F365’s top ten Premier League managers of 2019

Date published: Tuesday 24th December 2019 3:11

10) Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Had Lampard not been tactically excellent in leading Chelsea to victory over Tottenham this weekend, then this place might have gone to Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhuttl for managing the 14th best side of 2019. But we are more than happy to credit the new-ish Chelsea boss with a start to the season that has certainly exceeded expectations. With only one new signing (not of his choosing), Chelsea have a) established themselves in the top four and b) qualified for the next phase of the Champions League. It’s been a B+ of a half-season.

Lampard may have been aided by the catastrophes at Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea, but he has enjoyed his own victories: The repaid faith of Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, the re-emergence of Willian, the unification of the match-going Chelsea support. Points-wise, Lampard’s Chelsea lag behind Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea, but the Italian had Eden Hazard and rather a lot more experience.

 

9) Maurizio Sarri (Chelsea)
Last year’s No. 10 moves up a place, having secured third spot in the Premier League thanks to a late-season run of just two defeats in 12 games. Add in an actual trophy and another cup final defeat on penalties and you would have to say that 2019 went pretty well for Sarri at Stamford Bridge, barring the growing realisation that he would have to leave at the end of the season as the fans and owners turned against him and his brand of football.

And then Juventus went and played straight into Chelsea’s hands by offering them actual compensation to take away a manager they were desperate but financially reluctant to sack, having wrongly presumed that qualifying twice for the Champions League meant that Sarri was revered at Chelsea. He was not. They snatched off the hands of the Italian giants – now possibly regretting their decision – and replaced Sarri with the man just below him in this list.

 

8) Sean Dyche (Burnley)
As 2018 became 2019, Burnley were in the Premier League relegation places. As 2019 edges into 2020, Burnley are secure in the Premier League’s midriff, having taken more points than either Everton or West Ham in this calendar year. But don’t for a second think that means they have drifted along; an eight-game unbeaten run in the New Year was followed by four straight defeats in the spring. And that pattern has been repeated – though not quite to such extremes – throughout 2019. This is a side that performs in streaks and when you are a club of Burnley’s size, that might well be enough.

Key to the Clarets’ success remains the pairing of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes, who have each scored 15 Premier League goals in 2019 – as many as Marcus Rashford and more than Harry Kane. They have been supplemented this season by the bargain £5m signing of Jay Rodriguez, while Dwight McNeil remains the anomaly in a squad of old-stagers. It’s still not pretty but it’s still pretty bloody effective.

 

7) Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace)
So far in 2019, Hodgson’s Crystal Palace have picked up more points than Tottenham. Let that sink in for a second. For a team without any semblance of a prolific goalscorer to build a positive goal difference over 12 months is extraordinary. And in the middle of that calendar year, Palace lost a £50m defender who they did not replace. And they have ended it with Cheikhou Kouyate at centre-half having suffered a glut of injuries in one position.

They are not a sexy team but they are team capable of pulling off a sexy result, with 2019 bringing away victories over Wolves, Leicester City, Arsenal and Manchester United among others. Having begun 2019 on the edges of a relegation battle, they can now target only their second top-half Premier League finish. Some Palace fans who have been agitating for his exit might do well to remember what happened last time Palace tried a complete change of direction.

 

6) Steve Bruce (Newcastle United)
There was barely one person inside or outside Newcastle who was not utterly underwhelmed by the appointment of Steve Bruce to replace Rafa Benitez. This was a man whose last Premier League games had ended in relegation four years before. This was a man who was glad to get a mid-table Championship job in January. And this was a man replacing one city’s hero as manager. It was doomed to fail and doomed to give Newcastle fans another reason to hate that tw*t Mike Ashley.

And yet. And yet. And yet. Here we are in December and Newcastle are level on points with Manchester United and two points clear of Arsenal. The football may be eye-wateringly ugly and xG might make them easily the worst team in the Premier League, but it matters not a jot. Bruce was handed a squad seemingly bound for relegation and he has made them into mid-table battlers. Jonjo Shelvey has 5 (five) goals, for God’s sake.

 

5) Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves)
In the same position as last year having established a provincial club in the upper echelons of the Premier League within just 18 months. Even after starting the season with a run of six winless games, nobody seriously thought that this Wolves team under this Wolves manager were in any real danger. The fans, players and owners were on the same page in believing that Wolves’ best hope of steadying their wobbling seasonal ship was to stick with the man and his plan. Three months later they are sixth and looking forward to a Europa League tie with Espanyol.

Santo does benefit from the largesse of a club that can spend over £80m in one summer and be under absolutely no pressure to sell, but those players still have to be coached, with Adama Traore a perfect example of a player transformed by the Portuguese. He is not the only one. “We leave meetings before games thinking there’s just no way we can’t win this game. Tactically I think he’s on another level… he’s a world-class manager,” says Matt Doherty.

And Arsenal supposedly ruled him out because of communication issues. Fools.

 

4) Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City)
We wondered in March whether Brendan Rodgers could find sanctuary from himself at Leicester City, where he could concentrate on coaching footballers rather than chasing legends. He took over a drifting mid-table club with an enviable set of young players and he has turned them into a team 11 points clear of fifth place and seemingly bound for a return to the Champions League. Leicester may not be ready to beat those teams around them but the bigger picture is brighter than Brendan’s teeth.

Kasper Schmeichel, Jonny Evans and Jamie Vardy have found some excellent 30-plus form but they are surrounded by vibrant and exciting youth, all of whom – barring Ayoze Perez – Rodgers inherited in February from the under-achieving Claude Puel. This has been the year of Rodgers the coach, re-shaping Vardy’s game, turning Caglar Soyuncu into a reliable centre-half and finding a place for both James Maddison and Youri Tielemans. Redemption is thine.

 

3) Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
The winner of all 2019’s domestic trophies should not really be third on any list of managers of the year, but this has been a truly extraordinary year. And there is no doubt that this has been a crushing season so far for City, with defeats to Norwich, Wolves, Liverpool and Manchester United leaving their title hopes sobbing in a heap on the floor. And it is by the ridiculous standards of the previous two years that this City side and manager must be judged.

This year, Guardiola has shown his flaws – he over-thought and lost the Champions League quarter-final clash against a poor Tottenham side in the spring, and then left his side exposed against Liverpool and United this season. He has suffered from the injury to Aymeric Laporte but not buying a centre-half this summer looked like a potential mistake even before that blow. Then there’s the unfathomable faith in Fernandinho as a centre-half ahead of actual centre-halves, his use of four different left-backs and his reluctance to trust Joao Cancelo. It’s never a good day for sanity when the Fraudiola freaks are given reason to believe.

 

2) Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
The most Premier League points of 2019. The champions of both Europe and the world. And yet, we cannot ignore the big red elephant in the room that is a seven-point lead as Big Ben struck to usher in 2019. They were flattered by the scoreline of a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City on January 3 but the title was still in their hands. But then there were draws – four of them – as Liverpool surrendered the initiative by early March.

But let’s accentuate the positives of no Premier League defeat since that City humbling, European triumph in Madrid, a world title won in Qatar and a Premier League table that sees them ten points clear with a game in hand. The long, long wait for the title will end in 2020, they have 2019’s best Premier League player in their ranks and Klopp himself has signed a new long-term contract. Everything is coming up rosy red.

 

1) Chris Wilder (Sheffield United)
He started the year in sixth place in the Championship; he ends it fifth place in the Premier League. That’s pure sorcery.

Daniel Storey was right; this prize (there isn’t a prize) could go to nobody else.

Sarah Winterburn

 

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