Crystal Palace's unlikely 3-0 Monday night victory over Arsenal would have made grim viewing for Swansea.
The relegation-threatened Welsh club will travel to Watford on Saturday knowing the battle to avoid the last relegation place is now realistically a two-horse race between themselves and resurgent Hull. Having scored just two goals over last last five games, Swansea must find a way to revitalise their attack to have any chance of survival.
A recent injury to star striker Fernando Llorente took all the edge of Swansea's attack. The 6-foot-5 frontman is a formidable asset for the small club and a unique weapon -- none can match his aerial prowess and few come as tall. When coach Paul Clement chose his starting XI to face Middlesbrough at the beginning of April, he selected new forward Jordan Ayew to replace the injured Llorente. Fine in theory, but Swansea apparently made no adjustment to their playing style to accommodate the vastly different skill set of the new man.
Ayew is a talented dribbler, and perhaps his greatest contribution to Swansea's attacking game will be the number of free kicks he wins, with dead-ball specialist Gylfi Sigurdsson ready to take advantage. However, against Middlesbrough, his teammates acted as though Llorente was still playing, throwing 31 crosses into the box that the diminutive forward was never going to reach. In last Saturday's 1-0 defeat to West Ham, there were fewer crosses but still no tailor-made game plan.
A far more natural replacement for Llorente ought to be £15m record signing Borja Baston. The Spaniard has been unfairly labelled a "flop signing," but how can a man who has played a grand total of 509 minutes of football this season be fairly judged? If Llorente is a classic target man, then Borja is a classic poacher, a no-nonsense natural finisher interested only in putting the ball in the back of the net. Why has such a deadly striker, who should be a huge boon to a club short on scoring, found himself marginalised?
You have to go back to the beginning of the season to find out. Borja arrived in Wales nursing an injury, so his introduction to the team was delayed. He had been bought, along with Llorente, in the summer after Francesco Guidolin had been awarded a new two-year contract. The Italian coach was not involved in transfers directly but was believed to have favoured Llorente and, one must assume, Borja, because both men share some attributes -- both are tall, physical forwards.
In fact, when Borja was finally fit to play a full match, he was chosen by Guidolin to lead the line against Liverpool. The Spaniard squandered two first half chances, both headers, but didn't miss either by much. More encouraging was the directness and focus with which the Spaniard rushed to the net, found space, pulled away from his marker and met the crosses. A few more games and those misses turn into goals; the player was still forgivably rusty after a summer spent rehabilitating from injury.
That match -- a close 2-1 Liverpool win in which Swansea looked genuinely dangerous -- was Guidolin's last. The Italian was rushed out of a job and Bob Bradley brought in. Bradley saw things differently to Guidolin, and unlike his predecessor, had had nothing to do with the signings of either striker. Bradley started four of his 11 games in charge with no recognised striker, leaving £20m of talent on the bench, using both strikers in bit-part roles while heavily rotating the starting XI on a game-by-game basis.
When Clement succeeded Bradley, he recognised that stability would be a key component of any Swansea resurrection and moved quickly to install a 4-3-3 system using one striker. Llorente, as the more experienced hand with more playing time and a better goal return, won the job but it would have served Swansea well had Clement worked to restore Borja's confidence and keep him ready on the sidelines.
Ayew is not a good fit as a lone striker. He will have a role to play at this club but is far better suited to playing a supporting role as an inside forward, like Eden Hazard at Chelsea. Borja is a striker. Had Clement played him against Boro, it seems reasonable to say he just might have turned one of those 31 crosses into a vital winning goal, which would have Swansea sitting in 17th place today instead of Hull.
Llorente is ready to make his return against Watford, but should he tire, Clement would do worse than give Borja another shot at redemption. This season could yet have a fairy-tale ending for both club and player.