The last time Carlos Carvalhal and David Wagner came face-to-face in the managerial dugout: Football League Championship Playoff Semi-final second leg, May 2017. Huddersfield travelled to Hillsborough, following a goalless draw in the first leg at home to Sheffield Wednesday, fell behind to Steven Fletcher’s header, roared back through an own goal, and eventually triumphed on penalties, on their way to promotion to the Premier League.

And both sides meet again this weekend, with top flight football the end game, although the circumstances are a little different. It’s not about getting to the top flight, more like staying in the top flight; Huddersfield are in 15th place, on 30 points, three ahead of the drop zone, their fairy-tale years might just extend. Swansea, meanwhile, seemed dead and buried at the end of December, Paul Clement was dismissed with the club languishing at the foot of the table, Leon Britton had a little stint as player-manager, then Carvalhal came in, having resigned from his position at Sheffield Wednesday. Since then, things have gone north for the South Welsh side, only two league defeats since the Portuguese came in, and they’re currently two places above Huddersfield, although separated only by goal difference.

Both sides are currently above water, but nowhere near safe, especially in such a tight league table. A win here is a shoot up for one side, as much as a defeat means a drop down for the other. The upside for both sides is that unlike last season, both might well survive. The flipside, though, means, unlike last season as well, both might well go down.

Elsewhere:

  • The question: will Petr Cech ever get that 200th clean sheet? The Czech goalie has been on 199 since 2017, and ever since has failed to have any other shut out. With Watford coming to an uncertain Emirates crowd, where the atmosphere hasn’t been the most joyous of late, this might not be the weekend for that clean sheet. More importantly for Arsenal, a win is paramount to halt their awful league form. They did manage a win at the San Siro in midweek, though, the more important- if not most important- target in their season now.
  • It’s destination Old Trafford at lunchtime on Saturday, as Manchester United play host to Liverpool in a Red derby of second against third. The focus is not unlikely to be on Jose Mourinho and whether he would set up his side to be cautious, and with United above their rivals ahead of the game, it might well be the case.
  • It’s another six-pointer this weekend, as 17th-placed Southampton travel to 16th-placed Newcastle. Southampton have cause for optimism in the fact that they haven’t lost in six games, but only one of those games have they won. Newcastle, meanwhile, lost at Liverpool last weekend, a game they would view as a bye, a definite free hit. Being on home soil demands a result, but home soil hasn’t been their best place to play this term.

Fixtures

Huddersfield v Swansea

Manchester United v Liverpool

Stoke v Manchester City

West Brom v Leicester

Arsenal v Watford

Everton v Brighton

West Ham v Burnley

Bournemouth v Tottenham

Chelsea v Crystal Palace

Newcastle v Southampton

Published in International Watch

When Carlos Carvalhal was swamped in celebration by his staff, while Sam Clucas lay down on the turf in exhausted disbelief, Swansea had just confirmed another special result, as Clucas’ second goal of the game put the South Welsh side 3-1 up at home to Arsenal, with less than 10 minutes.

That the win lifted them temporarily out of the drop zone and undoubtedly off the foot of the table was one thing, that it was achieved against the Gunners was another, and that it was their first back-to-back league success of the season, after seeing off Liverpool eight days earlier, was something else as well.

‘It’s all about winning’, said Swans defender Mike van der Hoorn. ‘If you are winning then life is happier. I was talking to the boys when we were having lunch at Fairwood about how life is so much easier when we win’. ‘It changes you as a person’, the Dutchman added, ‘the belief is there and now we need to keep up this form.

The belief certainly looks there under Carvalhal, under the swamp of haplessness that was present in the closing stages of Paul Clement’s tenure. Not just that Swansea had beaten Arsenal, but that Swansea outplayed Arsenal, going toe-to-toe with them, looking them in eye until the Gunners blinked; they had more shots, and more corners, than their more-illustrious opponents. The Jacks had beaten Liverpool at the Liberty stadium on the previous Matchday, and here they began well, Jordan Ayew seeing his shot deflect wide, Alfie Mawson coming close on two occasions, while a superb tackle from Arsenal’s Mohammed Elneny denied Clucas an opening. It would be the Gunners who would take the lead though, as an excellent piece of foresight, as well as pass from Mesut Ozil found Nacho Monreal, who, prior to this season had one league Arsenal goal to his name (at the Liberty Stadium in 2013), but was celebrating his fourth of this campaign.

