Man Utd jog and managerial upgrades – each Premier League club’s best decision of the season

Matt Stead
Man Utd players react

It is difficult to narrow it down to one decision for some clubs and tougher to actually find one good call from a few others. Man Utd needed that defeat.


Arsenal – trusting Benjamin White at right-back
“He’s the best right-back I’ve ever played with. He’s always focused. It’s an honour to play next to him,” were the words Benjamin White used to describe Takehiro Tomiyasu in January 2022. Over a year later, the England international and most consistent defender in the entire Premier League has consigned his teammate to the bench. Good call, Mikel.


Aston Villa – replacing Steven Gerrard with Unai Emery
From 17th and outside the relegation zone on goal difference when Steven Gerrard was sacked, to 11th, a point behind Chelsea and Liverpool, and glancing tentatively at the European qualification places. Villa collected nine points from 11 games under Gerrard; from the date of Emery’s first game, only Arsenal (19) have collected more points than their 16 in seven matches.


Bournemouth – pressing the Neto panic button
Mark Travers started the first four games of Bournemouth’s Premier League season, then played seven more times from mid-October to early January. Their record in those fixtures was W2 D0 L9 F7 A32. Neto made his debut on August 31, played until being substituted at half-time with an injury in a 2-0 defeat to West Ham (which was goalless when he went off), then returned for their two most recent matches. Their record in those fixtures was W2 D5 L3 F9 A12. Neto has the second-best save percentage in the top flight (82.5%) and Travers has the worst (51.7%). They have a chance of survival with the Brazilian and almost none with the Irishman.


Brentford – introducing more tactical versatility
In 29 Premier League games last season, Brentford started with either a back three or five. For 2022/23 Thomas Frank has changed things up completely, using a 4-3-3 in 10 games and either a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 in the other half, shifting seamlessly between systems with the confidence and purpose that comes with experience.


Brighton – bringing Kaoru Mitoma in slowly
Narrowing it down to one excellent decision is difficult enough when a club operates this efficiently. The way Kaoru Mitoma was patiently introduced after his productive loan spell in Belgium epitomises Brighton’s joined-up thinking. The Japan international played 147 substitute minutes of the club’s first 11 games of the Premier League season, making an assist-providing full debut on October 29 against Chelsea and only ever looking back since to see which poor full-back he has left in his wake.


Chelsea – extending Thiago Silva’s contract
The oldest outfielder in the Premier League this season remains one of the best and most important. Chelsea bought eight players for a total of £296.3m in January, all of whom were aged between 18 and 23, yet their biggest signing was that of a 38-year-old’s new deal.


Crystal Palace – supporting Cheick Doucoure
It actually remains to be seen whether Naouirou Ahamada and Albert Sambi Lokonga fare well for Crystal Palace but Cheick Doucoure’s legs will be grateful at the very least for the overdue midfield aid.


Everton – appointing Sean Dyche
Fun as it would have been to see Marcelo Bielsa coach the youth team and academy at relatively great expense for half a season while the senior Everton side continued to flail and fail, Sean Dyche was the only correct answer the Toffees have come up with in the last few years of questionable calls. The 51-year-old either keeps them up or stabilises them in the Championship.


Fulham – striking the balance between new signings and old faces
In the past, Fulham seemed to immediately discard the players who earned promotion as they embarked on a battle against relegation. It led to instability, uncertainty and a seemingly constant state of transition. But Marco Silva has trusted those who took him back into the Premier League to keep them there. Tim Ream is his most-used player, while Bobby Decordova-Reid, Harrison Reed, Antonee Robinson, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Kenny Tete and Tosin Adarabioyo help fill out the rest of that top 10; it must help not having to acclimatise to a whole new raft of teammates again.


Leeds – relying on Rodrigo’s goal threat
“With Bielsa, I played a little further back,” said Rodrigo in August. While his more prominent attacking role has been at least in part forced by Patrick Bamford’s continued fitness issues, the Spaniard has risen to the challenge. Only four players have scored more Premier League goals this season than Rodrigo.


