Forty managers, Premier League? Forty? That’s insane.
The return of Sam Allardyce means that it’s a nice neat average of two managers per Premier League club this season. And also means the latest update of this nonsense contains eight new entries and over 6000 words. Sorry about that. It has been a whole two months since the last one, so no wonder things have changed. You can read that now largely debunked version here, with its rankings in brackets for all the below…
40) Frank Lampard, Chelsea (NE)
Hahahahahaha you know when you point and laugh at something and think it’s literally the most ridiculous idea that you’ve ever heard and then you worry about how stupid you’ll look if it turns out you’re wrong but then it all goes even more gloriously horribly than you ever dared to dream?
Frank Lampard’s Triumphant Chelsea Return might be our most favourite thing about this whole ludicrous season. Six games, six defeats. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh. And there is something reassuring in the discovery, however fleeting, that while vast wealth nearly always insulates these huge clubs from facing meaningful consequences for a series of terrible decisions, it can still go this magnificently awry.
39) Scott Parker, Bournemouth (32)
Managed to pull off the exceedingly difficult task of being a promoted manager sacked outrageously early in the season yet eliciting minimal sympathy. Clearly a load of stuff going on behind the scenes, but if you’re going to be issuing ‘back me or sack me’ ultimatums in the wake of 9-0 defeats, you need to be really damn sure of your footing.
Blame-shifting, doom-laden predictions of further whompings to come (because what on earth could he or anyone else do with this squad of wretched inadequacy?) were rather undermined by his replacement Gary O’Neil promptly taking 10 points from six unbeaten games.
In a surprising twist, Parker then rocked up as manager of Champions League outfit Club Brugge, where he took his stellar Bournemouth form with him and won two games in 12, including defeats in both legs of a 7-1 last-16 defeat to Benfica.
38) Steven Gerrard, Aston Villa (31)
We genuinely thought he was going to be good because he was good at Rangers. We’re mainly disappointed in ourselves for falling for it. A lesson learned. The big problem, as well as just the general ropeyness, was that no matter how much he insisted otherwise, Gerrard clearly viewed Villa as a means to an end and loaded the squad with short-termist oldsters and left quite a mess for Unai Emery to sort out. To make matters even worse for Gerrard, Emery has promptly gone and done precisely that. It’s a double whammy.
37) Cristian Stellini, Tottenham (NE)
Manager of the month by proxy when overseeing legitimately excellent wins over Man City, Chelsea and West Ham while Antonio Conte was ill, but in hindsight maybe Daniel Levy should have paid slightly more attention to the pitiful FA Cup effort at Sheffield United that also occurred on Stellini’s watch before handing him the caretaker role.
He never should have been kept on after Conte had tantrummed his way out of the place, and oversaw a series of dire performances and appalling results. Culminated in a 6-1 defeat at Newcastle that redefined Spursy. Did inexplicably manage to pick up a win over Brighton along the way, but this was mainly because the entire officiating team and VAR forgot what a penalty is.
36) Frank Lampard, Everton (30)
Quite something that Everton now looks like a sort of golden era for Frank Lampard, Football Manager. Will we ever see the like again?
Not the first manager who couldn’t prevent Everton being Everton and he won’t be the last, but he might be the only one feted to the very heavens themselves for taking a team that is 16th and steering them all the way to the giddy heights of 16th.
There were small yet undeniable signs of some progress earlier in the season. Some small hints that Lampard might be slightly prepared to take his medicine and try to build a team that was tough to beat first and worry about the rest later. That all went to shit, though, and by the time he lost El Sackico to David Moyes’ West Ham the end point of it all had become inevitable and not even a river of Henry Winter tears could wash away the inescapable mediocrity of Lampard the manager. Todd Boehly, of course, thought he knew better.
35) Nathan Jones, Southampton (21)
We will never ever forgive Southampton for getting rid of Jones just as he was warming to his Rodgers-Sherwood-Brent bit as a superficially confident manager who was actually so crippled by self doubt he second-guessed himself into inevitable oblivion. But the Saints should absolutely have stuck with him, because they are and were almost certainly going down anyway and Jones’ weekly musings were very, very funny. Casting that aside for a fractionally improved chance of Premier League survival is a clear sign of all that’s wrong with the modern game. A pity.
