RANKED: All 16 Premier League manager changes this season: Chelsea really did f*** it – twice

Dave Tickner

There have been an awful lot of managerial changes in the Premier League this season, haven’t there? Yes. And you know what that means. It means we’ve ranked them, because we like ranking things.

Fair to say that not every change has been an upgrade, but some have gone really quite remarkably well. No hard and fast rules here, but in general we’ve glossed over caretakers who took charge for a game or two (your Aaron Dankses, your Michael Skubalas, your Bruno Saltors) but included in their own right those who had a more significant spell in charge (the Cristian Stellinis of this world).


16) Chelsea – Thomas Tuchel to Graham Potter
Sacking the Champions League-winning Tuchel wasn’t at the time quite as insane as it is now portrayed. There were undeniable signs that he appeared to be losing his mind a tiny bit and it’s not the first club where he’s had a falling-out after a relatively brief yet successful time.

Still, though, Todd Boehly’s reasons did appear to be mainly that Tuchel pushed back against his dafter soccerball ideas and Boehly didn’t much care for an expert having no time for his witless but enormously wealthy and thus valid and worthwhile opinions and schemes. A more pliable candidate was needed, and Graham Potter – having wisely previously turned down Tottenham – inexplicably tossed away everything he’d achieved at Brighton for the Big Six job most obviously unsuited to him and his methods.

He was doomed and will have to repair and rebuild that reputation elsewhere before he’ll get another big job. Either that or accept what he didn’t previously want to accept and take over at Spurs. It is his right as a former Chelsea boss. One piece of advice we would give Potter, that he is free to heed or ignore as he wishes, is this: for the love of God, man, whichever club you go to next please, please, please make it one that has a striker who will score some f***ing goals.


15) Chelsea – Graham Potter to Frank Lampard (via Bruno Saltor)
It’s quite an achievement – especially in a season pockmarked with managerial mess at a whole host of other clubs – for Chelsea to have managed to get a managerial appointment as wrong as they got Potter’s, and yet then contrive to make his own departure a conspicuous disaster of its own.

Potter appeared unlikely to succeed at Chelsea and pulling the plug appeared a reasonable decision. As with Cristian Stellini replacing Antonio Conte at Spurs, the promotion of his erstwhile assistant always looked a bit strange. It’s hard to see how making a junior member of a demonstrably failing regime is likely to provoke an improvement, but Saltor’s one game in charge – a goalless draw with Liverpool – now looks like very much the managerial high point of this Chelsea season.

Inexplicably, like genuinely Mediawatch-humiliating inexplicably, Frank Lampard was brought back in as caretaker manager for the rest of the season. We’re not saying Todd Boehly is actively trying to sabotage Chelsea – much more likely he’s just a rich idiot who either won’t listen to dissenting voices or simply doesn’t permit them – but if you were trying to actively sabotage Chelsea, bringing Lampard back for a banter-laden caretaker spell after he had failed at Chelsea but also failed at Everton is what you might do.

What, for instance, would a Spurs fan do if he wanted to make Chelsea a laughing stock? He’d bring back Lampard. What he definitely wouldn’t do is bring in Mauricio Pochettino, which is another reason why we can rule out the otherwise quite intoxicating ‘Todd Boehly: Tottenham sleeper agent’ conspiracy theory.

But even our hypothetical Spurs fan surely couldn’t have dreamed Chelsea would be quite this arse-gnawingly bad under Lampard. Inevitable, humdrum Champions League defeat over two low-key legs against Real Madrid has actually been something of a highlight. In the league, Lampard has managed four points from seven games. A win over the might of Bournemouth and a plucky home draw against Nottingham Forest is all he has to show from what has also been a very kind fixture list. Yes, he’s had to play Arsenal and City away, but at perfect times. Arsenal’s facile 3-1 win over Chelsea is their only home win since April Fool’s Day, while Chelsea had the immense good fortune to travel to City and face their reserve side the day after a title party. And still lost.

Chelsea are nine points off the top half of the table and finish their dismal season against Manchester United and Newcastle. Again, the gods have been kind to Lampard even here, with both those sides now safe and sound in the top four with nothing to play for. Still it almost certainly won’t help him. A dreadful nonsensical banter of an appointment that has somehow managed to go even worse than anyone could have dared to dream/dread.


14) Southampton – Ralph Hasenhuttl to Nathan Jones
We had a great fondness for Hasenhuttl, a manager who would occasionally look like a genuine candidate for bigger things (and also a ruddy-faced father of the bride who’d just put three grand behind the bar) and at others would show an alarming propensity to lose 9-0 and then go on a 10-game unbeaten run. It was definitely time to go, though, and Southampton had to do something.

