If ever there was a season of two halves, it’s this one. Swansea spent the first half of the season under a cloud of despondency, but since just before the turn of the year, they’ve been looking up the Premier League table rather than down to the Championship, and there is even some optimism about what the team might be capable of next season.
Flash back to December and that last statement would not have seemed possible. After doing a great job last season, Paul Clement was a popular manager at the Liberty Stadium, but that popularity came under pressure before September was out.
The first five games brought a victory over Crystal Palace and creditable draws with Southampton and Tottenham, but then things started to go wrong. The summer signings did not live up to the hype, there was a woeful lack of creativity in the midfield, and the defence was regularly left exposed.
Ten defeats in 13 games was enough to drop the Swans to the foot of the table, and by 20th December, Clement had been sacked. The low point of that run was probably the home defeat to newly promoted Brighton on 4th November, which dropped Swansea into the relegation zone, by which time an air of pessimism seemed to have settled over the club.
However, a little over a month later, Swansea were recording back-to-back victories against Liverpool and Arsenal, results that grabbed the attention of pundits and journalists, not to mention those shrewd football punters who cottoned on to Swansea’s potential and took advantage of some tempting odds on Stakers for those games.
The change was down to one man, Carlos Carvalhal, who arrived at the club having been sacked by Sheffield Wednesday just days earlier.
He received a lukewarm welcome from some quarters, but the doubters were soon proven wrong in spectacular fashion as Swansea began to move up the table, pulling four points clear of the relegation zone by mid-March.
The fact that the same set of players can look hopeless one week and like world-beaters the next is one of the great mysteries of football, but that’s exactly what happened at Swansea.
Carvalhal introduced a new tactical approach, bringing in a three-man defence with wing-backs and a flexible formation capable of transitioning between attack and defence.
He also brought optimism – a quality that had been in short supply since the autumn. The charismatic coach has kept the press entertained and has given everyone at the club a lift.
He has also managed to get the best out of key players such as Sam Clucas and Jordan Ayew, and the results have been remarkable.
Swansea are now heading towards mid-table, and there is genuine anticipation about what Carvalhal might be able to achieve next season – should his contract be extended beyond this season of course.
Easily knocked out of the FA Cup at the quarter-final stage by Spurs the other week, the Swans are not sure of Premier League safety yet, especially with tough league games against Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea to come.
However the team will go into those matches in a positive frame of mind, with the club once again at least heading in the right direction on the field.