34) Adam Sadler, Leicester (NE)
Not really his fault as much as a dereliction of duty from those above that he was left holding the fort for a vital home game against Bournemouth that was lost 1-0. How much that matters at the end of the season will soon become clear. You worry that it could very well be ‘a fucking lot, actually’.
33) Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea (29)
We were and are surprisingly sad he’s gone, because we were really, really enjoying his supervillain origin story. It was an unexpected highlight of those heady early August days but then Todd Boehly’s New Chelsea went all Old Chelsea and binned him off just because he’d had a few bad results and, to be completely fair, gone ever so slightly mad.
It was clearly premature and subsequent events at Chelsea (but not, it must be noted, at Bayern Munich) have highlighted the folly of it, but it wasn’t a good start to the season by any reasonable measure. Chelsea had really only played truly convincingly well in one game, against Spurs, and they didn’t actually win it.
Nonetheless hilarious that Chelsea had secured almost a quarter of their current points total (10 of 39) and more than a quarter of their current goal total (eight of 31) in the six games before Tuchel bit the dust on September 9.
32) Brendan Rodgers, Leicester (22)
Couldn’t and didn’t survive forever while leading what is demonstrably at worst a mid-table squad into the deepest relegation waters.
Eight goals in back-to-back wins over actually good Villa and theoretically good Spurs in February at least highlighted the potential that remained in Leicester but they were to represent Rodgers’ last hurrah at the King Power. Six games and a solitary point later, he was gone with the Foxes a grim 19th. Things haven’t got much better without him, but there was by the end little hope they could still do so with him.
Fully expect him to be back and doing very well for two-and-a-half years with another Premier League team soon, though. We still think Spurs, even if nobody else does.
31) Bruno Lage, Wolves (27)
Wolves’ awful run-in last season spilled over and became a terrible start to this one. They’d won one in eight at the start of the campaign when the goodwill with Lage’s drab football finally ran out. They’d scored three goals in those eight games without ever managing more than one in a single game. They are far better now in every single way under Julen Lopetegui having slowly but surely steered themselves away from the relegation bunfight.
30) Ralph Hasenhuttl, Southampton (26)
We found ourselves sadder than we expected to be when Hasenhuttl finally ran out of lives at Southampton. He waistcoated his way through four years before finally getting the sack without ever really moving the team forward in any tangible way. It was a fascinating performance which in its best moments saw him look like a viable contender for a Big Six job but for the rest of the time like a jocular father of the bride who’d just put five grand behind the bar.
Hasenhuttl’s Southampton were, on their frequent bad days, the most easily thrashable team in the Premier League. But on a good day, they could quite literally beat anyone. He died as he lived, though. Southampton won just seven of their last 32 Premier League games under Hasenhuttl. Three of those were against Big Six opposition, another was against Leicester before we knew they were also shit now, while there was also a draw against Manchester City and a 1-1 against an Arsenal side that had at that time been cheerfully whomping every other team that moved.
29) Javi Gracia, Leeds (14)
That unravelled fast, didn’t it? We thought they’d be okay with an underwhelming but better than better than nothing appointment, and it looked like it was heading that way until one of the turniest turning points of the whole season: Marc Guehi’s equaliser for Palace at Elland Road on the stroke of half-time on April 9. Before that, Leeds had won three of Gracia’s six games in charge and appeared on course for a fourth in seven. Guehi’s against-the-run-of-play leveller set the platform for an absurd second-half collapse and 5-1 Palace win, which was swiftly followed by a 6-1 humbling from Liverpool. A draw at Leicester wasn’t really any good for anyone, and another thrashing at the hands of Bournemouth saw Leeds tear everything up and go down the Fireman Sam route. Gracia’s last five games included three against direct relegation rivals; a single point and 18 goals conceded means he can have few complaints really.
28) Jesse Marsch, Leeds (25)
It’s still a bit of a puzzlement to us. We don’t think he was that bad and there does look like a hint of panic to the whole thing but also he was very probably taking them down. So, you know, fair enough. But don’t sack the manager in the first week of February, lads. It was a clear admission of top-to-bottom failure. Leeds sunk a lot into the Marsch project and have a lot of Red Bull lads running about now. Javi Gracia has come and gone in the three months since, as too more pointedly has director of football Victor Orta as Leeds double-down on the whole ‘sack the manager in February’ caper by pressing the Big Sam Button at this absurdly late stage of proceedings.
