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Mar 13, 2014

An exercise in development

This time last season, Swansea had just capped off their League Cup final win with a 1-0 Premier League victory against Newcastle. The Swans would go on to take just six points from their remaining ten matches, but with 40 points in the bank already, survival was assured, and the side eventually finished 9th.

The season before last, Swansea had 36 points by this stage. Needing just four more to hit the magic 40 point threshold -- generally considered the base line for survival -- the side picked up three in their very next game (a 3-0 win over Fulham), but had to battle through a five game losing streak before another 3-0 win against Blackburn Rovers took them to 42 points and guaranteed safety.

With 10 games left to play this season, the Swans have just 29 points, seven short of their first season and 11 short of last. Injuries and the mass of extra games imposed by participation in the Europa League are obvious and legitimate scapegoats. In many ways, this season can be seen as an exercise in development, a campaign beset with the growing pains of -- in Premier League terms -- an angsty teenage Swansea City becoming a rounded adult following a propitious childhood.

Should the Swans be worried? Since a protective and fearful board snatched the reigns out of Michael Laudrup's hands and foisted them on Garry Monk, performances and morale have apparently improved. However, Monk has still only won once as new boss, and taken just five points in the league from an available 12.

For the rest of the campaign, Swansea could mathematically more than double their points tally should they win every remaining game. Since that's about as likely to happen as Vincent Tan changing Cardiff's shirts back to blue, what can Swansea expect from the rest of the season? Is 29 points and 14th place due cause for concern?

At least the Swans have a reasonable schedule for the home run:

""

Only three games are particularly difficult (Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea) with Newcastle and Southampton tough but not unbeatable by any means -- Swansea have already beaten Newcastle 3-0 this season, and were by far the better side for the majority of an unflattering 2-0 defeat away to Southampton.

Predicting football results is a fool's errand, but even if we use a really simplistic model -- let's say Swansea beat all the teams below them, lose to any side in the top half of the table, and draw with everyone else -- then the Swans will have accrued 11 points, just enough to make the magic 40. If Swansea only win every remaining home game except for the Chelsea fixture and lose the rest, they'll have earned 12 points.

A 40 point haul over a 38 game season works out to be 1.05 points per game. So far this season, Swansea are averaging 1.04, which projects to 39.5 for the season. Logically, if Swansea play out the remainder of the season on par they'll be fine, and this is the side's worst Premier League season so far from a points perspective (last season's points-per-game average was 1.43; the season before 1.29.)

I had a look at last season's relegated sides to see what kind of points-per-game figure doomed those teams. At this stage last season -- 10 games left to play -- the clubs which would finish in the drop zone looked like this:

""

Sunderland ultimately avoided relegation by three points, but their points-per-game figure was substantially higher than the relegated sides -- and their figures after 28 games were very similar to Swansea's at the moment.

This season's drop zone paints a similar picture:

""

Sunderland's points-per-game figure is incongruous with their current position, but that's because they have two or three games in hand of the other three teams. If each of the four sides in the graphic continue to perform to par, Sunderland will again finish 17th, with West Brom dropping to 18th, pushing Cardiff to 19th.

Of course, that doesn't take into account the fortunes of any of the teams directly above the last four, but the mathematics is easy enough to understand -- there are a sufficient number of other teams performing worse than Swansea and by significant enough margins that if the Swans simply maintain their performance levels, they ought to be fine.

Chances are, the Swans performances will improve. The heavy scheduling is at an end, and if this training video is anything to go by, it looks like Swansea's favourite adopted son is nearly ready to return. That might be worth 10 points alone.