On the opening day of the season, Swansea City went to Stamford Bridge, the home of the champions and everyone’s pick to win this season’s Premier League title, and came away with a creditable draw.
Despite the dismissal of Chelsea’s towering goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, to come away with a draw against what lots of people would have argued was the best team in the land at that point was no mean feat. For the entire game Branislav Ivanovic was tormented by the pace of Jefferson Montero, Andre Ayew looked so classy he could have been strolling around in a top hat and Jonjo Shelvey tamed the game with his range of passing.
That game will, no doubt, be remembered for the Eva Carneiro incident more than the actual football. Maybe it’ll even be seen as the day that Jose Mourinho lost the plot completely. For Swansea fans, it’s almost like the start of a daydream. The reminder of what might have been.
That game precipitated a run where Swansea were majestic. The classiness and precision of Garry Monk’s side had the manager lauded as a potential England boss in waiting. And when that happens, you know you’re about to be slapped by reality.
And slapped Swansea have been. They sit with an unenviable record, only one win in eight in all competitions. Five defeats in those eight games, and the only victory coming against Aston Villa right at the end of the Tim Sherwood era when a monkey with a clipboard could have managed the Swans to victory.
So things are bleak. Which is probably a good thing, to be fair. It’s probably a good thing if you think that sitting comfortably above the relegation zone and looking up into the top half and seeing it placed only one win away is ‘bleak’. It shows that you have ambition and drive. It shows that you believe you’re good enough to do better.
But it’s also good given Swansea’s almost pathological aversion to being the team in the ascendency.
By that I don’t mean the ascendency within games. They’re pretty good at keeping possession and creating chances. What I mean is, they’re not so good at being the favourite and taking the game by the scruff of the neck. They don’t seem so good at being watched.
Last season, when the form started to get better and better, and Swansea started to shoot up the table, no one was talking about them. No one was heralding their charge up into the top half and on for Europe. In the end they finished eighth, only one place and four points off a European spot. At one point it looked as though they might do it, as Southampton and Spurs started to decline in form.
This season, the first few games were promising, but after beating Manchester United, everyone started to take notice. And that’s when the wheels came off.
The Swans began losing games and there was pressure to win. But not just pressure for victory, pressure to win playing the pretty football that got them noticed in the first place.
With the spotlight on both the players and the manager, Swansea have crumbled over the past few weeks. It remains to be seen if they can turn it around, but this is a crucial time for the manager.
He’s young and eager, but he’s never had to deal with this before. When he came into the role he had to deal with a club on the verge of fighting a relegation battle, and he saved them expertly. But then he caught the club at its lowest point, and just steered it up. Now he has to arrest the slide before steering it up, and that’s a much more difficult task.
It’s not the right time to make judgements about his ability to do that or not. Now’s the time to wait and see if he can. He deserves time to get it right, and given how well he’s done so far, I wouldn’t bet against it.
It’s a crucial time for Monk because this is a crucial club for a manager to have in his bag. You have to be able to do it when times are bad. But because he’s never experienced this type of poor form before, this is the learning curve.
It’s much better to have that learning curve at the start of the season, when you have time to fix it. Even better to have it after a great run of form and a few wins. But Swansea are in freefall at the moment, and it’s up to Monk to turn it around.