The public and pundits agree: the worst man on the pitch in Swansea City’s loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was Renato Sanches. A catastrophic first-half performance left observers wondering whether he should be playing in the Premier League at all. It is the latest disappointment for the young talent who arrived in Swansea to great fanfare yet has accomplished little to celebrate.
What has happened to Renato Sanches? Now three months into his loan to Swansea City, Sanches has recorded a single assist - in the EFL Cup. He has played regularly, just as Bayern had hoped; he has missed just three matches entirely on account of injuries since joining the club. But Sanches has not played well and remains on a short leash. He has played a full 90 minutes twice.
Sanches’s performance against Chelsea was his worst yet: with two Bayern representatives in attendance, as Paul Clement subsequently revealed, Sanches struggled to connect with his teammates and seemed lost on the pitch. He was dispossessed three times and managed a miserable pass-success percentage of 68%.
A blunder in the 37th minute epitomized his evening. In uncontested possession, Sanches mistook an advertisement for a teammate and passed the ball right out of bounds:
Renato Sanches passed to the goddamn Carabo billboard... pic.twitter.com/j8EgDUIchS— The Punt (@thepuntpod) November 30, 2017
Visibly exasperated, Swansea’s coach, Carlo Ancelotti’s former assistant at Bayern, Paul Clement, removed Sanches at halftime.
While reactions in the English press have been withering, both Clement and Swansea’s star goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski defended the young midfielder.
“He is still very young, people forget that,” Fabianski emphasized:
I don’t know how people portray him from the outside but I promise he is working very hard and wants to be a big part of this team . . . in the squad we all know and believe Renato has a lot of quality and will show it. I think he will be very useful for us but you have to remember he is still a kid.
Echoing Fabianski, Clement feels that Sanches is in the midst of a crisis of confidence:
. . . he is struggling for confidence, he is struggling for form . . . We are behind him, his team-mates are behind him and we hope he can take the right steps that are needed . . . His confidence is very low, he wants it badly, he is working and working but it is just not happening in games for him at the moment.
Bayern is understandably concerned. In Clement’s words, “I am in regular contact with them about how Renato is doing and Bayern very much want to support him.” Clement stressed that he is not, however, under pressure to play Sanches, and the coach dismissed speculation that Sanches might return to Munich early in the winter transfer window. Clement is confident that Sanches will recover “sooner rather than later.”
Meanwhile, the gloomy atmosphere in Swansea has done nothing to lift Sanches’s spirits. The dysfunctional Swans are currently in second-to-last place in the Premier League table, facing relegation. Their offense is the worst in the league (7 goals scored). Clement had expected Sanches to contribute on offense, but now he is urging Swansea to sign additional forwards this winter.
It is entirely possible that Sanches may stay at Swansea longer than Clement himself.