Clement’s risky tactical gambit hits Swans hard
So Swansea took a classic “looks worse on paper” 4-0 hammering from Man United, of the sort which will have caused undeserved smugness to gush from those people who never watch Swansea play but will have confidently predicted their relegation this season. In truth, Swansea held Jose Mourinho’s playground bullies at bay for most of this match. Were it not for a lunatic four minutes in which Swansea shipped three remarkably sloppy goals (Maybe Bob Bradley was passing overhead in a plane at the time?), the match could have ended in a respectable 1-0 defeat, or perhaps not even that.
The primary reason for the heavy defeat was Paul Clement’s tactical changes. The Swans boss had started the match with a 3-5-2, and the new shape worked remarkably well. For the first time in memory, Swansea actually seemed to have more players in every area of the pitch that their opponent. United dominated possession but had few meaningful chances, and while forwards Tammy Abraham and Jordan Ayew seemed a little isolated in the early running, both men looked increasingly likely to find an equalizing goal between them in the second.
Then came the change. On 66 minutes, Clement switched to the Swans old 4-2-3-1, replacing Kyle Bartley and Roque Mesa with wingers Luciano Narsingh and Wayne Routledge. Bartley had been Swansea’s best defender, and Federico Fernandez should have been replaced instead. The Argentine’s bravado cost Swansea another goal, as Fernandez took himself out of position to over-commit to an unnecessary tackle and left Romelu Lukaku wide open to score.
Mesa meanwhile had endured a frankly horrible first half, coughing up possession and making too many pointless passes when better options were available (please don’t be another Ki Sung-Yeung), but had started to find his feet in the second, only to be withdrawn just as he was beginning to influence the game. With Mesa gone, Swansea had to field Leroy Fer and Tom Carroll in the deeper defensive midfield positions, with both men making mistakes which led to United goals.
What’s worse is that while the tactical change was supposed to give Swansea more attacking edge, it did anything but. In the 3-5-2, the Swans had managed four shots on goal. Paltry, but the side were playing defensively. In the “attacking” 4-2-3-1, they managed one. Hardly a Blitzkrieg. By fielding two wingers, Clement weakened the Swans presence in the middle of the field substantially; all three of United’s second half goals came through the centre. Narsingh still hasn’t had enough game time to be judged, but Routledge is famously unproductive in terms of goals and assists, so why Clement thought these changes would create goals is hard to fathom.
The boss doesn’t have a wealth of options at the moment and still wants to bring in another two players after buying Sam Clucas from Hull. Given Swansea’s bench is thin on quality, the smarter move here might have been to stick with 3-5-2 and see if the starting XI could manufacture an equalizer on the counter. Perhaps Narsingh could have replaced Fer or Carroll, and played in the hole in a 3-4-1-2, or perhaps Ayew could have played that role with Oli McBurnie alongside Abraham up front?
Until he has a proper squad to play with, Clement would do better to work within the confines of what he has available. Broad tactical changes involving double substitutions are a luxury afforded by teams with deep, versatile squads. At this moment in time, Swansea’s best XI are just about good enough to hold their own, and until more high profile reinforcements come through the door, Clement needs to reign in his tactical ambitions to suit the available players.