Swansea City travelled to Stoke to square off against Stoke City in a match that could dispel any relegation nightmares.
Stoke were the better team in the first half, with birthday-boy Ibrahim Afellay and Bojan scoring to take a 2-0 lead into half-time. The Swans wouldn’t go down without a fight and two nearly identical goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alberto Paloschi brought the game even and took Swansea to 10 points above the drop.
The match proved tough on several players, but there was still much to learn after the final whistle. Here are some elements to take away from today's draw.
No Buts about it...
The loss of Jack Butland in net for Stoke, with a broken ankle suffered in international play, has put a damper on this season for them. With the Europa League calling, Stoke can hardly afford a slip-up down the final stretch and being without the number one keeper will make the challenge even harder. Jakob Haugaard, a summer signing from Midtylland in the Danish Superliga, played his first Premier League match and was admiral with the exception of some early match jitters. A more capable and veteran keeper might have had a chance at stopping Gylfi’s turn-and-shoot effort for goal, but the young Haugaard couldn’t find the ball after it took a deflection.
Subs make the difference
Two second half adjustments by Swansea manager Francesco Guidolin flipped the script on the game, bringing in scarcely-used Jefferson Montero and Alberto Paloschi to change the pace. Montero found space with his tremendous speed, linking up with Paloschi and wreaking havoc on the left wing. Paloschi kept up the work as a target man, taking an Ashley Williams pass and turning into a shot that whizzed past Haugaard and into the net.
After the diamond in midfield wasn’t working in the first half, Montero came on for midfield general Leon Britton to bring pace and flair to the attack. The second half shift saw a change in attack from the right to left flank and both Swansea goals came on build up from the left side. Many fans have been critical of the diamond for a lack of offense it produces with the current lineup, but the formation has brought out the talents of Sigurdsson and Jack Cork in central defense. Stoke were uncomfortable handling Montero and Wayne Routledge's speed up top, something fans should look for ahead of the next clash against Chelsea, who have faced similar issues this year.
Defense not up to par
As the narrative has been this whole year, the defense for Swansea was the weakest link in the draw. Off-form Federico Fernandez was a liability on both goals by letting Marko Arnautovic get a close cross off for the first and giving Bojan too much space to shoot for the second goal. Neither wingback made an impact, but Angel Rangel looked stronger than Kyle Naughton. Neil Taylor made his way on for Naughton for injury relief as the ex-Spur once again put in a forgettable performance.
Points points points
In the scramble to avoid the drop, the Swans will take any points available to them and getting a draw against 8th place Stoke away from the Liberty is as impressive a fixture as we’ve seen this year. If Guidolin can maneuver the Swans away from the bottom and finish strong, he’ll have the resume and achievement to continue managing into next year. This team is noticeably difference under his care compared to previous months, with more pressing and link-up play in the midfield. Sigurdsson has carried the team as of recent with Andre Ayew’s struggles up top, but another goal from Paloschi is inviting for the club. Their next match against Chelsea at home will be a test of progress for the Guidolin regime, but the come-back draw will give the manager and his squad hope.