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Paul Clement, Swans whisperer

Monday 27th February 2017
When you compare results this season under three different managers at Liberty Stadium, there is a story to be told. It's not about formations, selection, transfer windows, or tactics, however. Swansea's resurgence is down to attitude. It was lost under Francesco Guidolin, bad with Bob Bradley, but has been rediscovered by Paul Clement.
Beginning the season with Guidolin, Swansea lost two from every three matches. They barely managed a goal per game, being shut out twice in his nine matches. Defensively, they were marginally worse than the current Premier League average (through 26 Feb) 1.40 goals conceded per match. Their 1.67 rate converts to a goal more conceded every four games.

Enter Bradley. Under the American, the Swans actually scored one goal more every four matches. Huzzah! Unfortunately, the price for their attacking success was steep: conceding a goal more per game than the squad had under Guidolin. Ugh. Exit Battlin' Bob.

Clement was allegedly the next victim to offer cover for a seemingly dysfunctional partnership between Huw Jenkins and his new US sugar daddies. Instead, the Reading native is making them look geniuses. Although his impact has been amplified by the magnitude of Bradley's failure, he has been effective. Swansea are no longer cellar dwellers. They've even moved to safety, as things stand.
Yet, Clement hasn't exactly transformed Swansea into a Welsh Bayern. In fact, Carlo Ancelotti's side are suddenly grinding over opposition like the Bundesliga is the opening scene from Terminator 2, having dropped eight goals on Hamburg in the Bundesliga and five on Arsenal in the Champions League over the past ten days. Coincidence, or is Clement's influence as a Bayern coach wearing off? With a one-goal draw against Hertha Berlin sandwiched between those romps, it's definitely the former but I couldn't resist.

Still, the numbers don't lie. While the Englishman has maintained Bradley's increased offensive output and has significantly staunched their defensive bleeding, Swansea are still conceding more than they did under Guidolin. Having bossed one less game than the Italian, Clement's squad has picked the ball from their own goal as many times. As bad as the Swans were under Bradley, the American actually produced more clean sheets than the other two. Work remains to be done.

Despite statistical similarities, the club's record under Clement sets him apart from his predecessors. He has won as many matches as the pair combined and lost significantly less. More importantly, there has yet to be a draw on his watch. Even though he's produced 'results' in as many games as Bradley did and one more than Guidolin, he's racked up almost as many points as the duo on his own. This is because, as I noted the other day, a draw isn't really a result. It's a loss with a participation certificate.

Winning is an attitude which needs cultivating. So, while Round and White's Greg Stubley examined what Clement had done to turn the Welsh club's fortunes around, a fortnight past, he missed a crucial element to the new man's success. In focusing on winter signings neither Guidolin nor Bradley had the opportunity to make and improved performances from inherited players, Clement's connectivity with the squad was not mentioned. He's come to Wales after following a multiple Champions League winner to three of Europe's biggest clubs, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Bayern, learned at a legend's side, and passed the real test by communicating those lessons to a squad which had lost all faith in its own ability. Fernando Llorente, Gylfi Sigurðsson, and Alfie Mawson didn't suddenly wake up rejuvenated one morning of their own accord. They had help.

Saturday's 3-1 drubbing from Chelsea proves Clement has some way to go but his initial mission is to keep Swansea in the Premier League, not move them into title contention. With matches on tap against Burnley, Hull, and Bournemouth in March, then on April 1st against their statistical antithesis, a resolute Middlesbrough side that can't buy a goal, winning matches against four lower half sides will prove Clement's start hasn't been fools gold.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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