Swansea need ‘emotional control’ against Southampton
Clubs are level on points with two games to play as they battle Premier League relegation
Swansea City manager Carlos Carhalhal: Dan Istitene/Getty
Carlos Carvalhal stressed the need for “emotional control” from Swansea and Mark Hughes was preaching a similar message when he talked about “calmness” being the key for Southampton, although playing the game and not the occasion promises to be easier said than done at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday night in what is essentially a relegation playoff.
Level on points with only two matches remaining, Swansea and Southampton meet in a survival showdown that promises to make for captivating viewing for the neutral as both clubs chase the victory that would put them within touching distance of safety. It will be a match riddled with tension and, according to both managers, played in the mind as much as with the ball.
“You have got to deal with pressure,” Hughes said. “You have got to think clearly. Obviously, when things are flying around, you have to try to do the right things and you have to take your chances when you create them.”
Southampton, by virtue of their superior goal difference, have their noses in front and also have some momentum after taking four points from their past two games to overhaul Swansea, even if they departed Goodison Park feeling bitterly disappointed after conceding an equaliser against Everton in the sixth minute of added time.
“We just mustn’t allow ourselves to be deflated by what’s ahead of us and what’s just occurred,” Hughes said. “We played well. We are not down, in terms of confidence and in terms of how we are playing. We were damaged because we got so close to getting a significant result and a significant victory, which clearly would have helped our situation. But it is still very much in our hands. We will get this out of our system and go again.”
Swansea have picked up two points from their past seven games, sucking them back into the bottom three in the final week of the season. The victories have dried up, and so have those colourful Carvalhal metaphors, amid a frustrating run during which Swansea have scored only twice and, in the eyes of the fans who chanted “attack, attack, attack” during the second half at Bournemouth on Saturday, played far too many matches with the handbrake on.
Carvalhal bristles at any criticism of his tactical approach or Swansea’s form, insisting nothing has changed other than more difficult fixtures since that terrific run of results that followed his appointment at the end of December.
The former Sheffield Wednesday manager also continues to come across as overly relaxed and confident, so much so that he was asked after the defeat at Bournemouth whether he needs to find a way to get his own positive demeanour and messages across to his squad. “I believe in myself and I believe in my players,” he said.
“My target is to try to get them to believe in themselves and believe in their colleagues. These are the things that we must do. I would be talking in a completely different way if, for example, we had to win [against Southampton] and had to wait for two or three results. This is something really bad. When it is in your hands to do it, let’s do it. And I believe we can do it.”
With Swansea’s final game of the season at home against relegated Stoke, a draw against Southampton would not be disastrous. A defeat, however, would leave Swansea hanging on to their Premier League status and pinning their hopes on beating Stoke and Huddersfield losing their final two matches, against Chelsea away tomorrow and Arsenal at home on the final day, in order to pip David Wagner’s side on goal difference.
Southampton host Manchester City in their last game, which makes, on the face of it, the Swansea match all the more important. “Everybody is writing off the Man City game in terms of what we can take out of that. We are not and we won’t allow that,” Hughes said. “We will try our utmost to get something out of that game as well. But clearly when you are in this situation you want to be able to damage the teams around you, and Swansea are very much the team we have to damage.”
The motivation for Swansea will be exactly the same on an evening when Carvalhal’s players must feed off the energy of the home supporters while retaining their composure and concentration. “We must have emotional control and we must act and do the proper things. Not to make mistakes. This is the way,” Carvalhal said. “It is not a time [for me] to scream. It is a time to be focused.”
Southampton will have to make at least one, and possibly two, changes given Maya Yoshida is suspended after being sent off at Everton and Mario Lemina was withdrawn with a hamstring injury in that 1-1 draw. The main decision for Carvalhal revolves around whether to persevere with five at the back or set up more offensively and take the view that fortune favours the brave.
Either way, there is no escaping that it is approaching do-or-die time for both clubs.