What's Carlos Carvalhal doing differently at Swansea?
Albert Einstein is broadly credited with defining insanity as "doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result." Swansea's Portuguese manager may be a fan of the renowned physicist. Carlos Carvalhal embarked on a totally different path from his previous work to rescue the Swans' crumbling season. His changes are working wonders already. Rock-bottom before his arrival, the Welsh club has swum out of relegation waters in style.
Following Paul Clement's dismissal in December, fans were desperate for any form of revival. The least they expected was a manager prepared to tackle the problem seriously and swiftly. Likely they prayed for a tactical genius with loads of top-flight experience, stylish, charismatic, with an intimidating aura. Everton had chosen Big Sam, Crystal Palace Roy Hodgson, West Brom that dancing fool Alan Pardew. The Swans faithful's prayers went unanswered.
The club's hierarchy settled for Carvalhal. Wales was his 17th stop in 20 seasons. Rather than implement drastic measures, the Portuguese eased into things at the Liberty Stadium. Training became lighter, less intense. There were few tactical tweaks. Several faithful gave up on survival. Others held out hope, remembering his extraordinary feat at Sheffield Wednesday. A few waited on the Jose Mourinho factor to come into play. Carvalhal had studied alongside his compatriot.
However, Carvalhal's light-hearted approach has breathed fresh air into the squad. The team is playing the Swansea way: expansive attacking football with more confidence, energy, and intensity at both ends. They're scoring more than before, shipping fewer. These simple, yet fundamental tricks have won him more points, 14 in seven games, than the 13 his predecessor garnered in 20.
Away from the pitch, Carvalhal's personality has lifted the atmosphere. The 52-year-old's colourful analogies have become a hallmark. Talking about his decision to bring in £18 million new boy Andre Ayew and on-loan Tammy Abraham to pursue a late winner against Burnley at the weekend, he equated it to "putting all the meat on the barbecue". He then likened the club’s progress to "swimming out of an ocean." I liked that one so much I borrowed it.
Yet, there's been more to Carvalhal than his witty wordplay and press conference theatrics. He's set up his team quite creatively.
Not much changed in the back five. The formation there has been more or less identical to Clement.
In attack, however, Carvalhal has made a massive point of not desiring a focal point. Rather than feeding a star player, he wants a cohesive group of equals. Everyone works their socks off for the collective good. The midfield is much more involved with attacks, moving forward, playing intricate passes between the lines of play. Above all, he is willing to take risks.
Clement was not. Rigid, defensive, and frankly uninspiring football was on display. Opponents knew what was coming from Swansea. Get the ball to the wide man. Cross blindly into the box. Goals were in extremely short supply because defenders were ready and waiting. The predictable tactic didn't work.
There's still work to be done for Swansea to retain its top-flight status. Yet, as long as Carvalhal keeps it simple, the side should stay safely on the beach.