Swansea City were dragged into a relegation battle for the first time in their six years in the Premier League last season. After several years of terrific organisation and investment from top to bottom, the club made a series of poor choices which resulted in their worst Premier League season to date. As mismanagement behind the scenes spilt onto the pitch under Francesco Guidolin and Bob Bradley, prosperous young head coach Paul Clement arrived in January to steady the ship and pull off some outstanding results. Under his guidance, the Swans secured another unlikely year in the top division with 26 points in 18 games. Although he picked up January’s Manager of the Month award and was nominated for the Manager of the Season award, Paul Clement will know that his hardest job starts now as another campaign approaches and Swansea must avoid being a relegation candidate all over again. With business already beginning to take place up and down the country, we looked at three areas Swansea and Paul Clement must prioritise this summer:
Reduce the workload on Fernando Llorente:
It’s no secret that bringing in Spain international Fernando Llorente from Sevilla last summer paid dividends for Swansea City. The former Athletic Bilbao superstar had played a bit-part role at Juventus and Sevilla sides for three years prior to his move to Wales and it looked like a £5m gamble initially. His pedigree was undoubted, but whether he still had the capability to do the business regularly at top level was under scrutiny. After an impressive debut season in Italy, Llorente had only fired in 11 goals across 55 appearances in Serie A and La Liga afterwards, one goal in every 5 games compared to just shy of one every two games in 13/14.
It took until the end of November to really see what the Spaniard was capable of as Llorente had scored just one goal in his nine appearances. A late brace to clinch all three points in a 5-4 thriller against eventual relegation rivals Crystal Palace hinted at the striker’s ability to come up with crucial goals. He eventually finished up as club top goalscorer with 15 league goals, playing a pivotal role in the Swan’s Premier League survival for the sixth year running. It appears likely that Clement will fight to keep Llorente on board for another season at least. Providing he can do so, the issue remaining is a lack of real competition, or a strike partner for the target man.
Jordan Ayew was snapped up in January and generally played as a right sided attacker, taking until the last gameweek of the season to score his first goal for the club. He chipped in with 7 goals at Aston Villa the season previous, but that was as a regular starter in the side. Club record signing Borja Baston has been exceptionally disappointing since his £15.5m move from Atletico Madrid and there’s a good chance he will sent packing this summer. Youngster Oli McBurnie has been prolific at youth level but is untested in the top flight; it would be a bold move to grant him opportunities.
Thus, Clement must be able to bring in a capable goalscorer who can both compete with and compliment Llorente. Whether that’s a striker with a complete different skill set or in similar vein, it shouldn’t matter considering the option Ayew gives – just strength in depth to avoid another relegation struggle.
Invest in fresh, talented & natural wingers:
It’s pretty astounding how little Swansea have invested into their wing play in their time in the top tier of English football. Since the club’s arrival in 2011, Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer have been mainstays in the squad, particularly impressing under Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup. Pablo Hernandez arrived in that second season and played a dazzling role in the short term while Belgian Roland Lamah joined on an 18 month loan and conversely failed to shine. Modou Barrow appeared positive under Garry Monk but has ultimately lost his way, struggling to assert himself in Championship loan spells at Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United. Jefferson Montero looked a shrewd purchase initially but his dribbling stats, which he was renowned for during spells in Spain and Mexico, have diminished with one less attempt per game, his input has faded and he has barely staked a claim for a role.
As it stands, Routledge and Dyer are both still present but at 32 and 29 years old respectively and with quality displays fading, their days could be numbered. Routledge was linked with a move to Birmingham City last January and would likely be sold at the right price this time around, despite his consistent high appearance stats. Dyer has struggled with injuries in the last two seasons, one of which was at Leicester City, and may struggle for gametime regardless, so question marks remain over his future as a starter. The future looks bleak for Ecuadorian Jefferson Montero and a transfer away could suit the player this summer. January signing Luciano Narsingh hasn’t had much of a chance to impress since his £4m transfer from PSV but could get more chances to show his talented all-around game next season.
Their biggest star for several years has been Gylfi Sigurdsson who has been touted with a big money move away in the coming months. Sigurdsson was shifted out to a left wing role for much of last season and, although his contribution to keeping the Swans up was enormous, he favours a second striker position. Without really possessing anybody other than a converted attacking midfielder, Paul Clement must seek wide men who can effectively aid their ability in challenging opposing full backs and putting crosses into the box, whilst also possessing the ability to help out defensively to improve their weak defence against wide attacks.
Bolster central defence & leadership at the back:
Unbelievably, Jordi Amat has been in South Wales for four seasons, playing in just 48 of 152 of Swansea’s league games and failing to make any sort of impact. In his 17 matches last season, Amat managed to finish second in the most errors leading to goals rankings for the whole season with two errors. The reality is that the Spaniard isn’t good enough to be challenging for a regular spot in a Premier League side. Francesco Guidolin may have thought he had the answer when he drafted in Mike van der Hoorn from Dutch champions Ajax last summer, but the reality is he’d barely scratched the surface. The uncapped Dutchman looked unfamiliar with the modern game upon arrival, chalking up a lacklustre 77% pass success rate across his eight appearances and even managing to gift the opposition a penalty. It became apparent all too quickly that van der Hoorn was nothing more than a physical presence as he committed 1.5 fouls per game on average, unable to effectively deal with the league’s higher quality attackers.
This time around, Paul Clement must find a natural successor to club legend Ashley Williams at the back, avoiding £2m gambles like this aforementioned duo. Williams slotted straight in at Ronald Koeman’s Everton, orchestrating a 7th placed finish with his consistent, powerful displays Swans fans had come to know all too well. Clement and the board must be prepared to shell out on an heir to the throne with bold authoritarian attributes, tremendous positional sense and savvy ball skills in order to become a more stable Premier League club again.
Back Swansea City to finish in the top half @ 13/2 with Bet365
Back Swansea City to be relegated @ 23/10 with Paddy Power