Carlos Carvalhal - Coaching with a smile
Splurging money aside, it is the coaching which has truly prevailed this season and Carlos Carvalhal is the perfect example of this.
December 29, 2017 will be a day to be remembered for Swansea City if they do indeed avoid the drop this season.
While Crystal Palace’s battle to avoid the drop is a further example of man-management and team management, the 'Swans' and their Portuguese Manager have shown how coaching and managing the given resources can outweigh even the most difficult of situations.
The former Besiktas, Sporting Lisbon and Maritimo boss had a win ratio of 42.7% from his previous 131 games in charge, and was considered a last throw of the dice by Swansea's Chairman, Huw Jenkins at the time of his appointment.
Having sacked his predecessor, Paul Clement after the incumbent managed to win only 3 games out of 18, it was believed that the Swansea board might actually be preparing for life in the Championship.
But since then, Carlos has led the team to 17 points from nine league games in charge, while guiding the team to an FA Cup quarter-final for the first time since 1964. And for a club like Swansea that has been hailed as a guiding light for the smaller clubs, this is somewhat deserved.
The Portuguese was their fourth managerial appointment in the past two years, but the effusiveness and his ability to combine seriousness with the funniest of analogies has seen the players respond positively. The fact that he has been able to achieve this level of success with the same personnel as Paul Clement shows the positivity that good coaching can bring about.
After all, most players plying their trade at this level are more than adequate at grasping instructions from the coach. However, when the coach has a clarity of thought and doesn’t have other things on his plate, it helps themr spread the message in a clear and concise manner.
Most importantly, Swansea as a team have become good to watch and the players on the pitch seem to be enjoying themselves, instead of being overburdened from playing the negative football they did under Clement.
The tactics of Carlos Carvalhal have been a joy to watch.
For example, by altering the defence by bringing in Mike Van Der Hoorn alongside Alfie Mawson and Frederico Fernandez, he has made the defence more solid, while at the same time freeing the likes of Martin Olsson and Kyle Naughton.
The latter, who looked like a disaster in the earlier part of the season, now seems to be rejuvenated and his lung-bursting runs from the deep have become an offensive weapon for the Swans.
Similarly, sensible buys in the winter transfer window - Andre Ayew and Andy King - have bolstered their attacking options. Add to that the upturn in form of Luciano Narsingh and Sam Clucas and the return from injury of Sung-Yeung Ki, and their rise to 13th position in the table makes sense.
The fun part of it is that the Portuguese has gone about his task with a smile and that seems to give the players a lift.
The wins against high-fliers Liverpool, as well as Arsenal FC, was a testament to his organizing skills. Moreover, the fight is back among the players and their best performance came this weekend when they thumped West Ham United 4-1.
A Season of Tactical manoeuvres
In fact, this season’s Premier League has been a salute to coaching more than the previous eras. From the likes of David Wagner of Huddersfield to Pep Guardiola of Manchester City, most clubs who have done well this season and most managers have made the most of the resources available.
Wagner, Hughton and Benitez - the mangers of newly promoted teams Huddersfield, Bright & Hove Albion and Newcastle United respectively have had to balance the financial interests of the club before dipping into the transfer market.
In fact, Brighton and Huddersfield have managed to spend more on signings then Benitez, whose hands and feet have been locked and the key thrown away by Mike Ashley, Newcastle's billionaire owner. Despite that, Benitez has soldiered on and has used all his guile and wit to ensure that Newcastle doesn’t get pulled into a relegation battle.
The Spaniard is a master at picking his battles and once the realization dawned on him that the Board isn’t going to support him, he has instead chosen to buckle down and get the best out of his players.
Similarly, Sean Dyche’s work with Burnley has been an eye-opener. The Clarets are in line for their best finish in the Premier League having held on to 7th position since December despite a run of 12 games which saw them pick up a solitary win.
While it does throw doubtful questions about the quality of the league, it is their victory against Chelsea as well as the draws against the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool which have made them considerable challengers outside the top 6.
In fact, the smaller clubs have proved time and again this season, that it is not necessary to spend the big bucks always. Yes, it strengthens the squad by providing more options, but ultimately it is the coaching which will come to the fore.
Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, after having struggled initially, are doing much better this season. Perhaps it is also time for Wenger to take a leaf out of his earlier manuals and coach his players rather than just giving them instructions. Maybe that is what will finally improve Arsenal's fortunes this season.