager.
This came as a shock to many, with his time as an assistant manager at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich not the CV that the Swans fans would have wanted, after all, being an assistant manager is not quite the same as being the manager.
However, the Englishman has proved his critics wrong, and then some. While Swansea do find themselves back in the relegation zone, Clement has given the Welsh side every chance of maintaining their Premier League status.
But what has Clement changed? Well, it is actually a lot more simple than you might think.
Guidolin was a continued advocate of the Swansea style itself, which saw his side pass the ball around as fluidly as possible in an attempt to keep the ball. However, the opposition decided to press Swansea high up, forcing them to go back to the goalkeeper before cutting off his options, forcing him to kick long, conceding possession.
Under Bradley, well, there didn’t seem to be much of a plan at all really. It was the equivalent of turning up for your British citizenship exam having been in a foreign country all your life, and only researching David Beckham’s haircuts.
Clement on the other hand has come in and acted much more like an old style coach. First of all, the players seem far happier playing under him. Clement is all Swansea at the moment, and will probably be granted the freedom of the city if he can keep Swansea up, and his approach has instilled a lot of passion back into the side.
After all, he had not been with the Swans long before he started popping celebrations like this:
— liga123.id (@SuporterFC) 7 March 2017
Tactically, the manager has reverted back to a far more archaic, but roundly effective way of playing. With non-English centre-halves more akin ballplayers now, managers are sometimes willing to sacrifice aerial ability and presence for a defender that is good on the ball.
This plays into Clement’s hands, as he has been able to utilise Swansea’s pace on the wings to attack the opposition’s full-backs. If they are able to beat the wing-back, or given any chance to cross, the wide-men have the massive figure of Fernando Llorente to aim for.
The 6 foot 4 inch striker has been outstanding this term, scoring 11 goals in an attempt to keep Swansea alive, including a vital double in their dramatic 3-2 win over Burnley. Prior to this, Swansea have not really had a classic centre-forward that can hold-up play and be a target in the box since Wilfried Bony left in 2015.
Swansea’s dependence of Llorente bringing his scoring boots is not ideal, but, if it gets them out of danger, then there will be no Swans’ fans that are complaining.
Defensively, it seems that Clement prefers to incorporate the offside trap into his team’s tactics. Of course, that is not the safest plan, with one too many offside traps in the history of football resulting in an embarrassing move that allows the striker to walk past the line of defenders, going one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
However, a change in the defensive system was vital, as Swansea had conceded 45 goals after just 20 games, the worst record in the league as of the day after Paul Clement took over as manager.
This was largely due to the ‘I don’t know what I’m doing style of Bob Bradley though’:
— Mash of the Day ⚽ (@MashOfTheDayUK) 25 January 2017
In the 10 games since then, Swansea have conceded 21 goals. While it is only a slight improvement, it is still an improvement, one which will be welcomed by the fans and management.
In conjunction with both of these tactical changes is the importance of two of Swansea’s players.
Martin Olsson, brought in from Norwich City this January has been an absolute revelation at left-back. His pace, direct running and attacking and defensive ability have added a solid backbone to Swansea’s left-flank, and he looks to have been a very astute purchase.
Along with the new boy is the continued success of Swansea’s best ever player. Gylfi Sigurdsson has always been a man that the Swansea fans are terrified of losing, but they know it is inevitable. The Icelandic international has been touted by most as a player that should be in the top half of the table, something that Swans’ fans will agree with.
Under Clement, he has continued with his scoring ability to go with his incredible vision and creativity, which has allowed him to score eight goals and pick up 11 assists. He seems to have a far more free role in the side, with the shackles of a definite position thrown off.
Gylfi Sigurdsson puts the Swans back in front… Superb finish. pic.twitter.com/TZjiD61bka
— Swansea City (@swanseaVines) 1 February 2017
For Clement, the changes have not been overly ground-breaking. He has not followed in Pep Guardiola’s footsteps and ostracised a player, or copied Antonio Conte’s three at the back formation. Instead, he has simply allowed Swansea to revert back to a far simpler method of attacking, while he continues to tinker with the club’s defence.
The Swans are not a massive club, and so their troubles were largely foreseeable. They are continuing to build year on year though, and, while they have lost top players in the past, they are able to consistently rebuild and maintain their Premier League status.
This year, it seemed as though this cycle was coming to an end. However, Clement’s installation has given the Swans new life, and, while there is still a very long and arduous road ahead of them, you wouldn’t bet against Paul Clement turning water into wine this season.