How Did Swansea City Manage to Avoid Relegation?
When Paul Clement took over Swansea City in early January, the Swans looked set for relegation. Bottom of the table and with the worst defense and goal differential in the Premier League, Swansea were clear favorites to be sent down to the EFL Championship.
Considering Clement's lack of experience, especially at England's top level, the former Derby County manager's hiring was almost surprising. However, the Englishman, who has followed Carlo Ancelotti everywhere from Chelsea to Bayern Munich, ended up securing results and doing something that former manager Bob Bradley could not -- win.
How did Clement do it?
In His Defense
No one conceded more goals in the first half of the season than the Welsh side as the Swans let in 44 goals over 19 games. The team's defense was much better under Clement, however, only allowing 26 goals over the last 19 games -- tying the eighth-fewest in the league during that span.
|Stat||First 19 Games||Last 19 Games|
No club had a better defensive turnaround.
Considering that Swansea didn't score that many more goals than before with Clement at the helm, it shows that the defensive improvement was crucial to survival. Clement found a stable and formidable center-back pairing in Federico Fernandez and Alfie Mawson, and he basically never left them.
Both played a handful of matches before Clement arrived, and they seemed like unlikely saviors for the defense. Both have been with Swansea for at least a few years, and neither were ever certain starters. However, the Reading-born manager gave them chances, and neither let go, starting every match under his direction.
The broad view of Swansea doesn't do justice to how important the last five matches were for the Welsh club. After acquiring just one point from their previous six matches, the Swans were two points behind Hull City and in need of an exceptional run to ensure survival.
They responded by going into their best form of the season, winning four out of five and taking 13 points from a possible 15. They conceded just two goals in that span, and while the defense was performing at a high level, the Swans' offense scored eight times, with much of the thanks due to Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente.
|Under Francesco Guidolin and Bob Bradley|
|Under Paul Clement|
The Icelandic midfielder and Spanish forward both saw significant improvements in form under Clement. Sigurdsson turned what was already pretty exceptional form into one of the best season-long performances in the league, while Llorente improved upon his mediocre performance in the fall to become the top scorer for the Swans.
However, the pair truly shined in the aforementioned last five games of the season. Llorente was the more identifiable difference maker, scoring four goals in five games and assisting one in the last game of the season.
Llorente has proven to be striker who can consistently perform while being a classic, strong forward for the English game. It was in these last games of the season that he showed he perform when it truly matters. To be fair, so did Sigurdsson, who assisted two of Llorente's goals in the important 2-0 victories over Stoke City and Sunderland.
Speaking of Sigurdsson, it really can't be understated how important he is to the Swans. He scored or assisted in seven of Swansea's nine wins since Clement took over, and his ability to pull the strings and create play even against top opposition is incredible.
This is best shown by his gorgeous free-kick against Manchester United in April.
Swansea sat three points behind Hull City and still in the relegation zone after 79 minutes and a Wayne Rooney goal, but Sigurdsson showed his class with an exceptional goal to earn the Swans a point.
Clement kept Swansea alive by doing two things -- going for victories and sticking to his guns. Evidenced by his two draws over his 19 games in charge, Clement realized there was no point in playing it safe and hoping for ties, and that strategy paid off by putting Swansea seven points clear by the end of the season.
However, Clement didn't tinker or experiment once he found a good thing. He put his faith in Mawson and Fernandez at the back while also encouraging his two strongest talents, Sigurdsson and Llorente, to take over and lead the team. What resulted was a legendary performance from Swansea's offensive talismans, and it led to a great escape for the Swans.