27) Michael Skubala, Leeds (24)
Playing Manchester United home and away in a three-game caretaker stint is harsh, and one point from those games is probably a passing grade all things considered.
It’s the other game that rankles, albeit with Skubala as very minor villain. Whatever happens to Leeds this season, we will never consider going to play six-point Dycheball at Goodison with a rookie caretaker manager anything other than a shameful dereliction of duty from the entire Elland Road hierarchy and while Skubala didn’t necessarily deserve to come away with defeat, the club did.
26) Ryan Mason, Tottenham (NE)
It says an awful lot about where things had got to that taking over a team that was eyeing the Champions League and taking them inexorably towards eighth overseeing a scrambled draw against Manchester United and a defeat at Liverpool after falling 3-0 down in a quarter of an hour represents significant improvement on what had gone before. There are factors here; the defending is no worse than it was before Mason got the big anorak (although absolutely not any better) but in the second half against both United and Liverpool, Spurs played some of their best football of the season and actually looked like what they are: a team with some of the most fearsome attacking talent in the division. Next step is to see if that can work without having to be 2-0 or 3-0 down by half-time.
25) Steven Davis, Wolves (20)
Wolves were drab and crap before Steve Davis (not that one) took temporary charge and remained drab and crap under his tutelage. Steve Davis (not that one) didn’t make them any worse, but the baffling commitment to never scoring more than a single goal in any game remained.
24) Bruno Saltor, Chelsea (NE)
Had one game after Graham Potter got the boot and by drawing it 0-0 against Liverpool (whose subsequent results are a draw against Arsenal and five straight wins) has already pretty much ensured he will not go down as Chelsea’s worst manager of the season but will be the one you forget on a Sporcle quiz in 2033 if the seas haven’t risen and claimed us all.
23) Ruben Selles, Southampton (13)
Giving a greenhorn caretaker the full-time job for a relegation battle is generally an act of wanton foolhardiness but it worked for Bournemouth. It hasn’t really worked for Southampton. There is not the sense of utter disaster that has befallen the worst caretaker choices – your Stellinis, your Lampards – this season but that is surely down to the fact they were already dreadful and whatever Selles may be as a manager he is demonstrably not Nathan Jones.
Selles’ Southampton are obviously still poor, but also remain entirely on brand when it comes to bothering the Big Six. They’ve lost six of their last nine in the Premier League, with their three draws coming at Old Trafford and the Emirates as well as the 3-3 against Spurs that tipped Antonio Conte over the edge.
22) Graham Potter, Chelsea (19)
The determinedly mediocre output Potter was extracting from some enormously valuable resources does at least look slightly better in light of what a genuinely bad manager is now doing with them, but being a better manager than Frank Lampard is a low bar for someone touted not that long ago – this season, in fact – as the best young English manager in the game.
The wildly exciting but esoteric and gaudy collection of players Todd Boehly accumulated in January never felt in any way like it’s something being done at Potter’s behest or, even more significantly, for his benefit. If it was meant for Potter, then there was more than a hint of ‘killing with kindness’ about it.
Appointing Potter looked like quite a progressive move for Boehly’s New Chelsea, a sign that things might be done differently under the new regime. He’s demonstrably and provably a gifted coach and man-manager, but doesn’t really seem like someone you’d necessarily gift this absurdly OTT array of shiny tools.
So the conclusion we must draw is that, even as Potter gamely tried to make the best of a job that just isn’t really his bag, all the expensive signings that sharpened the criticism and hastened his own departure were really being assembled for the next manager to exploit. Well, the next proper manager. Not Frank, obviously.
21) Patrick Vieira, Crystal Palace (17)
It’s rare that every word of our nonsense comes to pass, but here’s what we reckoned six weeks ago:
‘We like Patrick Vieira, we like his club and we like his team. But they never, ever seem to win any football matches and at some point – and it’s coming pretty soon we fear – that is going to start to be a bit of a problem.
