Paul Clement deserves backing after Swansea's escape from relegation
Swansea's toughest Premier League season yet saw them flirt with relegation, make three managerial changes and survive with one game remaining. Coach Paul Clement's masterful escape strategy and captain Leon Britton's peerless leadership helped Swans over the line.
Rating out of 10: 3
Swansea's five-game unbeaten streak to end the season, which saw them switch places with Hull, escape relegation and finish 15th overall. They hit a run of form at exactly the right time while their relegation rivals went into reverse gear. It began with Clement tagging the Stoke fixture on April 22 as a "must-win" game and reinstating Britton to the starting lineup ahead of that match. Swansea won 2-0 and didn't look back, ending a troubled campaign with their best collective performances of the season.
The 3-0 away defeat to Middlesbrough. Bob Bradley's 10th game in charge came after a 3-1 drubbing at the hands of West Brom. Struggling Boro should have presented an opportunity for Swansea to reclaim some pride, but instead the league's worst attacking unit put three goals past the Swansea defence. This was the only time in the season that Boro scored more than twice in one game. Bradley was sacked after losing 4-1 to West Ham in the next match.
Gylfi Sigurdsson. Swansea's chief playmaker and dead ball specialist had a huge season in terms of personal achievement, and without him, the club would surely have been doomed to drop.
The midfielder chalked the third-most assists in the league with 13, with only Kevin De Bruyne (18) and Christian Eriksen (15) faring better, and did so with a significantly weaker supporting cast. His six goals from direct free kicks are the most by any player in the league since 2012, and he came within a goal of becoming the first Swansea player to hit double digits in both goals and assists in a single Premier League season.
Bob Bradley. Swansea's new owners, Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan, chose to roll the dice with a risky left-field managerial appointment, having sacked under-appreciated Francesco Guidolin to make space for the new man. To say the gamble didn't pay off is understatement.
Bradley's contribution of a near three goals-against average per game pushed Swansea to a team-worst defensive record in the top flight, though it also gave the side some unexpected bragging rights -- no club had ever survived relegation having conceded as many goals as Swansea (70).
The American manager could not resist chopping and changing his side on a game-by-game basis, often leaving 15-goal star striker Fernando Llorente on the bench despite his side's struggles to score. That Clement was able to resurrect this team and recover from the damage Bradley's 85 days in charge inflicted remains a minor miracle.
Swansea have to rebuild over the summer. Until last January, the club's transfer business had been hit-and-miss (mostly miss) for several seasons. They need to trim the deadwood, of which there is now a small abundance, and make some tough decisions.
Will fragile players (Jefferson Montero), old hands (Nathan Dyer, Angel Rangel), and "project players" who perhaps should have come good by now (Mo Barrow, Jordi Amat) have a big enough role to play next season to justify their wages and squad space? Will the club be able to keep star men Llorente and Sigurdsson?
If the latter two leave, it should be for good money, and Swansea will need to be very careful to reinvest in quality replacements. This season has demonstrated the damage that unchecked complacency and poor decision-making can cause. It has also illustrated the value of good decisions (hiring Clement, January's signings).
Swansea should look to sign at least one starting-calibre player in defence, midfield and attack this summer (more if current starters leave) and look to retool the on-field strategy to get the most out of record signing Borja Baston.
The Spaniard has had a nothing season, but any player who scores 19 goals in La Liga clearly has something to offer. He can't play the Llorente role -- few can these days -- but he is a natural finisher who will thrive given the right support.
More than anything, it is vital that Swansea make the most of their budget with signings who will contribute. Too much of this side's wage bill is spent on players who never see the field -- at least not for Swansea -- and if the new owners want to avoid another disaster next season, they should provide Clement with good players he can actually use. He has more than earned that luxury.
Max is ESPN FC's Swansea blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @maxwellhicks