At 4.52pm last Saturday afternoon, referee Roger East blew the full-time whistle at the London Stadium to thunderous acclaim. West Ham United clinched a dramatic victory over Swansea City, with Diafra Sakho scoring a late winner for the Hammers.
As the home fans roared jubilantly from the stands, Slaven Bilić celebrated with his coaching staff in relief more than anything else. Three points somewhat eased the pressure on the West Ham manager, but for Paul Clement in the away dugout, it was that familiar sinking feeling.
Whereas Bilić could afford a smile in his post-match press conference, Clement looked displeased as he faced some hard truths.
The main one is that his Swansea side are facing a long, hard season, the overriding narrative of which is likely to be a scrap to avoid relegation. With just one win and five points from their first seven games, the prognostication for the Welsh side is decidedly bleak.
And while Swansea's misfiring strikers must shoulder some of the blame for their insipid performances of late, the midfield is also a major concern for Clement.
Here, Football Whispers takes a look at why transforming the midfield could hold the key to a Swansea revival this season.
Worrying Dearth of Creativity
For much of the summer, the inevitable departure of Gylfi Sigurðsson hung over the Liberty Stadium like a bad smell. Although the deal that took him to Everton for £45million was protracted, when it finally went through Swansea were forced to accept the idea that they would be tackling this season without their inspirational creative force in midfield.
Unfortunately, the Sigurðsson-shaped hole has been glaring and unavoidable during a string of toothless displays in which the midfield has looked desperately short on ideas.
In fact, no team has created fewer chances than Swansea this season. With just 26, they're five behind Leicester City. Interestingly, Crystal Palace, who are rooted to the bottom of the table without a point or a goal, have created more than double Swansea's chances with 58.
The Eagles obviously haven't been converting the chances they've created, but at least they are manufacturing promising situations in the final third. In time, you would have to think, goals will come for Palace, but will the creative juices once again flow at the Liberty Stadium?
Since Swansea were promoted to the Premier League under Brendan Rodgers in 2011, they have established themselves as one of the more aesthetically-pleasing sides to watch. Under Rodgers, Michael Laudrup and Garry Monk, Swansea espoused an overtly attacking philosophy, an attractive brand of football built on flowing passing moves and electric pace on the wings.
However, somewhere along the way, as the Welsh club switched from Laudrup to Monk, then to Francesco Guidolin and Bob Bradley, that sense of adventure dissipated.
Now, Clement faces an uphill struggle as he aims to inject new ideas into his Swansea vision. They'll need to use the ball better for a start. The South Wales side's average of 77 per cent passing accuracy is their lowest in six years as a Premier League club. Compare that to 85 per cent in the 2012/13 season under Laudrup and it reveals a marked decrease in quality on the ball.
Abraham has bagged himself two goals already this season. The 20-year-old is certainly a bright prospect and has shown a clinical touch, but he and Bony cannot be expected to fire Swansea to safety without adequate service.
Roque Mesa Needs To Play
After Swansea signed Roque Mesa from Las Palmas, Clement issues a word of warning. “It is going to take him a bit of time to adapt to the tempo of this league,” the 45-year-old said.
“He has been playing in La Liga a long time. I have worked in La Liga, the tempo is slower and you get more time and space on the ball.”
Admittedly, the 28-year-old struggled on his debut against Manchester United, but he hasn't started a game since. Although Clement is correct in his assessment that Mesa requires time, it's also true that the greatest catalyst for his development is playing football.
The midfielder was an unused substitute in the win over Crystal Palace and, even though Swansea went 2-0 up after 48 minutes, Clement chose to bring on Wayne Routledge, Oliver McBurnie and Àngel Rangel ahead of the Spaniard.
Mesa was also snubbed in the defeat to Newcastle United. One-nil down and chasing the game, Clement decided not to bring on a player who regularly dictated the tempo of Las Palmas' midfield last season. In a game in which Swansea enjoyed 61 per cent possession, Mesa would have been a valuable player to have on the pitch.
In La Liga last season, only Sevilla's Steven N'Zonzi completed more passes than Mesa. His measure of control in midfield would could have been key in unlocking the Newcastle defence.
With homes games against Huddersfield Town and Leicester City looming after the international break, supporters will be expecting Clement to give Mesa a chance to prove his worth after his £11million move.
Regular Starters Must Improve
In the defeat to West Ham, Clement lined up with a 4-3-1-2. Tom Carroll, Britton and Renato Sanches were a deeper trio, while Jordan Ayew was given the attacking midfield role à la Sigurdsson.
It beggars belief, though, that Ayew would be given such a role. In seven games this season, the Ghanian has made just one key pass, so it's baffling as to why he was entrusted to be the chief supplier for Bony and Abraham.
If it was an audition to impress Clement, he surely won't be getting a callback. Ayew was dispossessed eight times against West Ham, more than any other player in a Premier League match this season. With Abraham a willing runner off the defender's shoulder, Swansea need a more effective playmaker if they are going to continue with a 4-3-1-2.
Sanches, meanwhile, has yet to show a semblance of the form that made him one of the most highly-rated European talents when he was at Benfica. Despite rare flickers of quality, the Portugal international has struggled to inspire, with only two chances created in his four appearances. He has been wasteful and sloppy on the ball, too, as the graphic below – his debut against Newcastle – courtesy of WhoScored.com, illustrates.
Above all else, though, the Swansea midfield need to go back and cover the fundamentals. Sometimes, it can be as simple as upping the effort levels. Swansea have covered 738km this season, 35km short of their total at this point last season.
While it's true that Swansea pressed higher up the pitch under Guidolin – therefore naturally enhancing their running stats – Clement has openly expressed concern over a lack of physical output from his side.
“Things like distance covered, most importantly the distance covered at speed. Some of those things are impacted on with the tactics of a game but in general, they are lower than what we are capable of. So we've got to be better,” he said after the defeat to Newcastle.
Swansea's struggles in this area aren't helped by the fact that Jack Cork, sold in the summer to Burnley, has covered more ground than any other player in the Premier League.
Worryingly, Swansea sold Cork for £8million and spent double on his replacement, Sam Clucas. However, after completing 90 minutes in his first four games for the Swans, he was substituted at half-time against Watford and dropped for the West Ham game.
Such a development isn't exactly a glowing reflection of Clucas's contributions and he has a lot of work to do in order to justify his price tag.