Every chance this is an actual Premier League top 40 by the time we get round to season-end rankings. There are still plenty of these managers under serious pressure…
28) Steve Bruce (Newcastle, August-October)
Already on the fans’ sh*tlist long before a horrible, grim start to the season. Inexplicably if briefly kept on by the new owners to rack up his 1000th game and donate three goals and three points to Spurs at a time when the north Londoners couldn’t find their arsehole with both hands. Was taking Newcastle down before the takeover, and under Bruce it’s hard to see how any amount of money would have saved them. The damage might already be done, but at least they’ve now got a chance. Hilariously touted by some high-profile characters for the Manchester United job, showing that some people will simply never, ever learn.
27) Nuno Espirito Santo (Tottenham, August-November)
Wrong man, wrong time, wrong job. You do feel for the bloke – he seems decent enough and you can see why it was an opportunity that felt impossible to turn down. But after a mighty impressive opening-weekend win over Manchester City, they were simply awful. Even in the follow-up victories over Wolves and Watford there was no sense of something tangible and while he managed to eke out another couple of narrow wins along the way the defeats soon came, and when they did they were heavy. A 3-0 stomping off a woefully out-of-form Manchester United combined with the sudden and inexplicable keenness of Antonio Conte was enough for Spurs to act. Will always have the August Manager of the Month gong, though.
26) Dean Smith (Aston Villa, August-November)
Done in by the loss of a talismanic star player and failed attempts to reconfigure the side around a phalanx of new signings brought with the windfall. He isn’t the first and won’t be the last. Hard not to feel some sympathy for a man who loves the club dearly and saw three years of mainly excellent work unravel in the space of five games. But those five games really were sh*tbone awful. It was the right decision. Brutal, but right.
25) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United, August-November)
It should never have taken so long. Those three weeks he stayed in the job after Spurs had snaffled Conte could still prove a huge sliding doors moment for both clubs, although the sense of missed opportunity has been lessened to a degree by United identifying and securing a disappointingly sensible interim replacement. Imagine if they’d given it Brucey until the end of the season.
24) Xisco Munoz (Watford, August-October)
Watford manager. Foreign. Sacked in October. Tale as old as time.
23) Daniel Farke (Norwich, August-November)
Finally got his P45 and first win of the season on the same weekend. Cruel business, but he can’t say he wasn’t warned. There was only so long the whole ‘Far too good for the Championship, far too bad for the Premier League’ schtick could last.
22) Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds)
Has had a lot of injuries to contend with and, obviously, has vast reserves of credit in the bank thanks to the last couple of years. Even so, though. It’s not been great, has it?
21) Graeme Jones (Newcastle, October-November)
There was no disgrace to his three-game caretaker interregnum, with 1-1 draws at Palace and Brighton perfectly serviceable results and a thrashing off Chelsea also pretty much par for the course.
20) Sean Dyche (Burnley)
Wandered around a snow-covered Turf Moor without a jacket but with a huge smile in the single most on-brand moment of the entire season. Hard to see that being topped. On the downside, managed to lose a game to Newcastle.
19) Ralph Hasenhuttl (Southampton)
Still lots to like about him and very often about his team. Unfortunately this is most notably true for teams who find themselves behind against Southampton, who have now spaffed away a frankly absurd 54 points from winning positions in the last two-and-a-bit seasons. Three wins from nine leads this season suggests the problem isn’t going away, but at least there hasn’t been a 9-0 defeat. Yet.
18) Brendan Rodgers (Leicester)
Victim of his own success to an extent as back-to-back fifth-place finishes (which could easily have been fourth-place finishes) and an FA Cup win give way to a slide back into the sort of solid mid-table drudgery which would have been a decent level for Leicester until five years ago. That said, their defending from set-pieces is now way beyond a joke – and also way beyond the point at which a crappy injury list offers much in the way of mitigation. Had Arsenal not lost at Everton on Monday night, Brendan and Leicester may well have found themselves more firmly under the CRISIS CLUB microscope. He’s still in some bother, you’d think, after such a poor showing in the Super Sunday TV slot. Especially as the commentators were just quite brazenly ripping the p*ss by the end.
17) Claudio Ranieri (Watford, October onwards)
Doesn’t seem to quite fit the profile for a Watford manager somehow but will still probably last about as long as all the others. Has already had a couple of grand days out with the whompings of Everton and Manchester United, but we all know that will count for nothing once he goes three games without a win in January.
16) Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
Last man standing from the great ‘let’s make a callow former player our manager’ experiment of 2018-19 and suddenly once again looking decidedly shaky. Partly that’s because he’s now lost any safety net with the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, partly that’s because of the significant grown-up managerial upgrades at Spurs and Manchester United in recent weeks and partly because his own Arsenal side remains very, very Arsenal. They probably aren’t as bad as the first three games of the season might have suggested, but they definitely aren’t as good as seven wins from the next 10 either. Spurs are the only top-half side they’ve beaten this season, and even that was against a very different version of Spurs than we have now. May well need some results across the rest of this busy month, because January’s first two league games are against Manchester City and Spurs.
The sides Arsenal have beaten in the Premier League this season.👇 pic.twitter.com/XGiUJHVT2U
— Football365 (@F365) December 7, 2021
15) Dean Smith (Norwich, November onwards)
Far better than his namesake at Villa, on this evidence. Five points from his first three games against Southampton, Wolves and Newcastle would be a solid enough return for any team outside the top eight, never mind one propping up the table. Even a 3-0 defeat at Spurs was nowhere near as bad as it ultimately looked, with Norwich creating and spurning some decent chances and very much in the game until the second goal midway through the second half.