That seemed to be the beginning of the end for Swansea, under Clement, it probably would have been without question. But Carvalhal’s first win as manager was a comeback victory at Watford, and his side demonstrated their new found resolve when Mawson played in Clucas, who slotted home the equaliser barely 100 seconds after Arsenal struck.

The Swans have been showing enough grit and effort to earn a fair bit of luck this season, and judging by the game at home to Liverpool, when Roberto Firmino directed a free header onto the bar, unmarked, in the 93rd minute, they were getting it. But that would be nothing compared to what occurred midway through the second half in this game. From quick Arsenal throw-in Monreal shuffled the ball to Shkodran Mustafi, whose ill-advised back pass put goalkeeper Petr Cech under pressure, and the latter’s miscued clearance fell straight to Ayew, who required just one touch to accept the gift, and put the hosts in front.

The stadium was in full bounce, and with 19 minutes left, watched as Nathan Dyer’s shot grazed the outside of the post, as Swansea sought a third. But they would get it late on, a not-so convincing moment from Monreal resulted in Ayew making his way into the box with the ball, and his deflected cross would be turned home by Clucas. Cue delirium at the Liberty, from the fans, goal scorer, and dugout as well, Swansea had scored seven league goals at home this season before that night, then they got three in 84 minutes. The belief is rising, as are the performances on the pitch.

‘If we can continue to play at the level we have in the last two league games’ said van der Hoorn, ‘and the fans can keep it up too, then it will make for a very interesting finish to the season’. If Swansea keep this up, it might just make for another seemingly unfathomable escape this season.

Cherries in Dreamland at the Bridge

Olivier Giroud made his way into a seat at Stamford Bridge, the Frenchman had signed for Chelsea, less than a day after playing a part in Arsenal’s loss at Swansea, but what he proceeded to watch would be nothing short of jaw-dropping. For the first 45 minutes, Chelsea toiled and probed as they sought a way through, but none was forthcoming, and barely two minutes into the second period had been played when they fell behind, Callum Wilson in an exchange with Jordon Ibe, before finishing under Thibaut Courtois. One became two soon after, Junior Stanislas the next to find himself in behind the Blues defence, and his finish also went under Courtois, albeit the Belgian ‘keeper got something on the effort. Stanislas would turn provider for the third, his shot having been turned in by former Chelsea defender Nathan Ake, who didn’t hold back in celebrating. There was no celebration from Antonio Conte, though, his side have dropped to fourth place on goal difference, and are only two points away from fifth-placed Spurs. Conte says he doesn’t feel pressure, but recognises the fight on Chelsea’s hands to make the Champions League next season. Also known as pressure

Spurs Catch United Napping

‘I don’t think it’s very normal to concede a goal like we did’, said Jose Mourinho, as he watched his side concede to Spurs’ Christian Eriksen after just 11 seconds played at Wembley. ‘Ridiculous’ he described it, and United, perhaps stunned by such a start, never really got going, and before the half hour mark, they would concede again, Phil Jones slamming Kieran Trippier’s cross into his own net. The scoreline barely flattered Spurs, who will know they should have added more, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are two points off third place. As for Manchester United, the gap to City increases to 15 again.

Elsewhere

  • Huddersfield are well and truly on the side, as the Terriers have slipped to 17th place after yet another defeat, this time at home to Liverpool. A well-taken strike from Emre Can, and another wonderful display from forward Roberto Firmino were the highlights, as the Reds bag a first win since beating Manchester City almost three weeks earlier, and climb to third. Huddersfield might wonder if things would have gone differently had Laurent Depoitre’s shot not been away by Loris Karius when it was still goalless.
  • Debut: Theo Walcott bags an assist as Everton salvage a point at home to West Brom. Second game: Theo Walcott’s double gives Everton three priceless points at home to Leicester, the English winger’s brace was responsible for Everton getting their first win of the New Year, against the Foxes, whose pre-match was covered in speculation about Riyad Mahrez, the Algerian absent for the game, but doesn’t leave the club in the end.
  • Oh, and it was transfer deadline day last night, Giroud’s move to Chelsea part of a three-way roll that saw Michy Batshuayi leave for Dortmund, whom had initially sold Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal, although the transfer crescendo had to share the limelight with some actual football (how horrible!).