‘Vieira is yet to taste victory in 2023 and the only mitigation for that is a conspiracy theory we’re fully paid up to: for shadowy and unknown reasons Palace have to play about 68% of all their games against the Big Six. Sure, MSM so-called fixture lists will suggest they play the Big Six no more or less often than anyone else but that’s just cos they’re in on it. Go on, try and think of a Palace game that wasn’t against the Big Six. You can’t. No wonder they never win. They’ve already played Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United (twice) and Liverpool in 2023 and who have they got on Saturday? That’s right, Manchester City. And Arsenal eight days after that. Admittedly, in between those two they’ve got a rare game against theoretically ‘lesser’ opponents and… f*** me, it’s Brighton away. It’s going to be April before Palace even get a chance to win another game, and it really cannot now be guaranteed that Vieira will be in the dugout when the arrival of spring brings with it those theory-skewering opportunities against your Leicesters, your Leedses, your Southamptons.’
Worst fears realised. We still think it’s a shame.
20) David Moyes, West Ham (28)
We all laughed when Moyes insisted this could still be a very good season for West Ham. We’re not laughing now. They’re not quite safe but not far off with five teams demonstrably worse both on current and, crucially, season-long form while the very real prospect of European silverware from a Europa Conference campaign that has been a) ignored and b) relentlessly excellent looms. The relegation scrap has been undignified for a club whose trajectory had appeared to be mainly and significantly upward over a couple of excellent league seasons but at least it hasn’t gone all the way entirely to sh*t as appeared distinctly possible.
Moyes’ side might well now finish above Chelsea, which would be legitimately funny, and any end result that can reasonably be put down as ‘mid-table’ combined with European success will vindicate the decision to stick with Moyes throughout a season when most Hammers fans – and indeed most other clubs (and absolutely us) – would at one point or another have got rid. Now look at him – slap bang in mid-table (admittedly thanks to some help from some very dodgy interims elsewhere) on this all-important list.
19) Dean Smith, Leicester (NE)
His first game was a defeat to Man City, nothing to see here. Then a win over Wolves, definitely helpful. But since then Leicester have been in two must-win games against Leeds and Everton and drawn them both. So… what does that mean? Presumably having failed to win these must-win games Leicester, Leeds and Everton must all be relegated? BUT WHAT ABOUT SOUTHAMPTON? WHAT. ABOUT. SOUTHAMPTON? And to a lesser extent Nottingham Forest. There’s a very good chance that in fact only one of these three teams gets relegated despite their communal failure to register a single win in these must-win games. Maybe it’s that things lazily called ‘must-win games’ aren’t in fact that? Hope not, to be honest. The last thing we want to find ourselves having to be is less lazy.
18) Antonio Conte, Tottenham (12)
Still in a job and as high as 12th when we last did these, which really does highlight what a very long time two months can be in football. Especially this season.
Really, Conte’s Spurs were rubbish this season even when the results were good. Once results started tracking with performance it quickly became unutterably grim, with Harry Kane’s absurd season in front of goal masking all manner of inadequacies and the general paucity of attacking football alongside some quite heroically inept defending.
Conte – who has had a truly awful and miserable and perspective-resetting season off the field – clearly no longer wanted to be there several weeks before the end eventually came. As it became clear that Daniel Levy fully intended to just try and get through the season, Conte took matters into his own hands with that now infamous press conference after bottom-of-the-table Southampton came from 3-1 down in the closing stages to snatch a 3-3 draw. There was no way back for Conte after a rant in which every single one of his players and pretty much every member of staff at the entire club was chucked under the bus, and whoever takes the job in the summer has a huge task on their hands. It cannot be another short-termist ‘serial winner’.
In a season of utter madness let us never, ever forget that Conte’s rant came on a night where, were it not for Southampton being awarded a very dodgy injury-time penalty, Spurs would have gone third in the table. Third! It was only six weeks ago!
17) Aaron Danks, Aston Villa (18)
A genuinely magnificent two-game interregnum for the Villa caretaker, featuring a 4-0 win over Brentford and a 4-0 defeat at Newcastle. That might well be the entirety of his Premier League managerial career, and the effort to render it into a literal, physical manifestation of the Gennaro Gattuso ‘sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe shit’ meme should be heartily applauded.
16) Sean Dyche, Everton (16)
Viewed through a narrow focus on the immediate and pressing need to avoid relegation, Everton appointing Sean Dyche made grim, uninspiring yet total sense. Even now, he may well keep them up. But after 14 games yielding 14 points we’re seeing nothing to suggest he can do any more than that, little evidence that he can show the wider skillset his many supporters claim he has. We would genuinely love to see it, because he was never quite as stereotypically one-dimensional at Burnley as popular perception would have it. Everton presents an opportunity to show that to the world, but in the short term it’s needs must and thus pure medical-grade Dycheball is the way for now. If and when he keeps this shambles of a club in the top flight, we want to see more and must see more.
