When this series was starting to be written, the order was very different to how it’s being presented now, due to the ever-changing nature of the Premier League bottom half at the moment.
Swansea are indicative of this. From relegation certainties to mid-table ‘security’, albeit an illusion that can be quickly shattered. They could still be relegated, as could any team on this league, but the Swans in 13th seem to be at the top of the possible candidates, with Brighton managing to pull themselves away.
Why will they stay up? The new manager bounce has given them a new lease of life, with Carlos Carvalhal working wonders so far in South Wales. Two big wins against Liverpool and Arsenal have been complemented by hard-fought wins against Burnley and Watford and a thumping victory over West Ham this weekend.
He has transformed them from certainties for relegation into an unrecognisable team that has only lost twice in his tenure, against a very capable Spurs side and an in-form Brighton team. The 8-1 win against Notts County in the cup won’t elevate them in the league, but gives a glimpse of the confidence that the Swans now have.
He has accumulated more points already than predecessor Paul Clement had in the first 20 games of this season, and is clearly the biggest reason that Swansea can stay up. The team is working noticeably harder, as is seen very often when a new manager comes in.
They are much more solid, employing a five at the back formation when the opposition has possession, with the wingers offering even more support defensively too. Against West Ham there was a slight variant on this as they had two strikers with three in the midfield, but the result of keeping the game tight is the same.
Carvalhal has also implemented an effective forward strategy which has doubled their potency. The two wingers are spearheaded by Jordan Ayew, with the wing backs offering extra support which means they often have five men on the attack every time.
This high energy change in tactics and upturn in form means it would take a brave person to bet on the Premier League’s Welsh representatives to go down now this season.
Why could they go down? The bubble bursting too soon. Although their new game plan is working now, it is not exceptionally revolutionary and the more matches they play with it, the more ammunition the opposition have to try and counteract it.
In the match against Brighton a couple of weeks ago, they were heavily exposed. Although every club experiences some degree of luck, or otherwise, throughout a season, it does show how fragile the battle is.
Swansea’s next two league games could well define their fate, and will be the main reason they stay up or go down. They play two of the other teams on this list (Huddersfield and Southampton), and two negative results would signify that the bubble has indeed burst, and they would certainly be back in or near the relegation zone.
The last two matches have been 4-1 to two other teams on this list, once in their favour and once against them. It shows how pivotal these next two games really are, and they could go either way.
It seems a feeble reason citing the fixture list, but with the proximity of the teams in the table it does become a key factor, and the fact that they’re facing four relegation rivals in a row does add a new level of importance. A good run is always followed by a bad run when you are fighting near the bottom, so they have to be extremely wary.
The FA Cup has been known to distract teams as well, with a quarter-final tie against Tottenham sandwiched in between the two six-pointers.
However, Swansea just look too good and resolute at the moment to not expect to pick up points in these fixtures.