When Paul Clement took over the Swansea City reins following Bob Bradley's disastrous spell at the Liberty Stadium helm, the Swans were bottom of the table with 12 points before he guided them to safety. It was somewhat ironic, then, that Clement was relieved of his duties back in December with the club bottom of the table on 12 points. At the time, Swansea were four points from safety and looked destined for the drop, as they had done 12 months previously.
Carlos Carvalhal was rapidly drafted in as Clement's successor and the Swans quickly took flight. Indeed, since Carvalhal's appointment, only Manchester City, with 17, Liverpool, with 16, and Tottenham, with 15, can better the Welsh outfit's 14 points tally in that time. Swansea aren't out of the woods just yet, with just one point separating themselves and the relegation zone, but they're at least on the right path with a map and compass rather than aimlessly wandering around dazed and confused.
The best defence is a good defence
Such has been the upturn in fortunes that they're no longer one of the favourites to drop into the Championship, with Swansea now out at 3.55 to be relegated. Carvalhal's immediate port of call was to shore up the defence and it's worked wonders in hauling the club up the table. Swansea had shipped 31 goals under Clement and in Leon Britton's two games at the helm, but the Portuguese boss was able to tighten the team up at the back, which means since he took charge, only Manchester United (0.43) and Tottenham (0.57) are conceding fewer goals per game than Swansea (0.86).
The major change has come in the decision to field a five-man defence, which Carvalhal has done on five of the seven league games he has overseen as Swansea boss. The decision to do so means his team remains compact and is able to repel danger before utilising speedy attackers to hit teams on the counter. It may not be pretty, but it's been effective in helping Swansea away from danger.
While it's a huge change in the gameplan Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers implemented during their respective reigns, landing the team the tag 'Swanselona', by digging deep, Swansea are frustrating opponents and, as wins over Liverpool and Arsenal at the Liberty Stadium shows, it's clearly working. Only West Brom (39.6%) and West Ham (41%) have averaged less possession than Swansea (41.4%) since Carvalhal succeeded Clement.
Could the FA Cup work against Swansea?
However, while this works well against opponents that hope to see more of the ball, it's had an adverse effect on Swansea, particularly away from home in the FA Cup. After drawing with Wolves and Notts County, they were held by Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend, which has handed the club an additional three matches. Of course, they overcame Wolves and Notts County with ease, and are 1.814/5 favourites to overcome the Owls next week; the fixture increase may end up hindering their pursuit of top-flight safety.
Victory against Sheffield Wednesday, though, will only help boost morale and extend their current unbeaten run, which stretches back to their 0-0 draw with Wolves at the beginning of January. What's more, Manchester City's exit at Wigan's expense on Monday night, means the FA Cup is very much up for grabs this year. At 30.029/1, Swansea are one of the outsiders to lift the trophy, yet their recent resolute showings means they shouldn't be discredited too quickly.
Good value in crunch tie with Brighton
Premier League safety is the priority for Swansea, of course, and a trip to fellow relegation counterparts Brighton on Saturday is the ideal chance to open up a gap between themselves and the bottom three. The Seagulls have struggled on home turf this term - a return of 15 goals in 13 home matches this season is one of the worst in the Premier League - and at 4.03/1, Swansea are good value for the win on Saturday. Victory at the AMEX would be a huge stride towards safety and considering the Swans' defensive resilience under Carvalhal this season, you'd expect them to come away with a result.
Even if Swansea fail to overcome Brighton, though, Carvalhal has given supporters hope that they can stave off the drop and consolidate a top-flight spot when, during Clement's ill-fated start to the campaign, it seemed destined they'd drop back into the Championship. By tightening the team up at the back, Swansea are more difficult to break down, thus giving them a fighting chance of overcoming any team as they look to end the season on a high and, importantly, in the Premier League.