In the light of his deserved Premier League Manager of the Month award for January; we take a look at how Paul Clement has improved things at Swansea City during his tenure as boss.
It is only the third time a Swansea City manager has ever won the prestigious award; the other two awarded to Brendan Rodgers in January 2012 and Garry Monk in August 2014 respectively.
This is in stark contrast to how the Swans have performed this campaign and at the half-way point in the season, the South Wales side were rock bottom of the Premier League with only 3 wins from 19 matches, suffering a staggering 13 losses in that time.
After guiding the Swans to safety last season, Francesco Guidolin had a woeful start to the 2016/17 campaign by attaining only 4 points from 7 matches and losing 5 times; resulting in his sacking.
The Italian’s successor was Bob Bradley and his arrival was greeted with great scepticism and the American coach did nothing to dispel those fears during his time in charge. 7 losses and just 8 points in his 11 matches in charge plunged Swansea to the bottom of the Premier League, conceding a massive 29 goals in the process. After poor results and even poorer performances, Bradley’s Premier League reign was ended.
Cue the appointment of Paul Clement. Arriving with a stellar CV as assistant manager at a host of top European clubs such as: Chelsea, PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, Clement instantly sought to rectify the situation at Swansea. 3 Wins and more importantly 9 points in his first 5 matches including an historic victory at Anfield have allowed Swans fans to feel optimistic for the first time in what seems like an age.
In his first press conference he said: “Hopefully I will be able to put my imprint on the team very quickly.”
Without a doubt that meant imposing a degree of defensive stability at the club which had shipped more goals than anyone this campaign. After dropping points in matches against Liverpool and Everton under Guidolin and Bradley respectively, the need to be tighter at the back in latter stages of games was evident. Performances against Palace, Liverpool and Southampton highlighted that this new Swansea City can withstand the type of pressure which had previously seen the Swans crumble at the tail end of a game.
This defensive stability seems to have stemmed from Clement finding a consistent back line of Naughton, Fernandez and Mawson that have started every match under the English manager (and since Olsson’s acquisition now him too) that are starting to get to know and work well with each other – the development and tactical improvement of young Alfie Mawson personifying this change. Mawson has also scored two brilliant headers in this time to further highlight his importance to the cause.
Clement’s team seem to all be fighting for the cause and listening to the manager – in front of that back four there is a renewed energy in central midfield when trying to re-gain possession; battling for the ball and especially the second ball seems to have been instilled as a necessity in players such as Jack Cork, Leroy Fer, new signing Tom Carroll and youngster Jay Fulton. Clement has always spoken of his desire to aggressively press the ball when the situation arises with an attempt to counter-attack effectively – Gylfi Sigurdsson’s winning goal against Southampton epitomises this.
Sigurdsson is unquestionably Swansea’s best player and has been influential under Clement, scoring two winning goals in just 5 matches. With his 8 goals and a further 7 assists this season; only 6 players – Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Harry Kane and Jermain Defoe – have had a direct hand in more goals than the attacking midfielder. So when the Icelandic talisman is playing at his full potential the Swans always have a chance of obtaining points from a match. Clement’s style seems to unlock Sigurdsson to drift around the final third and drive into the spaces to fully utilise his clinical nature from anywhere within 25 yards. The key to Swansea staying up is surely keeping him fit and firing.
Another promising aspect of life under Paul Clement is the January transfer window that has just passed; tapping into quite a remarkable niche of signing players that are not only an upgrade on the current squad, not only seem to fit into the Swansea style of play but also for such small price tags. Especially in the financially ludicrous Premier League of late.
Olsson is a Swedish international from Norwich with Premier League experience that improves on the current left-back options for £4.5m. As fan favourite Leon Britton reaches the end of his career, Tom Carroll (also bought for £4.5m from Spurs) can be seen as a similar player and he also reignites the old Swansea passing play and adds energy to a previously somewhat lethargic midfield. £4m brought Netherlands international Luciano Narsingh from PSV to South Wales, he has Champions League experience whose pace definitely offers something different to the current wide men at the club. Jordan Ayew (who arrived on an undisclosed swap deal from Aston Villa with Neil Taylor going in the other direction) also offers a different option to a front line with pace and direct running and can play anywhere along the front 3, his influence in Ghana’s strong African Cup of Nations indicative of the quality he possesses.
Above all, keeping Swansea’s best players – namely Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente – could prove to be the shrewdest business of all.
Survival is the goal for Swansea City, and in the aforementioned first press conference Paul Clement said on staying up: “It’s a massive challenge. But challenges are exciting.” For the first time this season Swansea fans are excited to see their team and in what promises to be an exhilarating and remarkably tight relegation battle in the Premier League, Clement is taking it by the scruff of the neck.