The Story So Far
Swansea's season has certainly been eventful.
Francesco Guidolin, who guided the Swans to safety last season, lasted just seven games this season before losing his job on his 61st birthday. Bob Bradley, largely untested in top-level football, was announced as his replacement. Chairman Huw Jenkins labelled the American as a "long-term appointment" who would "stabilise matters on and off the pitch."
His appointment was a disaster. The former Le Havre man won just two of his 11 games, including a convincing 3-0 win over Sunderland. He was sacked two days after Christmas. Not quite long-term, but slightly better than Guidolin's seven.
Former Derby boss Paul Clement was appointed as the club's third permanent manager of the season on January 3rd, watching a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace from the stands. His first game in charge saw the Swans lose 4-0 to Arsenal, but Clement won four of his next six, including a win at Anfield, which suggested that survival was a possibility. A run of just one point from 18 followed, but two wins from their last three has seen Swansea climb out of the relegation zone. They lead Hull by just one point with two games to play - their future is in their own hands.
Swansea aren't really the side that we've come to know over the past few seasons. They can't afford to be in a situation where points and results must be obtained through any means.
Despite their less than stellar defensive record under Clement, they're certainly more solid and organised. Swansea are now more rigid and certainly less fluid than they have been in recent years. Rather than looking to control the game and pass the opposition to death, Swansea set up with the counter-attack in mind, or look to play with a more direct style.
They average just 47% possession, while making just the 12th most passes with the 11th best accuracy (71%). Compare this to the 2015-16 season when they averaged 52% possession and 81% pass accuracy. Their current numbers still rank favourably among the 'best of the rest', but it's clear that this is a different Swansea - for the time being, at least.
Clement has alternated between a lopsided 4-3-3 or a 4-3-1-2/4-1-2-1-2 setup. In a 4-3-3, Swansea typically attack down the right, with Jordan Ayew and Kyle Naughton providing width. This focus on the right wing allows Sigurdsson to drift inside off the left wing into a more central position, where he is undoubtedly more dangerous, and creates space for Martin Olsson to attack from left back.
More recently, Clement has opted for a midfield diamond. Ayew pushes forward alongside Fernando Llorente, with Sigurdsson slotting in behind. The switch not only allows them to play with more tempo and authority when they do have the ball, but provides more variety in attack. Ayew is able to run in behind and stretch defenders, while Llorente's aerial ability sees him link with both his strike partner and Sigurdsson in behind. Ayew is yet to score for Swansea, but his tireless work rate and three assists have seen him become a vital cog in their side.
Either way, expect the ball to be hit long to Llorente with great regularity. Swansea's average pass length of 21m is the league's 2nd longest, while four of Swansea's central defenders average at least 3.6 long balls per game. It's not much of a surprise considering the fact that Llorente wins almost five aerial duels per game and has scored a league-high seven headed goals.
Swansea are extremely strong in the air, and have been particularly since Paul Clement's arrival, winning 51% of their aerial duels. They've not conceded a set piece goal under his management - the only team to do that - and have conceded just one headed goal.
At the other end of the pitch, they've scored 18 goals since his arrival - the 13th highest total. Eight of these have been headers, more than anyone else, while their seven set piece goals (excluding penalties) are second only to Chelsea. Three of these have come from crossed free kicks - aided by the superb delivery of Gylfi Sigurdsson - which represents the second highest total in this time period (2nd to Chelsea).
Fernando Llorente has certainly benefited. No player has scored more headed goals than the Spaniard (7).
Unfortunately for Swansea, Clement has been unable to fix their porous defence. They've conceded 24 under his management - the 4th most during this period, and 69 in total (the joint worst record with Hull). 10 defensive errors, with four leading to goals, has certainly not helped his cause.
The Swans don't appear to be active enough in defence to attempt to remedy the situation, making just the 14th most defensive actions and the 9th most clearances. They'll be aiming to improve their numbers going forward in order to counter their struggling defence. 9.75 shots per game is particularly low, while they average just 7 chances created and score at a rate of one goal every 8.3 shots under Clement.
Key Player - Gylfi Sigurdsson
The Icelandic star has been Swansea's brightest light in an otherwise miserable season for the Welsh side, and frankly they'd be dead and buried without him. Tasked with performing as the side's chief creator, the former Spurs man has stepped up to the plate yet again, with nine goals and 12 assists establishing him as one of the league's most dangerous creative threats.
Sigurdsson leads the Swans in nearly all key areas: his nine goals are only second to Fernando Llorente's 13, while 12 assists, along with 3.1 shots, 2.1 key passes and 2.3 crosses per game are all top ranked. His 69 chances created sees him ranked 10th in the league - a very impressive number considering the teammates he plays with, compared to the likes of Mesut Ozil and and Kevin De Bruyne. Sigurdsson's 69 chances created equals one quarter of Swansea's total, such is their dependence on him.
Sigurdsson has been aided by Llorente's contributions as the season has progressed, and the two have combined to form the Premier League's most prolific partnership according to WhoScored. No other combination has linked for goals more than the duo, with Sigurdsson providing five assists for the Spaniard.
- Sunderland are winless in their last four games against Swansea at the Stadium of Light;
- Sunderland have won fewer points at home (14) than any other team;
- Sunderland have failed to win in their last nine home games;
- But Swansea have failed to win in their last seven away games;
- There have been under 2.5 goals scored in eight of Sunderland's last 10 games;
- There have been under 2.5 goals scored in Swansea's last five games;
- Swansea haven't kept an away clean sheet since their opening game against Burnley;
- Jermain Defoe has scored five goals in his previous four Premier League games against Swansea