In December, Swansea City looked to be at relegation’s door, with just 13 points from 20 games. When Paul Clement was sacked, in came Carlos Carvalhal. The Portuguese manager had just been let go by Sheffield Wednesday, and it’s fair to say that Swansea fans were not optimistic.
But 2 months on, a miracle is taking place. The Swans are up to 16th, and 7 points above the bottom of the table. They are unbeaten since early January, scalping Liverpool, Arsenal and Burnley along the way. Swansea aren’t safe yet, but they’re only 4 points behind Bournemouth in 10th. So, what are the secrets of Carvalhal’s success?
5 at the Back
It didn’t take Carvalhal long to grasp the key features of a relegation fight. If Swansea could stop conceding goals, at least they couldn’t lose matches. But how? The manager’s solution was to bring in an extra centre-back. On the whole, Alfie Mawson and Federico Fernández were doing a sterling job, but the addition of Mike van der Hoorn has given Swansea real solidity. It’s now 9 matches since they shipped more than 1 goal, and they kept cleansheets against Liverpool and Burnley.
But Carlos Carvalhal has showed that he isn’t completely wedded to that system. Against Burnley, he replaced left-back Martin Olsson with striker André Ayew after 60 minutes. Playing a 4-4-2, Swansea went on to grab the winner they needed.
Goodbye Midfield Flair
Renato Sanches and Roque Mesa are talented footballers, but they’re not built for a Premier League survival scrap. It didn’t take Carlos Carvalhal long to work out that they weren’t the midfielders for him. Mesa is now back in Spain, and Sanches is nursing a hamstring injury.
Instead, Carvalhal placed his faith in midfield battlers like Leroy Fer, Sam Clucas and Ki Sung-Yueng. Fer played brilliantly, until an injury ended his season. Clucas was the hero against Arsenal, and Ki was the hero against Burnley.
Speed in Attack
Swansea were averaging less than 10 shots per game under Paul Clement, and it hasn’t got any better under Carlos Carvalhal. Out-and-out strikers just aren’t his thing. Instead, the new Swansea manager wants pace and skill on the counter-attack, which is why Jordan Ayew and Nathan Dyer are starting ahead of Wilfried Bony and Tammy Abraham. So far, it’s working well.
The Manager’s Infectious Spirit
It’s no coincidence that Swansea’s wins against Liverpool, Arsenal and Burnley all came at home. With his weird and wonderful metaphors, Carlos Carvalhal has got the fans excited again. The manager believes, the fans believe, and that’s rubbing off on the players too.