How Carvalhal saved Swansea in just four weeks

Having been in the relegation zone in the Premier League for nearly the entire season, Swansea City sit five spots above the bottom three in 13th position. After a slow and disappointing first half of the season under manager Paul Clement, the Swansea board felt it was time to part ways with the Englishman. After cycling through three managers last season, they gave Clement as much time as possible this season. After all, there was some faith behind the Englishman after he pulled the Swans out of the relegation zone in the second half of last season to stay up.

Patience aside, it was time for a change after earning only 13 points in 20 games. The change came on December 20 when Clement was sacked. Eight days later, Portuguese manager Carlos Carvalhal was appointed as the new Swansea boss.

Carvalhal made an immediate impact. In his first nine games in the Premier League, Carvalhal guided Swansea to five wins, including victories over Liverpool and Arsenal, along with two draws. The Swans have managed to capture 17 much-needed points, five points more than they had managed over the entire season.

Swansea’s impressive form of late is a credit to Carvalhal who awakened a sense of urgency to a Swans side that was all but ready to surrender.

But his success goes beyond motivational tactics and a change in locker room culture.

Having studied under José Mourinho, Carvalhal implemented a tactical periodization approach, which has already had an impact on the Swansea players. By emphasizing four pillars – offensive organization, transition from offense to defense, defensive organization and transition from defense to offense – Carvalhal has quietly laid a strong foundation for the future.

Under Clement, Swansea typically lined up in a 4-3-2-1 formation, designed to solidify the defense and build up attacks from the midfield. In theory, the Christmas tree formation looks good on paper. But in practice, the build-up for Swansea attacks was laboriously slow, and the team lacked the pace, quality crossing and creativity to unlock opposition defenses. It all became far too predictable.

Carvahal’s strategy has been completely different. First, starting with a 3-5-2 formation, he’s turned Martin Olsson and Kyle Naughton from fullbacks to wing backs, seeing them push so far up the pitch that they’re effectively acting as wingers. He’s put his faith in the three center backs of Alfie Mawson, Mike van der Hoorn and Federico Fernandez.

The Swans midfield, particularly Ki and Sam Clucas, are able to use their creativity to distribute the ball from back to front through quick counters and provide Jordan Ayew chances. Ayew has been involved in more goals for Swansea than any other player for the Swans this season with 5 goals and 2 assists. This formation gives him more room to operate up front.

Carvalhal’s changes have paid off. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Swans now have an 82% chance of staying up, a striking turnaround considering their 68% chance of relegation on December 18. Swansea’s success is showing that, when implemented properly, Carvalhal’s system not only works for the top clubs with top talent, but for less talented sides that commit to working together as a unit.

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