Otherwise Dyche will be just another in the ever-lengthening, ever more eclectic list of managers who couldn’t prevent Everton Evertoning themselves into purgatory. Still hilarious that the final decision came down to Dyche or Marcelo Bielsa, more incredible still that Bielsa’s interview ultimately amounted to “I will oversee this desperate, all-in, shit-or-bust five-month fight for the club’s very Premier League survival by first sorting out the academy sides” which made Dyche and his prosaic but broadly sane offering a fait accompli.
But there is no other club where its list of managers from the last decade or so more perfectly encapsulates the confusion and incoherence of strategy, if indeed there is a strategy at all. Seriously, just look at this f**king nonsense of a list: Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez, Frank Lampard, Sean Dyche. Make it make sense.
15) Steve Cooper, Nottingham Forest (11)
Along with David Moyes the only relegation-threatened manager to remain in position all season and we remain of the view that this is the right call for this club in this situation. The necessary summer transfer madness and the more questionable January effort always created a situation that needed less chaos from the managerial side, not more. Cooper has done a fine job and we’re doubtful Forest were going to get in anyone to fare any better. As much as anything, Cooper is absolutely the man they want in charge next season if they are going to have to try and bounce back into the Premier League.
Still a very decent chance they survive, though, especially if they can secure a couple of wins from upcoming six-pointers against Southampton and Chelsea.
14) Sam Allardyce, Leeds (NE)
Absolutely sensational. Some would argue it’s pointless to even rank Allardyce until he’s played at least one game but to that we say tish and fipsy. His opening press conference alone, in which he played all the old hits by comparing himself favourably with Klopp, Guardiola and, er, Arteta before appearing genuinely bewildered that anyone might consider jury service more important than being assistant manager of Leeds for three weeks, comfortably elevates him to mid-table before a ball has been kicked by his new charges. And let’s not forget granting an interview to talkSPORT from his new office before the previous incumbent had even officially been sacked. Vintage Allardici. That there remains a non-zero chance Allardyce could play four, lose four and still pocket a cool £2.5m bonus for keeping Leeds up is nothing short of magnificent.
13) Roy Hodgson, Crystal Palace (NE)
Wily old Hodgson waited until Vieira had played all the decent teams and lost the run of himself before sauntering in to give the rubbish ones a good shoeing and confirm the fixture list was the main reason Palace found themselves theoretically in a relegation fight that, it turns out, actually had more Chelsea than Palace in it. Cushy fixture list or not – and having to play only one nominally decent team in the last 10 games of the season and that team being Spurs is certainly cushy – the results have still been excellent with four wins and a draw in six games for a team whose first win over 2023 didn’t come until April. Clever Roy.
12) Gary O’Neil, Bournemouth (23)
A 39-year-old rookie manager taking over in the wake of a 9-0 defeat and leading Bournemouth – a team not so much tipped for relegation as condemned – to now near-certain safety is low-key one of the stories of the season. Four wins in their last five games, including a magnificent nonsense at Spurs and a 4-1 drubbing of Leeds have taken the Cherries level on points with Chelsea and nine clear of the drop with four games to play. If Palace being the first team to play their way out of the nine-team relegation fight was always pretty likely – they were the last team to play their way into it and had a very lopsided fixture list – few would have picked out Bournemouth as the second. It’s a sensational effort.
11) Julen Lopetegui, Wolves (10)
Eight wins and eight defeats feels like it pretty neatly sums up Lopetegui’s time at Wolves thus far which, after a slightly delayed start has been broadly fine with the occasional dramatic flourish and the odd vaguely inexplicable disaster. One of those came at the weekend with an out-of-character 6-0 defeat at Brighton but unlike most of the other teams in that godawful relegation scrap from which they’ve almost extricated themselves Wolves have been able to pick up wins often enough to prevent things ever becoming too thoroughly gloomy.
In 19 games that have earned a thoroughly acceptable 27 points, Wolves have never gone more than three without a win under Lopetegui. He has successfully kept the Wolves from the (trap)door but, as with other teams whose disappointing seasons will by definition end with Premier League status intact the bigger question will be what comes next.
10) Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool (15)
Very tricky to place now. No point pretending this has been anything other than a season of disappointment for Liverpool, who will end it without silverware and almost certainly not in next season’s Champions League.
The manner of their defeat to Real Madrid again in this season’s competition is also vexing, but a season pockmarked by struggle is at least ending with a flourish for the one team who’d previously managed to give Pep Guardiola’s Man City anything to think about.
Klopp is at least going to now avoid the abject humiliation of finishing below this Spurs, and the prospect of missing out on Europe altogether – very, very real at one time – has now been averted. Trent Alexander-Arnold has been converted to midfield with notable success, and the idea that Liverpool might need to move on from Klopp in the summer carries less weight after five straight league wins than it did a couple of months ago.
He still needs to be a bit less of a dick about things, though. We could really do without him fuelling Liverpool fans’ delusions about referees being out to get them.
9) Graham Potter, Brighton (9)
Excellent even if it has now all turned to ash. Took Brighton to fourth place having once again seemingly effortlessly repeated the absurdly difficult trick of having already replaced the absolutely crucial players sold for huge money in the summer. Then buggered off to Chelsea where he had to deal with greater pressure, greater scrutiny, fewer neutral well-wishers and above all the constant attentions and absurd transfer-market stylings of walking stereotype and banter content king Todd Boehly.
The success of Roberto De Zerbi as Potter’s Brighton replacement can be taken two ways: one, the cruel way, which is to use it to play down what Potter achieved. The second, correct, way is to use it to highlight just what a good position he left the club in. The next Chelsea manager is unlikely to find things as shipshape as De Zerbi did.
Fascinating to see what Potter’s next move will be, because it feels like an absolutely huge career crossroads now.
8) Thomas Frank, Brentford (5)
Back-to-back wins over relegation battlers Chelsea and Forest have made sure a fine season didn’t peter out into anything approaching meh. That’s good, because it would have been a real shame but very possible: Brentford were on a six-game winless run before the freebie that is Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, and their run-in is unpleasant: Liverpool and Spurs away, plus a still-not-safe West Ham and champions elect Manchester City at home.
Frank continues to do a remarkable and largely under-the-radar job and the excellence of a campaign that has never for a single second threatened to slip into second-season syndrome territory is worthy of more attention. Could be that more headline-grabbing efforts by Brighton and Villa and even Fulham have slightly stolen a bit of Brentford thunder this season, but there being absolutely no surprise at Brentford being a solidly mid-table Premier League team is in its own backhanded way a tremendous compliment to Frank and his team.
7) Marco Silva, Fulham (2)
Manager of the year talk has cooled decidedly after a season that has had an undeniable whiff of the “’get to The Magical 40-Point Mark and then out come the flip-flops’ about it, albeit Fulham only had 39 points when embarking on their current run of two wins and seven defeats in nine games.
But getting Fulham into a position where they can have a run of two wins in nine games without any meaningful worries whatsoever is a huge achievement and Silva deserves huge credit for turning the yo-yo Cottagers into a mid-table Premier League team this time around. And despite this late drop-off in form, they’re still going to finish a) in the top half (probably) and b) above Chelsea. Must now just be slightly careful not to finish the season on the current trajectory and allow it to bleed into next season. It’s what happened to Bruno Lage and Wolves and it could absolutely happen to Silva and Fulham.
6) Erik Ten Hag, Manchester United (4)
Could end his first season as United manager with two cups, the second of which might be needed to preserve the uniqueness of United’s cherished 1999 Treble. As long as United don’t entirely take their eye off fast-finishing Liverpool and also secure that top-four finish it’s going to go down as a very fine first campaign for a manager who has already done a great deal of the work needed to turn Manchester United back from joke to serious football team.
The Ronaldo Situation was played well by Ten Hag, who has successfully stamped his authority on proceedings at Old Trafford in a way none of the other post-Fergie bosses have. For the first time since Fergie, it’s genuinely possible to see United re-establishing themselves among the very best, rather than just having the odd season where they finish a distant second and pretending the good old days are back. With the right summer recruitment, next season could be fascinating…
5) Roberto De Zerbi, Brighton (3)
FA Cup heartbreak was tough to take and now the obvious fear is that fatigue will lead to an underwhelming end to the season for De Zerbi and Brighton, who have to squeeze in seven Premier League matches – including each of the top four – in the next 25 days. Villa’s form means Brighton might end up needing Spurs to carry on going Full Spurs to qualify for Europe, which feels like it’s the very least the Seagulls deserve for the way they continue to respond to adversity by just being really sensible and good. De Zerbi himself is both sensible and good, and coaxing a 6-0 win over Wolves out of his players at the weekend certainly suggests they don’t feel their race is yet run. If they can treat those games in hand as opportunity rather than problem, fifth place is still possible. Which really would be something.
