The Italian Job
Posted by Matt Walters | Published on February 21, 2016
When Francesco Guidolin was appointed head coach of Swansea in January, there was a unified question across Britain; “Who?” The Italian came with a fierce reputation from Italy but as an unknown on these shores. This was reflected when Swansea captain Ashley Williams admitted to Googling the 60-year-old. He has had a mixed spell at Swansea so far, winning one, being held in two before losing a fairly even match against Southampton. In this article, I shall assess his time in South Wales so far and look to what the future might hold for Guidolin and Swansea.
Guidolin was appointed on the eve of Swansea’s match against Watford which was decided by a powerful Ashley Williams header. It was a strange situation as Swansea’s plan had originally been to allow club legend Alan Curtis to manage on an interim basis until the Summer where they would reappoint Brendan Rodgers if they remained a Premier League Club. That had been the plan, it seemed, until approximately an hour before Swansea kicked off against Quique Sanchez Flores’s men when Swansea’s official Twitter account announced the news to the world.
The next day, Guidolin and assistant manager Gabriele Ambrosetti were given a tour of the Fairwood training ground where they were formally introduced to Alan Curtis, David Adams and the rest of the Swansea coaching team. Having assessed what was needed by Swansea in the transfer window, he decided two players would be required; a striker and a midfielder. He loaned out flops Franck Tabanou and Eder to Saint-Etienne and Lille respectively and long-serving goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel to Werder Bremen and he brought in Alberto Paloschi from Chievo Verona and Leroy Fer on loan from QPR.
His first match was away to Everton where he came out with a historic first away win to Everton and first win over former manager Roberto Martinez thanks to a Gylfi Sigurdsson penalty and an Andre Ayew deflected winner. In this match, Swansea played a 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield and Ayew playing as a striker alongside Wayne Routledge. This formation was re-used in the next three games although Routledge was replaced by Guidolin’s compatriot and former youngster Alberto Paloschi. The striker made an impact in his debut away to West Brom, causing problems for the Baggies’s defence and setting up Gylfi Sigurdsson’s opener. He was slightly less influential in his home debut against Crystal Palace but the formation was re-used for the match against Southampton where Shane Long’s header handed the Saints a win.
At Udinese; the club at which Guidolin enjoyed the most success, he often used a variation of the 3-5-2 formation with Alexis Sanchez often being played as a centre forward behind the striker and a midfielder being deployed as a sweeper in defence. This formation would most likely require a pre-season to work it into the players which may seem difficult to implement as the Italian’s contract expires this Summer although it’s likely, all going well, that he will be given the job on a long term basis. Additionally, the appointment of Diego Bortoluzzi as assistant coach and signing of Paloschi imply that the former Monaco manager is bringing in his own men in for the long run.
If the Italian does take up the job on a long-term basis it would seem that Ashley Williams’s place in defence seems safe. The same goes for World Cup runner-up Federico Fernandez; signed from Napoli in 2014, the Argentinian is no stranger to the Italian style of play. Angel Rangel lacks the pace or fitness to operate as a wing-back although the Spaniard has the necessary build and ability to work in a three-man defence. In terms of the sweeper, I believe it is Ki Sung-Yueng who will be required to operate this role. The South Korea captain played in defence for Michael Laudrup in the league cup final although it may seem a waist of his goal-scoring and passing talent. Neil Taylor plays wing-back at an international level for Chris Coleman’s Wales and has put in several good performances, pushing former team-mate Ben Davies into the centre of the Welsh defence.
Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andre Ayew remain options for the ‘Sanchez’ role behind the striker, but Ayew seems a better option due to his goal-scoring and aerial ability. It seems more plausible that Gylfi Sigurdsson and Leon Britton will operate the engine of the park as the Icelandic ace played there for Tottenham. Given the players already available at the club, I believe that Guidolin will eventually look to play this team: