Swansea City manager Paul Clement has described his side’s match against Stoke City at the Liberty Stadium as a ‘must win’ fixture as the relegation net starts to close in on the Welsh club. The Swans are currently two points from safety and with just five games remaining the pressure is certainly starting to build and time is in short supply.
Clement made an immediate when he was appointed in early January, dragging the club out of the relegation zone with a number of impressive victories, but the honeymoon period is well and truly over for the former Derby County manager and his team have picked up just one solitary point from their previous six Premier League contests.
To make things worse for Swansea, they face an opponent on Saturday that they have beaten just once in their last seven meetings.
Stoke put to bed any peripheral concerns about being sucked into a relegation battle when they defeated Hull City last weekend and The Potters will be looking forward to a tenth consecutive season in the Premier League next campaign, a significant achievement for the North Staffordshire club.
Mark Hughes has come under some pressure in recent weeks from a small portion of supporters but will still have hopes of claiming a fourth consecutive top-half finish with his side currently sitting eleventh in the league table.
When Paul Clement stepped in as Swansea City’s third manager of the campaign he made an immediate positive impact on the club that his predecessors, Franceso Guidolin and Bob Bradley, had failed to elicit.
The Swans picked up four victories in six games from late January through to early March, giving supporters genuine hope that they can secure survival, but they have suffered an alarming dip in form in recent weeks that threatens to undo all of the good work done at the turn of the year.
Swansea have picked up just one solitary point from their last six Premier League contests, a goalless draw on home soil against Middlesbrough in early April, and have found the net just twice during the same period.
Defensively they have a continuous fragility that Clement has been unable to rectify, with just one clean sheet in their last twenty five matches in all competitions, whilst at the other end of the pitch the goals have all but dried up for the attacking duo of Fernando Llorente and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
In short, it does not make good reading for Swansea supporters.
Stoke City have had something of a topsy-turvy season that has been characterised by inconsistency and extended periods of poor form. In fact, Mark Hughes’ side put an end to one such run of form last weekend when they beat Hull City on home soil – it ended a run of four consecutive defeats and five games in total without a win.
The Welshman has come under increasing pressure from a section of the club’s fan base who believe that the team has regressed during the current campaign and the former Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers manager will be keen to end the season with a good run of results.
The Potters may be inconsistent but their strength still remains their home form. On the road Stoke have picked up just one victory from their last nine contests, a 3-1 win against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light back in mid-January, and have failed to find the back of the net in any of their previous five away contests.
However, Stoke do have a good record against teams in the bottom half of the table, all but one of their league victories have come against teams that currently sit below them in the table.
Swansea City will be sweating on the fitness of midfielder Jack Cork. The 27-year-old is a major doubt for this weekend’s contest after picking up an ankle injury, but the match against Stoke City is expected to come one week too soon for the all-action central midfielder.
The only other absentees will be Nathan Dyer and Angel Rangel who have both already been ruled out the remainder of the campaign due to injuries.
Paul Clement is not expected to make too many changes to the side that were beaten by Watford last weekend.
Tom Carroll could be recalled in an attempt to add more creativity to the midfield whilst Jordan Ayew and Borja Baston, who both came off the bench last time out, could be installed into the starting eleven should Clement wish to boost his attacking options.
Stoke City midfielder Joe Allen remains a major doubt and may be set to miss the return to his former club due to a hamstring injury picked up a fortnight ago whilst Glenn Whelan is also a doubt due to illness.
Ibrahim Afellay and Stephen Ireland have both been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee issue and broken leg respectively, but The Potters were boosted by the return of Jack Butland to the match day squad against Hull City.
The England goalkeeper has been absent from first team action for over a year after breaking his ankle whilst on international duty and could be in line for a recall should Mark Hughes decide that the 24-year-old needs some game time prior to the summer.
Stoke have tended to alter and switch their formation on a regular basis in recent months and Hughes has deployed 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2 systems since the turn of the year.
Against Hull last weekend The Potters started in a 3-4-3 formation, although it is notable that it was not until a switch to 4-4-2 early in the second half that they took control of the game.
Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters both climbed off the bench and had a significant impact against Hull which could put Saido Berahino’s role in the starting eleven in doubt. The former West Bromwich Albion striker has yet to find the back of the net for his new club since signing for Stoke in late January.
Predicted Starting Line-Ups
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Match Verdict: Swansea City 1-1 Stoke City
Swansea City have undoubtedly hit a poor run of form at just the wrong time and Paul Clement has made it abundantly clear in the run up to the weekend that he sees the contest against Stoke City as a must win.
Unfortunately for The Swans they have beaten Saturday’s visitors just once in their last seven meetings, although Mark Hughes side have been ineffective on their travels in recent months and have failed to score in any of their previous five away fixtures.
Swansea will be desperate for a positive result but The Potters are due to pick up some points on the road. We predict a score draw.