Swansea fans could be forgiven if they thought this season was going to be a smooth ride when it began last August. In their first league match, they have fought valiantly away against Burnley and secured all three points with a 1-0 win. Their impotence up front should’ve been an omen of things to come – but Swansea weren’t too keen to see it that time.
The Welsh club’s opening league fixture win would turn out to be their only victory in their first 12 league matches – sending them to the relegation zone. The Swansea board took action and eventually sacked manager Francesco Guidolin, replacing him with the former US Men’s Soccer Team head coach Bob Bradley.
Bradley’s arrival did not have its intended effect and the American was soon sent packing after losing seven of 11 matches during his stay at the Liberty Stadium. By then, the club was at the bottom of the table, with relegation all but ascertained.
So it was understandable if Swansea fans weren’t too hopeful with the signing of Paul Clement last January 3rd. Sure, he was Carlo Ancelotti’s loyal second-in-command, serving as assistant manager during the Italian’s tenure with the likes of Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid. He was Ancelotti’s number two at Bayern when he was offered the job to take the helm at Liberty Stadium – and yet the fans didn’t get their hopes up.
Until Clement took charge of his first match.
It was nothing too fancy, a 2-1 win away against Crystal Palace. But there was something in that game that ignited a spark in the team, and the fans noticed it. Across the board, with the new boss fielding his side in a new 4-3-3 formation, Swansea were ahead: possession, dribbles, shots on goal, passing accuracy – the Welsh club played with precision, with intent. Something was brewing.
Clement made a mistake in his second game in charge – a 4-0 drubbing in the hands of in-form Arsenal. Fans noticed Clement made changes to counter Arsenal’s threats, to no avail. Clement went back to a 4-2-3-1 formation, something they’ve used throughout the season, with little success. The manager knew he made a mistake: he played to his opponent’s strengths instead of his own teams.
Then came another giant in Liverpool. Clement decided to stick to his guns and went to his favoured 4-3-3. They went on to win 3-2 at Anfield, his side ahead in all of the defensive aspects of the game. With his rigid structure, Swansea are slowly catching their form.
Sure, three matches isn’t enough to judge Clement, but he has won two matches in three. Bradley took nine matches to win two games. Guidolin only won once this season.
In a short amount of time, Clement has channeled his former boss in Ancelotti and have created an instant impact at Swansea. He got them to follow his tactics, allowed them to find form, and gave striker Fernando Llorente a chance to shine. All of these have to count for something.
And if Clement can create such impact in just three weeks at the club, imagine what he could do in three months.
From Swansea’s standpoint: they are hoping Clement can pull off their Premier League survival.