It seems likely the season will end with 23 coaches having a crack at being in charge of a Premier League club this season. Let’s rank them.
23 (NE) Paul Heckingbottom (Sheffield United, since March)
Harsh to put him last, but however bad the results were under Chris Wilder when viewed collectively, individually they never really looked that bad. A 1-0 defeat here, a 2-1 loss there. The occasional 3-1 on a really bad day. Heckingbottom’s one and only Premier League game in charge was a 5-0 defeat at Leicester. Sheffield United’s worst result since returning to the top flight and equalling the total number of times the Blades conceded five in the entirety of Wilder’s reign. The only way is up, I guess.
22 (22) Sam Allardyce (West Brom, since December)
He and West Brom are just going through the motions so I don’t see why we should make any effort either. We’ll just repeat what we said last time we did this. “Full disclosure, we thought this was a pretty reasonable idea in December. Look, a lot of people far more important than us made really bad decisions that month, so cut us some slack. Big Sam got his traditional point at Anfield just early enough for it still to seem impressive, but has made West Brom categorically worse than they were under Bilic, which is very bad indeed. Absolutely no chance he hangs around long enough for relegation to be confirmed and officially inked onto his CV but we’ll all know and he’ll know that we all know.”
21 (21) Slaven Bilic (West Brom, September – December)
West Brom have been really bad this season. Bilic’s error was making them look both bad enough to go down but also just about good enough to be saved. That turned out to be bullsh*t, but it still cost him his job.
20 (20) Frank Lampard (Chelsea, September – January)
Whatever his adoring press pack fans may think, Lampard was objectively failing at Chelsea and everything that has happened since at Stamford Bridge only reinforces it. Either that, or a whole crop of expensive players and high-class squad all suddenly started playing properly at the same time by magic just after Bambi was humanely destroyed. In which case, fair play, that’s really bad luck because it has really made it look like he was actually just bobbins.
19 (18) Chris Wilder (Sheffield United, September – March)
Drops a place for the breakdown in relationships that, damagingly for both Wilder and his beloved Blades, meant an end to a hugely successful reign and the needless sabotaging of United’s best chance of getting back into the Premier League. Probably lucky to be above Lampard – Sheffield United really have lost quite a startling number of football matches this season – but it’s also definitely funnier this way.
18 (17) Steve Bruce (Newcastle)
Grim. Might just about stay up, but it’s just all so thoroughly miserably depressing. And if they do go down, bouncing straight back for a third time is asking an awful lot. They could even go full Sunderland.
17 (12) Ralph Hasenhuttl (Southampton)
We still really like him but f***ing hell. Already on the slide when 12th on this list after that 9-0 defeat at Manchester United – 9-0 defeats becoming altogether too much of a feature for Hasenhuttl’s Saints – and being 14th having briefly topped the table in those wild early weeks of the campaign is really, really, really bad. Have now lost 10 of their last 12 league games, which is ludicrous, as is the fact that four of their last seven points have come from a win over Liverpool and a draw against Chelsea. The other three points coming against Sheffield United is less silly.
16 (19) Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves)
Seventh, seventh again, bold attempt to change the strategy and aim higher, 13th. It’s quite a fall, with the most notable difference being that Wolves are no longer a team the big boys fear to face. The change of approach was brave and commendable, but it carries inevitable risk and the only reason Santo’s climbing this table is that others are sh*tting the bed more conspicuously and without having tried something that, had it worked, would have been great fun. Hard to shake the idea they’ve lost the identity they had over two highly impressive seasons and the fact they are only one point closer to the top half than the bottom three cannot be dressed up as anything other than a massive disappointment. The injury to Raul Jimenez has been a huge factor, so too the sale of Diogo Jota, leaving Wolves looking fairly toothless. But fundamentally they are precisely where they deserve to be on this season’s evidence. And that’s quite damning really.
15 (15) Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace)
At the end of last season we put: ‘Been there nearly three years now, just sort of plugging away and carrying on. Will probably be second favourite in the sack race at the start of next season (and we will predict his departure again) but will no doubt bury us all.’ We saw no reason to change anything of this beyond the amount of time when we last updated this list, and see no reason to do so now.
14 (13) Jose Mourinho (Tottenham)
Managing to irritate absolutely everyone and alienate assorted factions of the squad and a thoroughly disillusioned fanbase while simultaneously being in charge of the division’s form team. Classic Jose. They remain significantly less than the sum of their parts, however, no matter how much Mourinho gaslights away about the paucity of a squad he declared himself thrilled with even before being given quite a surprisingly large amount of money to improve it last summer.
13 (14) Scott Parker (Fulham)
If they stay up then he jumps five or six places in this list instantly, and possibly more. It would be a huge achievement from where they were in September. Gets plenty of praise and most of it is well deserved, but there’s still a sense that the squad he has now, compared to what he had at the start of the season, isn’t exactly performing miracles. They are often very good, but not often for the full 90 minutes and rarely with the points to show for it. For all the progress, three Premier League wins since November isn’t quite enough. Big couple of months for Parker, with a top-10 finish in this list definitely possible alongside, less importantly, Premier League survival.