4) Pep Guardiola, Manchester City (8)
On the cusp of matching Manchester United’s 1999 Treble, which would be a staggering achievement. Very very funny that far more column inches have this season been devoted to a Manchester United Quadruple that was literally never feasible than the extremely feasible achievement City are chasing, but such is life.
Still have to believe that the combination of untold riches and relative lack of attention makes the City job the best in the world, but that doesn’t mean just anyone could do it. It takes someone like a Guardiola or an Allardyce to nail this kind of task, and once all the new parts were fully incorporated into the City Machine they have been utterly breathtaking. The dismantling of nominal title challengers Arsenal was one of the great Premier League performances as the only side that has managed to stay with the all-conquering City was utterly blown apart.
3) Eddie Howe, Newcastle (6)
It was just starting to go wrong a couple of months ago as Howe slipped to sixth in this list. The Carabao final had been lost rather meekly and a run of one win in eight in the league appeared to have torpedoed those Champions League ambitions for a team that suddenly looked very, very tired.
Nine games and eight wins later, Newcastle’s position is so good that even defeat to Arsenal this weekend would raise only a shrug. Especially with dreadful teams like Leeds, Leicester and Chelsea still left to feast on before a season that has exceeded all expectations is done.
It’s easy and not incorrect to point at obvious reasons why things are going well for Howe and Newcastle, but equally it would be entirely disingenuous to say anyone could reasonably expect this squad to achieve these levels. Newcastle are well ahead of schedule and while we, like all right-thinking people have thoroughly enjoyed watching the assorted bed-shittings at Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs this season it may well be that the rest of the league comes to regret allowing Newcastle and their literally limitless pot of cash get this far so quickly and so easily having spent so (relatively) little of it.
The big signings have played their part – none more so than Alexander Isak during Newcastle’s current top-four charge – but this has been a season built on the solid foundations of players who were already here or arrived early in the rebuild. Howe has wildly overachieved and at the very, very least earned himself a crack at being the man in charge of stage two of Newcastle’s plan, which is world domination.
2) Mikel Arteta, Arsenal (1)
They’re not going to win the league and from the position they got into they probably should have won the league. It’s all well and good saying City cannot be stopped and maybe they can’t, but those run of draws before the Etihad lesson will niggle at Arsenal brains for the rest of days. What should have been nine points ended up being only three and it will go down as season-defining.
But let’s not pretend Arteta has had anything other than a wonderful season exceeding expectations by such a vast margin that the primary objective of a top-four finish was in the bag months ago for a team that has often played liquid football and has had more than its fair share of injury problems.
Arteta has earned his place in the list of managers Sam Allardyce thinks he’s as good as, and there’s no higher praise than that. His next task is to emulate your Guardiolas and Klopps by proving this season is no one-off. But even as a one-off it’s been fucking brilliant.
1) Unai Emery, Aston Villa (7)
Absolutely spectacular. On a table since his appointment, Aston Villa are third. And deservedly third. On the actual table a team he joined in relegation bother is only outside the top six on goal difference. Villa are rumbling along at two points a game under Emery over what is now a sample size greater than half a season; in current Premier League managerial lifespans that’s an eternity.
Villa’s early and decisive move to replace Steven Gerrard has been entirely vindicated, allowing them to first watch on with detached amusement as the relegation free-for-all played out beneath them before their own form and the collapse of others allowed Villa to look beyond mid-table.
Villa never had a squad as bad as Gerrard was making it look, but you’d have been earmarked as a crazy person if you said out loud in September that it looked like a team capable of two points per game. Maybe nobody could have succeeded at Arsenal straight after Arsene Wenger and events at the Emirates suggest they were right to move Emery on but he was never a bad manager – he wasn’t a bad Arsenal manager, not really – and it’s genuinely heartwarming to see his second attempt at Premier League management go so well.
It also blows our tiny minds that he is already the 12th longest-serving current manager in the top flight having taken over way back in the dim and distant times of six months ago.