Bob Bradley faced pressure from day one with Swansea due to his lack of experience in English football, and that pressure has not subsided over the last two months. His Swansea side are 19th in the division and have conceded more goals than any other team in the league, a trait that has not proved to allow many clubs avoid relegation in the Premier League era. Bookmakers see Bradley as the favourite to be the next manager to leave his post, but should the American be given more time?
The fixture list was not exactly kind to Swansea this season, already having to face Chelsea, Liverpool and both Manchester clubs at home, resulting in three defeats and a draw, while they have collected seven points in their four more winnable home games, including wins against Crystal Palace and Sunderland. Swansea collected just four points over their first seven games of the season under Francesco Guidolin (0.57 points per match), as Bradley has collected eight points in ten games (0.80 per match) – better, but not by much.
Bradley has inherited a squad rather than having any impact on its construction. He has already used 20 different players in his starting XIs, as only Lukasz Fabianski and Gylfi Sigurdsson have started all ten league games, with Bradley still searching for his preferred side. STATS’ Playing Styles analysis reveals that Bradley’s Swansea has only been above average for Crossing (+6%) and Maintenance (+1%), ranking fourth and seventh in the Premier League respectively over this period.
Swansea were also 6% above average for crossing under Guidolin, the only area in which they were above average under the Italian. However, Bradley’s side has played at a slower tempo (-32% for Fast Tempo over the last 10 games) and, at 31% below average, are last in the league for Counter Attack, as Swansea have aimed to build out from the back.
Yet it is Swansea’s defence that needs immediate strengthening in January. Losing Ashley Williams has proved to be a blow, and Bradley has not settled on a consistent central defensive partnership since taking over the club, as Jordi Amat, Federico Fernandez, Alfie Mawson and Mike van der Hoorn have all featured – with no combination starting more than three games together in the Swans’ last ten games. Swansea have conceded 37 goals this season, the worst defensive record in the Premier League, while their 38.6 expected goals against is the third highest in the division. Their 2.27 expected goals conceded per match is higher than last season’s 1.80, as Swansea overachieved defensively – conceding 52 goals compared to 64.1 expected goals allowed, so the club really needed to strengthen in that area rather than losing a key player. To highlight the importance of a strong defensive record in order to survive, only one team has avoided the drop when conceding the division’s highest number of goals during the Premier League era – and that was Fulham during the 2006/07 season. However, that Fulham team only conceded 60 at an average of 1.58 per match, which also tied with relegated Charlton (who finished 19th).
The obvious comparison for this Swansea side is Sunderland, and the Black Cats hired Sam Allardyce at a similar stage last season in October 2015. Big Sam collected nine points after his first ten games – just one point more than Bradley.
January proved to be a pivotal month for Sunderland, adding three key players to their starting XI, who went on to collect 20 points in their 15 games between February and the end of the season as Sunderland managed to survive despite a poor start. Notably, Allardyce added Lamine Kone to his defence and Jan Kirchhoff took over as the club’s primary defensive midfielder, as Sunderland’s defensive record improved dramatically, conceding just 16 goals in those 15 games, lower than the total they conceded in Big Sam’s first ten games in charge, although their expected goals allowed were higher at 22.7.
Swansea have seen an improvement under Bradley defensively, allowing 2.00 expected goals per match – compared to 2.66 under Guidolin; although this is not enough of an improvement to signify a solidified defensive unit. Bradley needs further improvement in this area, and January has to be the time to do it in order to save the Swans. What should also be noted is that their expected goal difference under Bradley is -4.1 – much better than their actual goal difference (-11).
January is going to be a key month for a number of clubs, and it should be the time that Swansea add players to improve their defence while allowing Bradley to set up the team in his preferred system. A dramatic turnaround under Bob Bradley should not have been immediately expected for Swansea, and it should really be seen as too soon for the club to make another managerial change, despite the club being in 19th in the Premier League and three points from safety.
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Photo By: AP Photo/Tim Ireland