Opposition Focus | Swansea
Andrew Gwilym, the Swansea City reporter for Wales Online / South Wales Evening Post, provides the lowdown on Saturday's opponents.
What sort of form are Swansea in ahead of the game at Vicarage Road?
“Not good. They had a really good start to life under Paul Clement, winning five of their first eight, but they’ve only picked up one point from their last five and have dropped back into the relegation zone. With six games to go, the pressure is really on.
“They were very poor against West Ham last time out. They were a bit unlucky against Spurs as they were 1-0 up after 88 minutes and within sight of three big points but then the wheels came off in dramatic fashion.
“The worry is the level of performance. They were poor at Bournemouth, weren’t very good at Hull and then didn’t do enough to beat a poor Middlesbrough side. They can’t have too many grounds for complaint recently.”
What is the latest injury news?
“Llorente is back, which is a massive boost. He was only fit enough to be on the bench at West Ham but will start against Watford. Kyle Naughton should be okay after a hamstring problem and the only real concern is captain Jack Cork. He’s got a race against time to be fit after an ankle problem. Angel Rangel is definitely out with a broken metatarsal. He’ll miss the rest of the season but everyone else is fit.”
How has Clement been lining the team up?
“He has tended to play 4-3-2-1. He’s been operating without two wingers and playing really narrow as the team had been defending so poorly that he’s had to play three central midfielders to give as much cover to the back four as possible.
“One of Wayne Routledge or Luciano Narsingh plays on the right of the two behind Llorente, while Sigurdsson plays on the left. He always looks to cut in and plays very much tucked in. Because they have been so poor he may look to change it to 4-2-3-1 and go a bit more attacking, with Sigurdsson as the No 10.”
Do they look to get the ball up to Llorente as quickly as possible then?
“They still try and play the passing game that the club have built their reputation around, but this is the first time they’ve ever had a 6ft 3in centre forward so they’ve played a lot more direct than they normally would. It’s proven quite effective as Llorente has got 11 goals.”
Wayne Routledge has called this game a cup final for Swansea. Is that accurate?
“If you look at the situation, two points from safety with six games to play, they need to start winning games so all six games fall into the cup final bracket. They can’t afford to play like they did at West Ham because if they do, there is only one way they are going. Time is running out and they desperately need something from Saturday.”
Is there still a feeling Swansea can get out of it?
“There was a month ago following the immediate impact Clement had. They had that great win at Anfield and also had wins against Leicester, Southampton and Burnley. At that point they were looking up and not down. But a lot of the optimism has drifted away as the results have been poor. But it’s not just the results – the performances have not been great either. They need to get that spark back they had when he first arrived and if they do, they’ve still got a chance. But something has to change and quickly.”
What’s Clement been like to deal with?
“He’s made a very favourable impression. People look at his touchline celebration against Burnley and think he’s a bit of a loose cannon but he’s actually quite a measured character. He’s brought a bit of stability and we haven’t really had that since Garry Monk.
“They needed someone to steady the ship and he did that. He’s had a bit of criticism lately for being too cautious, particularly away from home. He’s very much set the team up to contain the opposition and try to nick something. That’s the one criticism the supporters have had.
“Overall the majority feel they have got a good man at the helm and he’s very much here for the long term. If they do go down he’ll be handed the job of getting them back up. No question.”
You have a Watford legend in your ranks. What sort of impact has Nigel Gibbs had?
“He’s a great guy. I was lucky enough to do an interview with him recently and he speaks so warmly about Watford. The club have clearly got a very special place in his heart. He’s a great guy to spend time with and, like Clement, he’s made a real impact.
“He’s taken responsibility for set-piece work, both attacking and defending and it’s an area they have improved massively. After the Bournemouth game, they haven’t conceded a single set-piece goal so that’s a bit of a feather in his cap.
“It was a traditional weakness and he’s transformed it into a strength. He’s come in and done a good job and is a good guy to have around the place. I know he’s looking forward to going to back to Vicarage Road.”
Swansea have another Watford lad in their ranks in Tom Carroll. How’s he done since signing from Spurs?
“He’s been very good. He made a good impression when on loan a couple of seasons ago and he’s made a real impact since coming back permanently. He’s very quickly become an important figure. He links the play very well and has a great relationship on the field with Olsson and Sigurdsson. He had a poor day at West Ham but that’s the first time you could say that about that him.”
The game at the Liberty Stadium earlier in the season won’t live long in the memory, will it?
“It wasn’t a classic, was it? That was the first game with Bob Bradley at the helm and even then we saw some of the attacking problems that came to define his reign. They struggled for fluency that day and didn’t have the belief to break Watford down. I remember Watford having a great chance to win it at the end.
What’s the view of the Hornets in South Wales?
“Watford were very solid and good at the back at the Liberty. They slipped into trouble recently and I think Swans fans had one eye on finishing above them at one point but Watford have picked up and Swansea have had a bad run. You know Watford are going to be really physical and have a presence up front.
“They play quite direct but they’ve also got good players in midfield in Capoue and Cleverley. I think Swansea fans would have been expecting to finish above Watford at the start of the season as they have been in the Premier League longer and should have bigger resources, but now they’ll just take finishing 17th given the way the season has panned out.”