Can Bob Bradley Save Swansea's Season?
Swansea City -- who have finished no worse than 12th in the Premier League since their promotion for the 2011-2012 campaign -- surprisingly got off to a dreadful start this season, and after eight games, they find themselves in the relegation zone. Francesco Guidolin was the man in charge to open the season for the Swans, but after starting off with only four points -- one win and one draw -- in the team's first seven English Premier League matches, he was replaced by former United States Men's National Team manager and New Jersey native Bob Bradley.
Bradley is the first American to manage in the Premier League, which marks a massive accomplishment for American soccer, but now the question becomes whether or not he can succeed. His campaign as Swansea manager began with a 3-2 loss in an extremely difficult fixture away to Arsenal on Saturday, but the good news is that Bradley has plenty more fixtures ahead in his quest to save Swansea's season.
Here are some factors that are working in favor of Bob Bradley.
In Swansea's first eight league games, they have already played Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. All of these teams currently rank in the top five in the league standings, so Swansea City can take solace in the fact that not many teams would be capable of getting more than a couple of points from these fixtures.
Because the Premier League has a perfectly balanced schedule (everyone places each other twice -- once home, once away) this means that the Swans' schedule is going to get much easier going forward. They have yet to play bottom feeders such as Sunderland, Stoke City and Middlesbrough. Without even seeing much improvement on the field, the schedule alone should be enough to help Swansea move up the table.
Swansea Have Been Unlucky
Some more good news for Bradley is that Swansea are actually playing better than their record would indicate. Swansea next to last based on points, but they rank much better than this in several key categories.
|Shots Per Game||11th|
|Possession Per Game||13th|
|Shots Conceded Per Game||17th|
Swansea are currently 13th in the league in possession (48.1%), 11th in shots taken per game (12.3) and 17th in the league in shots conceded per game (16.8).
There Are Some Bad Teams in the EPL
Sure, these are not great rankings, but being mediocre is better than being the second-worst team in the league. Swansea's rankings in these key categories tell us that they should be due for some better fortune down the line. Even with a difficult early-season schedule, Swansea have been playing better than their spot in the standings would indicate, which means that Bradley may not even have to make drastic changes to see better results.
If Swansea's sole goal is simply to avoid relegation, then Bradley's job should be fairly easy this year since the bottom of the league seems to be quite poor.
Sunderland are an absolute mess early on this season, and they have yet to even win a league game despite not having nearly as difficult of a schedule as Swansea. Hull City got off to a fast start this season -- and they even defeated Swansea -- but they have played poorly over the past few weeks. They have lost their last three games by a combined score of 13-2 (including a 6-1 defeat to mighty Bournemouth), and they definitely seem like a prime candidate for relegation.
Burnley and Middlesbrough are within three points of Swansea, and neither of them has looked very convincing so far this season. Both teams have struggled to score goals (combined 13 goals scored this season), and they both rank in the bottom two in shots per game and shots on target per game. It seems as though scoring could be a problem for these teams all season long, and if that is the case, it is going to be hard for them to stay up.
Even teams that have been in the Premier League for a long time, like West Ham and Stoke, could very easily be passed by Swansea. Both of these teams have a worse goal differential than Swansea, and they are both within three points of the Swans.
The point here is that there are a ton of relatively poor teams in the EPL, and there is every reason to believe that, at the very least, Swansea will be able to finish ahead of three teams and avoid relegation.
So, Will Bob Succeed?
Bob Bradley is in a pretty great position to have a successful first season at Swansea. He takes over a team that has the hardest part of their schedule behind them, a team that is due for some positive regression and there are a large group of below-average teams just in front of him that Swansea are capable of passing.
All of these factors point toward a successful first season for Bradley, and he probably won't even have to make any remarkable changes in order to pull it off. The bigger test will likely come next year as Swansea will resume aiming for a mid-table finish, something they've achieved in each of the past five seasons.