Swansea City ensured that their Premier League fate is now in their own hands after Fernando Llorente’s first-half goal was enough to see off Everton at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday evening.
In a first-half of very few clear chances, Jordan Ayew stood a ball up towards the back post for Swansea’s top scorer Llorente to scrappily head into the net and give the Swans a crucial advantage.
Despite going close through Romelu Lukaku and Phil Jagielka as the Toffees pushed for a late equaliser, the hosts held out to secure a critical three points in the battle to avoid the dreaded drop.
After Hull City lost to already-relegated Sunderland earlier in the day, Swansea’s victory sees them climb out of the relegation spots – a point ahead of the Tigers – whilst Everton remain in 7th place.
Swans take pole position in race for survival
All in all, Saturday couldn’t have gone any better as far as Swansea City are concerned.
With their closest rivals – in Hull City and Crystal Palace – both dropping points earlier in the day, the Swans managed to handle the immense pressure that was on their shoulders and beat a high-flying Everton side; now with just two Premier League matches left, they’re in control of their own destiny.
Perhaps most telling is that Paul Clement’s side now face a trip to the Stadium of Light and already-doomed Sunderland – win that and they could mathematically secure their survival if Hull City lose.
With the Tigers facing an equally pivotal match against fellow relegation contenders Crystal Palace on Sunday, there’s a chance that Swansea can stretch the gap to four points before Hull even play.
It was a complete performance against Everton – a fully deserved victory – that showed a determination that hasn’t really been seen across the Welsh border so far this league season.
From front to back each Swansea player fought and battled, and young Alfie Mawson – who was playing for Barnsley this time last year – was exceptional in keeping Romelu Lukaku’s threat quiet.
With Sunderland surprising Hull this weekend survival is certainly not a formality for Swansea, but with a strong win under their belt and momentum on their side they’re in pole position to survive.
Koeman gets his tactics wrong
It’s undeniable that Ronald Koeman has worked wonders at Everton this season, taking them to the brink of a challenge for Champions League football, but he simply got his tactics wrong on Saturday.
After seeing Manchester United dominate Swansea for large periods of their clash last week when matching their diamond formation, Koeman decided to replicate this to try and pin the Swans back.
This meant leaving Ross Barkley and Enner Valencia out of the starting line-up, with Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas making returns, but it failed to have the desired effect; in a first-half of very few chances, Romelu Lukaku was left isolated in the final third and the Toffees eventually conceded a soft goal.
Mirallas was forced into dropping too deep to try and influence the play, leaving a huge gap between the Everton midfield line and Lukaku and even when Koeman brought on Barkley and Valencia in the second-half it failed to have the desired effect as Swansea stifled any creativity from the visitors.
With very little to play for in recent weeks it seems that the Toffees are perhaps already concentrating on next season; but with no away win in seven games, Koeman would be wise to stop the rot.
Target-man Llorente proves his worth
Last week it was Swansea’s main man Gylfi Sigurdsson who stepped up to the plate when it mattered and delivered, and this time the Swan’s inspiration came in the shape of Fernando Llorente.
With his side against the cosh somewhat – and seconds after a penalty appeal had been turned down – the Spanish striker towered above Phil Jagielka to nod home and send the Liberty Stadium crazy.
It was his 13th Premier League goal this season and, other than his double in the win against Liverpool over the festive period, it’s arguably one of his most important contributions this season.
The fact that it was his 7th with his head shows just how valuable, and how effective, having a target-man up front can be; even in an age where pace reigns supreme, there’s still room for the big man up top.
He was unlucky not to add to his tally for the afternoon when he was smartly denied by Maarten Stekelenburg but he had already done enough to ensure his side are in the driving seat for survival.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Oliver Oliu.