If you glanced at the Premier League table this Saturday, you may have seen an unfamiliar sight: Swansea City stunned 10th-place Watford with a 2:1 victory. It was an auspicious start to Carlos Carvalhal’s tenure as Swansea’s new coach. The most significant change to the starting lineup? Playing Bayern Munich’s loanee Renato Sanches for the full 90 minutes.
As some pundits speculated, Sanches has indeed outlasted Carlo Ancelotti’s former assistant Paul Clement at Swansea. Now with a new coach who speaks his language, Sanches has a new opportunity to prove himself.
Carvalhal spoke about his intention to help Sanches ahead of Swansea’s match against Watford:
I think he [Sanches] needs confidence. It is easy to forget because he has played for Benfica and the Portuguese national team that he is still only a kid. He is still learning and I think he needs a role in the team.
That promise of a “role in the team” was realized shortly thereafter, when Sanches started in the left midfield of a 4-4-2, often drifting inside to the central midfield.
Sanches put in a solid, if unspectacular performance - precisely what he needed to do. He averaged 90% passing accuracy and, showing a glimpse of his immense individual talent, successfully completed 4 of 7 dribbles, a game high.
Although Sanches did not contribute directly to Swansea’s two late goals, his effort was a world away from the performances that drew the unrelenting scorn of the English press in the past weeks. Carvalhal is optimistic that Sanches will prove his detractors wrong.
When he understands what we want, he will be a completely different player. We believe that.
Carvalhal and Swansea, meanwhile, have their work cut out for them. Currently in second-to-last place, they must climb out of the relegation zone this spring. Fortunately for them, a mere five points separate the teams in 13th and 20th place.