14) Rafa Benitez (Everton)
Has spent much of the season looking both a man out of time and just the latest unable to crack Everton’s inherent, unstoppable Evertonness. Beating Arsenal was both unexpected and massively necessary, lifting both club and manager away from the fringes of a relegation battle for which they appear wildly unsuited.
13) Eddie Howe (Newcastle, November onwards)
A very sensible appointment from new owners for whom sensible has not exactly been the watchword thus far. Very early days, obviously, but tentative signs that Newcastle are already marginally less terrible than before and they did show some decent fight when down to 10 men for so long against Norwich before finally if narrowly getting that first win of the season. Fortunate not to be further adrift than they are, but now likely to hit January at least in contact with safety, which was undoubtedly task one and underlined three times on Howe’s to-do list when he turned up.
12) Ralf Rangnick (Manchester United, December onwards)
He’s already got Cristiano Ronaldo doing a bit of defending! Better than Sir Ferg? Perhaps still a touch early to say, but probably. Hundred per cent win ratio is second to none.
11) Michael Carrick (Manchester United, November-December)
Apparently a much better caretaker manager than he was a first-team coach under Solskjaer. It will always be worth remembering that the greater cohesion and purpose and apparent presence of some basic plan beyond ‘our clever players will sort this, for we are Manchester United Football Club’ which will come to be attributed to Ralf Rangnick’s reign actually began under Carrick.
10) Patrick Vieira (Crystal Palace)
Slightly upstaged now by Steven Gerrard’s arrival, but doing some eye-catching work of his own. Vieira’s Palace have already shown the capability to pull down the pants of the very best, but also a less welcome tendency to pull down their own undercrackers.
9) Antonio Conte (Tottenham, November onwards)
The ketchup-dodging Italian mentalist is already having a tangible effect on a Spurs squad that has been in need of a good, hard kick up the arse since at least the start of the 2019/20 season. Mourinho tried, but his arbitrary and hackneyed cruelty always felt more like self-preservation than genuine motivation. Conte can strike that balance far more effectively and, importantly, is able to do actual coaching too. There is already evidence of a cohesive plan and a sense when watching Spurs play of being able to see what they’re trying to do even on the occasions it doesn’t quite come off. If Spurs fans are honest with themselves, that wasn’t even the case in the last six months under Poch, never mind the dross that’s followed. Having already worked miracles on Eric Dier, Ben Davies and Oliver Skipp, if Conte can solve the Kane Puzzle then all things are suddenly possible. Covid outbreaks notwithstanding.
8) Steven Gerrard (Aston Villa, November onwards)
Very good start to Premier League management. Has pulled off the near-impossible trick for a former player of such immense standing to immediately have full authority as a manager. He’s already Steven Gerrard, Aston Villa manager rather than Steven Gerrard, former Liverpool captain. Convinced he’s going to be properly great at this. Did excellent work at Rangers and has already brought life and belief back to a previously moribund post-Grealish Villa. Will surely climb this when we revisit the rankings a few months from now.
7) Thomas Frank (Brentford)
Along with Potter and Lage forms the triptych of mid-table overachievers. Takes lots of notes during games, immediately raising the heckles of PFMs. Which obviously makes us like him despite our normally strict rules about never trusting a man with two first names.
6) Graham Potter (Brighton)
Shrewdly wanted no part of the whole Tottenham circus in the summer, preferring instead natural, measured progress with his Brighton team. Ergo, an intelligent man. Current worries about a reversion to the xG banter mean notwithstanding, they and he have been excellent this season.
5) Bruno Lage (Wolves)
Stayed resolutely and impressively calm when early performances were not matched by results. Has made the big call over Adama Traore’s point-blank refusal to have any end product whatsoever and has got Wolves looking at least as good as they ever did during Nuno’s time at Molineux.
4) Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Top of the league despite probably looking the most vulnerable of the runaway top three for good chunks of the season. Still get a weird sense that things are normally so easy for them that they can be caught out in games that turn out difficult. Guardiola’s side have certainly dropped sillier points this season than either Chelsea or Liverpool and insistence on not having a striker, while often immaterial, can sometimes start to look like affectation. Still a great manager, but feeling persists that comparing squads on paper leads you to conclude they ought to be more than one point clear. Probably harsh, but there it is.
3) Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
He is very good, his team is very good, his best player is very good. Liverpool are good.
2) Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea)
He’s just quietly excellent, isn’t he? Chelsea’s improvement under his guidance has been both dramatically fast yet also serenely calm, with a sense of inevitability about it all. Wildly off-brand chaotic defeat at West Ham can safely be viewed as an anomaly for now and we shouldn’t allow its recency to cloud our thoughts too much. Has made us swap the top two around, though. Gets ahead of his equally first-rate contemporaries Guardiola and Klopp on the basis it was slightly less certain that Chelsea would be in the title fight than it was for City and Liverpool to be there.
1) David Moyes (West Ham)
Last season’s wildly unexpected top-six finish has been built on impressively, with the Hammers currently in fourth place and looking down on Spurs, Manchester United and Arsenal. And deservedly so. A very good team, very well led and seemingly still on an upward curve. Technically outside our remit here, but have also absolutely cruised through the Europa League group stage despite minimal European experience within the squad. More credit to Moyes there, who has balanced the selection admirably (compare and contrast with Nuno’s doomed ’11 changes on a Thursday’ abdication of responsibility).
All that being said, the faintly chaotic 3-2 win over Chelsea still feels like a result the Hammers really needed; with Spurs and United on tentative upward trajectories, a fourth game without a win would’ve prompted some unwelcome chatter. Things should get easier again now, with Arsenal the only top-half league opponent in the next seven.