How Carlos Carvalhal transformed Swansea City from relegation certainties to survival hopefuls
By Richard Morgan
Last Updated: 16/02/18 10:57pm
Carlos Carvalhal's appointment at Swansea City raised more than a few eyebrows, only for the Portuguese to breathe new life into the club's relegation fight. But how exactly has the new Swans manager produced such a remarkable turnaround?
When Carvalhal took over at the Liberty Stadium, four days after being sacked by Sheffield Wednesday on Christmas Eve last year, Swansea were staring down the relegation barrel.
The South Wales club were rock bottom of the Premier League, five points from safety, and in the words of Carvalhal, "we were near to the crematorium."
Seven games later and Swansea have moved off the foot of the table and up to 16th thanks to a remarkable run of four wins and just one defeat, and even that came against the top flight's most in-form team at present, Tottenham Hotspur.
In fact, only Spurs, Man City, Liverpool and Man Utd have taken more points than Swansea in the last six league games, while Carvalhal's haul of 14 points since arriving in the Principality is more than previous boss Paul Clement picked up in his first 20 games this season.
"Now after receiving some oxygen we come alive again. Now we are breathing and we are not dead anymore," said Carvalhal - who returns to Hillsborough this weekend in the FA Cup - of the club's recent revival.
"We have a chance of staying up. We are not in intensive care, but we are not far away from the doctor saying we can go home."
Even more remarkable is that two of those four victories came at home against Champions League-chasing Liverpool and Arsenal, while on the road the Swans have also managed to produce impressive recoveries to beat Watford and draw at Leicester City.
However, it was those back-to-back wins over Liverpool and Arsenal in particular that were key to propelling the club up the table, according to Thierry Henry.
"When you get a new manager, you have players in the dressing room who see they have a possibility to play, impress the new manager and ultimately play," he told Monday Night Football.
"But one thing that they did was managing to beat Liverpool and Arsenal and those are points you are not expecting to get and that is why they are not in the bottom three at the minute.
"That for me is very essential and important. They did the unthinkable and now they can have that momentum up until the end of the season."
And all this has been achieved with a smile and a laugh from the much-travelled 52-year-old, whose fondness for fisherman's tales and eccentric metaphors have almost achieved as much publicity as Swansea's actual results.
"He is a great gentleman and very witty," said Ki Sung-yueng, whose winner against Burnley on Saturday was the South Korea midfielder's first goal since May 2016.
"When you feel some tension, he will tell one of his stories that makes us laugh."
The Daily Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson agrees, telling Sky Sports' Sunday Supplement: "He was giving the press cakes in his press conference last week! Irrelevant in the big scheme of things, but symptomatic of his character and personality and how he in a very short period of time has given the club momentum and a feelgood factor.
"He has been a breath of fresh air in the Premier League - he is honest, open, entertaining, warm and good fun. That will not last forever and that happens with a lot of managers to start with, but it has really been an amazing what he has done so far at Swansea."
However, anyone who recalls Carvalhal's infamous £20 note rant during the latter days of his crumbling reign at Hillsborough will attest to the fact there is also steel behind the Swansea manager's smile.
"When we have to get down to business he becomes very serious," Ki adds. "He says he has an 'A' face and a 'B' face, so when we have a laugh it's great. But when we have to work we also concentrate.
"Tactically all over the pitch he makes everyone work hard, he's changed the team and that has made a big difference."
It is those subtle, but equally important tactical tweaks, however, that have been most instrumental in the Swans' renaissance of late in the eyes of Jamie Carragher.
"He has lifted them, he has lifted the Premier League with some of his quotes," the former Liverpool and England defender told MNF.
"But if you look at the improvement, the obvious things are the win percentage has gone up, because they are winning. Points have gone up, for the same reason, but how have they done it?
"Under the new manager, goals have doubled. Goals conceded, almost halved as well. So that is the big reason because of what they are doing in both boxes.
"You have a back three with two sitting midfielders in Ki and [Tom] Carroll, so the team is almost split in half really. Five behind the ball and five up the other end of the pitch so that you have that security.
"Then you have your two wing backs high and wide and a front three with [Sam] Clucas, who is more of a midfield player really, [Nathan] Dyer and [Jordan] Ayew.
"That is what you have with the ball and in possession and that gives them a chance going forward as they have more bodies."
However, as well as - to quote Carvalhal himself - "putting all the meat on the barbecue and fire to try and win!" Swansea have also tightened up considerably at the back under the Portuguese.
"On the transition, you again have your back three, but with the wing backs coming back and the midfield two," the Sky Sports pundit explains. "But what you also have is the two attacking players [Clucas and Dyer] getting back.
"So what happens with this system is it is 3-4-3 with the ball and it turns into a 5-4-1 without the ball and that is one of the reasons why they are a lot better defensively. They are now difficult to break down and score against."
Carvalhal's best Swans quotes
- "I will look to the lobsters and sea bass, but if not we must buy sardines."
- “The boat is on the sea! The bait is on the hook but there is nothing so far. I am not on the boat, I am on the beach watching."
- "When one Swan falls, another Swan will fly!"
- “They are like a Formula One car. But at 4pm in London it will be difficult to speed, they would be a car like any other.
Swansea have also enjoyed their fair share of luck under Carvalhal, fortune that perhaps had escaped his predecessor.
Come the end of the season, Swans fans may point to when Roberto Firmino headed against a post in the last minute of their shock 1-0 win against Liverpool in January, or Wilfred Ndidi's 'goal' being harshly ruled out to prevent Leicester going 2-0 up in their recent draw at the King Power.
But at the same time, you make your own luck and Carvalhal and his players have deserved it for all the hard work they have put in and the togetherness and self-belief the new man at the helm has generated since his arrival at the club.
But we should not be surprised at the transformation under Carvalhal - who has managed 16 clubs during an eclectic 20-year coaching career - given he was 90 minutes from guiding Wednesday to the promised land of the Premier League in May 2016.
However, in Carragher's view, forget all the quirky analogies, it is the results and performances Carvalhal has managed to get from his players that matter most.
"Yes we can love the manager for his enthusiasm, he has lifted the dressing room," says Carragher. "But let's not get carried away with what he is saying in the press. It is great for us and I am sure it is making the dressing room laugh.
"But more importantly it is what he is doing on the pitch, not what he is doing in his press conferences."
And on the pitch, the previously ailing Swans are flying high under the ever-smiling Portuguese.
Follow Swansea's FA Cup fifth-round tie at Sheffield Wednesday via our live match blog on Saturday afternoon on SkySports.com