Results

Swansea 3-1 Arsenal

Tottenham 2-0 Manchester United

Stoke 0-0 Watford

Southampton 1-1 Brighton

Newcastle 1-1 Burnley

Manchester City 3-0 West Brom

Chelsea 0-3 Bournemouth

West Ham 1-1 Crystal Palace

Huddersfield 0-3 Liverpool

Everton 2-1 Leicester

Published in International Watch

‘Why is this geezer any better than Gary Rowett’. Words of disdain from a bewildered ‘pundit’, as a British manager is overlooked for a Premier League job as a result of a foreigner once again. Paul Merson’s displeasure was no secret, neither was Phil Thompson’s, both men on Sky Sports venting their peace last January when Marco Silva was handed the Hull City job. But despite Hull getting relegated in May, Silva performed miracles in giving a fighting chance in the first place, losing only twice at home in his five-month spell- one of which was a dead-rubber against Tottenham-, and ultimately successfully auditioning for the Watford job, the Portuguese potentially getting that appointment ahead of another Brit.

Silva sees his Hornets side lie in 10th place, after a quite impressive so far, as he prepares to host bottom club Swansea, and a fellow Portuguese manager who’s no stranger to his appointment been met with sneers. When Sheffield Wednesday made the decision to hire Carlos Carvalhal in the summer of 2015, not many were elated, after all under previous gaffer Stuart Grey the Owls only finished in the top half of the championship on goal difference (more than on par by their standards), and Carvalhal’s career had seen him manage 15 clubs in Portugal. It was hardly a move to set tongues wagging.

But in his two full seasons at Hillsborough, he led Wednesday to the playoffs twice, falling short in the final in 2016, before a penalty shoot-out brought heartbreak last May. However, Carvalhal left his position last weekend, defeat at home to Middlesbrough left the side firmly lodged in the bottom half of the second tier, which just about makes his appointment- until the end of the season- by the Swans all the more startling. Not that he is fazed.

‘I am confident myself and my staff can help the club to a better position’ says the new Swansea boss. ‘If we do things right here at Swansea, we will stay here for a long time’. Doing things right hasn’t particularly been the Swans’ forte of late, not least in terms of oversight or recruitment, and definitely not on the pitch. Bottom of the table, three wins from 20, lowest goals tally so far (11), and chairman Huw Jenkins stating that fund for the January window can only arrive through player sales doesn’t make things any more comfortable, the Welsh could really do with some width in the side, to say the very least.

Jenkins also admitting that his biggest regret was not bringing back Brendan Rodgers also clearly highlights that Carvalhal is no first choice for the task, neither will he quite be seen as the saviour cometh by the fans. The Swans need get on the right path, and quickly too. A new manager bounce at Hertfordshire on Saturday will be a good start.

Elsewhere

  • Hello Alan. Hello Arsene. It looks like being a keen touchline battle on Sunday at the Hawthorns when Alan Pardew, who seemingly annoys everyone else, hosts Arsene Wenger, who is seemingly annoyed by everyone else; their little handbags session in November of 2006 still lingers in the memory. By Sunday, that game would become of the 811 that Wenger has managed in the Premier League, as the Frenchman will overtake Fergie at the Hawthorns as the manager with most appearances in this league. For West Brom, meanwhile, it would probably be a relief to see the back of 2017, a year which they’ve won only seven league games, only two of which have come this season, and none since August.
  • Last season’s championship’s top two go head-to-head as they bid to retain the Premier League status they fought to acquire last term, Brighton may be in 12th place, but are only four points off the drop, while Newcastle are three behind the Seagulls, in 15th. Neither side has shown a cavalier attacking attitude so far this season, but you sense both might go for it here, the kind of game where both would expect to get something sufficient.

Fixtures

Watford v Swansea

Crystal Palace v Manchester City

Manchester United v Southampton

Newcastle v Brighton

Huddersfield v Burnley

West Brom v Arsenal

Chelsea v Stoke

Liverpool v Leicester

Bournemouth v Everton

Published in International Watch