Leicester – working on the defence
It is something Leicester should perhaps revisit, the grand intervention. They started their season with one point and no clean sheets from seven games heading into the October international break, after which they beat Nottingham Forest 4-0 and then lost 2-1 to Bournemouth. “We had played well in that game but lost two poor goals so we spent the next week just working on our defensive principles, how we defend, how we press. You can’t win games unless you defend,” noted Brendan Rodgers, who led the Foxes to four wins to nil, a goalless draw and a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in their next six matches. In five post-World Cup games they have lost four, drawn one and conceded 10. Get that meeting booked in.


Liverpool – keeping Roberto Firmino
Only Mo Salah has directly contributed to more Liverpool goals this season than Roberto Firmino, whose attacking influence has been sorely missed during an elongated injury absence. The Reds were right to knock back interest from potential suitors in the summer and fresh contract talks are proceeding nicely.


Manchester City – throwing Rico Lewis in at the deep end
For Joao Cancelo to be loaned out mid-season with no replacement signed, Manchester City’s squad planning journey must have taken an unexpected route. The sudden emergence of Rico Lewis as a legitimate first-team option certainly ticks that box; never again should it be said that Pep Guardiola doesn’t trust youth.


Man Utd – letting Erik ten Hag do a 13.8km jog
That diabolical start to the season, a continuation of the well-established rank awfulness of Man Utd, feels like a lifetime ago. And it could be argued that such chastening defeats to Brighton and Brentford were absolutely necessary, giving Erik ten Hag the go-ahead to tear up what was not working at Old Trafford and implement his own changes. The tactics, the Casemiro signing, the perfect handling of Cristiano Ronaldo, the renaissance of Marcus Rashford – it all started with Ten Hag’s decision to show his Man Utd players they were in this together with that 13.8km jog a day after losing 4-0 to Brentford.


Newcastle – focusing on defensive resilience
The additions of Nick Pope and Sven Botman to a defence which Eddie Howe immediately sought to solidify upon his appointment have lifted Newcastle into Champions League contention. Only Barcelona have conceded fewer league goals in Europe’s top five divisions than the Magpies this season.


Nottingham Forest – betting it all on Morgan Gibbs-White
The £42.5m figure was widely derided and scoffed at as yet more proof of Nottingham Forest’s perceived indulgence but Morgan Gibbs-White is the player who makes Steve Cooper’s side tick and the heart through which everything flows. The 23-year-old has created at least 20 more chances than any of his teammates.


Southampton – retaining James Ward-Prowse
There were summer links to both Manchester clubs and West Ham for a player who would improve any Premier League team through dead-ball prowess alone, but Southampton kept hold of James Ward-Prowse and without him the outlook would be even more bleak.


Tottenham – building around Rodrigo Bentancur
It has often felt like Harry Kane plus 10 others at Tottenham this season but that does a monumental disservice to a handful of other players diligently working away from the spotlight. Rodrigo Bentancur is a regular one-man press who has added a goalscoring edge to his game and Spurs really ought to keep building their midfield and team around him.


West Ham – taking Europe seriously
Bad as things have been for West Ham in the Premier League, a couple of cup runs have offered sweet release. Manchester United await at Old Trafford in the FA Cup fifth round but most impressive was their flawless progression through the Europa Conference League group stage. David Moyes just needs to translate that momentum and those minutes he seems somewhat happier to offer otherwise ostracised players into league performance.


Wolves – persuading Julen Lopetegui to think again
The delay in appointing Bruno Lage’s successor, with the caretaker reign of Steve Davis stretching over seven increasingly poor games, was at least vaguely justified when Wolves finally managed to tempt Julen Lopetegui into the job. In just five games he has accrued seven of Wolves’ 17 points, improved the defence and attracted a calibre of previously unattainable player in winter.