12 (16) Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
Still a long road to travel, still mistakes being made and still frequently sh*tbone awful, but there are now definite signs and tangible points-based evidence that Arteta and Arsenal are starting to get things right and that this really could all work out quite nicely in the end. Authority in the role never greater than it is right now on the back of the ballsy but correct and instantly justified decision to punish tardy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for being late to the NLD.
11 (8) Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
Whatever the mitigation – and there is plenty of it – this has been a shambles of a title defence. Being behind West Ham is not a great look; being behind Spurs is positively catastrophic.
10 (7) Dean Smith (Aston Villa)
We got in trouble for putting him as low as seventh last time, so take a huge amount of entirely childish pleasure in dropping him three places now Villa have settled down into the mid-table morass having been shorn of the talismanic presence of Jack Grealish. Manager and club still doing a perfectly good job across the course of the season, reflected in this upper mid-table spot in this very important list.
9 (10) Graham Potter (Brighton)
Hipster neutral xG favourites, scourge of the old school “only statistic that matters is in the corner of your screen” brigade. They’re pretty much safe now, play nice progressive football and Potter seems sound. Nice one.
8 (9) Sean Dyche (Burnley)
They’re staying up, again, with plenty to spare, again, despite pretty much zero investment, again. There is no more perfect combination of manager and club in the league. No other manager could pull off this alchemy at Burnley, and we suspect but have no great desire to actually find out Dyche couldn’t do it at any other club. It just works.
7 (6) Carlo Ancelotti (Everton)
There is definitely something good developing at Everton if they can keep it all together for another couple of years. Much may depend on where they sit in the gaggle of clubs between about fourth and ninth when the music stops. Anything in the top six and the progress is tangible; anything lower and it is going to feel like a bit of an anticlimax given how exciting things were in those giddy September weeks when all things seemed possible.
6 (5) Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds)
Leeds’ return to the Premier League has been one of the most flat-out joyous things in recent years. Would’ve seemed very unlikely before Bielsa took over. There is understandably some sniffiness about the Bielsa love-in that has gripped the press over recent months, but it’s not hard to see why Leeds are a neutral’s favourite. When they’re good they’re very good and when they’re bad they’re a shambles. There has been no more watchable side, for good or bad, in the Premier League this season going right back to that opening-night nonsense against Liverpool. It’s a hell of an achievement for a newly-promoted side and yes some other teams might have ‘better records’ and ‘more points’. Fine, if that’s your thing. But Leeds are the most fun, and that’s worth something. Specifically, sixth place in this list with his drop by one spot no reflection on him but entirely down to Chelsea getting a proper manager.
5 (3) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United)
Still no idea whether he should really be first or 10th. Will likely finish second, which is very good, but the distant nature of that runners-up finish means talk of progress has to be cautious. 2019 Solskjaer probably did have a point about the importance of winning trophies at Manchester United, no matter what 2021 Solskjaer thinks of that kind of egotistical nonsense. Needs the Europa League to turn a decent season into a properly good one, really.
4 (2) David Moyes (West Ham)
Probably not going to finish in the top four now, and the draw with Arsenal was desperately disappointing. But really that sentence only highlights the absurdity of what Moyes and his team have achieved this season.
3 (11) Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea, since January)
Too early to properly judge him when we last did this, so we put him at the bottom of those managers who had not overseen any notably unpleasant befouling of the bed. Delighted to push him right up this list now. Will still probably get no further than the end of next season and is still probably more likely to be Spurs manager than Chelsea manager three years from now given recent trends. Both of those things feel incredibly harsh based on what we’ve seen so far. Killing Bambi really was one of Chelsea’s better schemes. Liverpool’s missing stars mean Chelsea really do have the second best squad in the country on paper, and under Tuchel that has at last translated to the second best team on grass. This would not have happened under Lampard, no matter how hard certain people wish it were so.
2 (4) Brendan Rodgers (Leicester)
Still on track for the top four – although we’re desperately worried it could all come crashing down amid that nonsense pile of injuries and a ghastly run-in – and on the good side of the FA Cup semi-final draw despite a neverending succession of obstacles placed in their path. Top four and a trophy would be a staggering achievement, all things considered. The first part is impressive enough, and they should still do it. Should. Please. Don’t f*** it up again, lads.
1 (1) Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Putting him top six weeks ago was still a little bit of a stretch. Not now. Winning the league at such a canter that a full-scale assault on the Quadruple is now very much a talking point however much Pep doesn’t want to talk about it. From looking like City might have a very bad season (by their standards) indeed in November with Pep looking like he might even be close to the end of his Etihad road to serious Quad talk in March. It’s been a daft old season all round, really.