Brilliantly, the something they chose was a superficially confident but obviously painfully insecure manager from the Championship who turned out to be a heady mix of Sherwood, Rodgers and Brent who through his propensity for absurd post-match pontification quickly rose to become our favourite manager.

He was, obviously, rubbish and thus Southampton – a football club forced to worry about trivial things like ‘maybe not getting relegated’ and ‘sometimes winning football matches’ – were, reluctantly, correct to let him go. But the fact they got enormously and decisively relegated anyway means we will now never, ever forgive them for denying us a few more months of Jones’ wildly entertaining nonsense. Can you remember one thing Ruben Selles has ever said? Of course you can’t.


13) Tottenham – Antonio Conte to Cristian Stellini
Cristian Stellini, the Twitter Blue Antonio Conte. The Spar own brand Antonio Conte. Conte-lite. Continuity Conte. Contenuity. The farcical 1-1 draw at Everton bore every hallmark of Antonio Conte, which was entirely understandable and does rather beg the question of what, precisely, Daniel Levy expected to happen after doing the very barest minimum possible in response to Conte’s cynical and self-serving decision to make his position untenable. ‘Conte was right!’ crowed History of the Tottenham Twitter after the Goodison shambles, which was a bit weird given it was in fact his team full of his signings playing his football precisely as they had played it under him.

What Spurs and Levy would soon discover was that playing Conte football without Conte would soon make drab 1-1 draws at Everton appear like glory days. A confused and confusing 3-2 home defeat to Bournemouth set up the nadir of a grim season for Spurs as a Newcastle team that has quite thoroughly overtaken them roared into a 5-0 lead inside 21 minutes the following weekend and forced Levy into the humiliation of having to replace his caretaker with another caretaker after a few short but undeniably eventful weeks.


12) Tottenham – Cristian Stellini to Ryan Mason
It’s still been mainly bad, with the two most recent defeats against Villa and Brentford particularly dismal and leaving Spurs facing the prospect of finishing as low as ninth if they shamble things up against a Leeds side with everything to play for on the final day, but it’s also been not quite as bad as Stellini’s horror run. So…well done?


11) Leicester – Brendan Rodgers to Dean Smith (via Adam Sadler and Mike Stowell)
Are they any worse than under Brendan Rodgers? No. Are they any better, though? Hmm. They’re still often quite alarmingly shit, aren’t they? For a team with players like Youri Tielemans, Harvey Barnes and James Maddison in it? Monday night’s goalless draw at Newcastle is either going to be a great hard-earned point or a dreadful miscalculation with absolutely nothing in between after failing to muster a shot of any kind at all until injury time.

It was at least a marked improvement defensively for a team that had shipped 10 goals in its three previous games, but they remain on course to be one of the most too good to go down teams ever to actually go down, alongside a couple of Newcastle efforts and that West Ham side that somehow contrived to get relegated with 42 points. That’s not entirely or even mainly on Smith, of course, but one win in seven from a run of games including Wolves, Leeds, Everton and Fulham when even two wins from seven would likely have meant safety is still on the shitty side of meh.


10) Leeds – Jesse Marsch to Javi Gracia (via Michael Skubala)
It was a shame really, but the Red Bull Ted Lasso had to go and for a while the solid if almost aggressively unexciting appointment of Javi Gracia appeared to be working. They won three and lost only two of his first six Premier League games, and one of his two defeats was pre-bottle-job Arsenal away so that’s nothing alarming. Talk of what canny, clever Gracia might be able to do in the longer term after securing Premier League survival began to be tentatively whispered. Then the arse fell all the way out of it all. And the crazy thing is that the precise single moment it all went wrong is so readily identifiable: it was Marc Guehi’s equaliser for Crystal Palace on the stroke of half-time at Elland Road on April 9. Before that goal, a totally dominant Leeds side appeared all set for a fourth win in seven. Then they fell apart utterly and entirely in the second half and lost 5-1. It was astonishing, and a week later they lost 6-1 at home to Liverpool. And then they lost at Fulham, and then drew a home game against Leicester that really needed to be won and then got thrashed 4-1 at Bournemouth to prompt the panicked and desperate deployment of the Big Sam Protocol. All that happened in the space of three weeks from Guehi’s sliding-doors equaliser. A truly wild ride.


9) Wolves – Bruno Lage to Steve Davis
The seeds of Lage’s departure were sown at the back end of last season, when a potential push for Europe evaporated in a disastrous final run of results. When those results bled into this season, he was swiftly moved on. Wolves then had to wait for preferred candidate Julen Lopetegui to become available which meant an extended caretaker run for Steve Davis (not that one) and it can be reasonably said that he didn’t make things any worse. It was a gamble to wait on Lopetegui and entrust a fifth of such a competitive season down at the bottom to a novice, but would Lage or a second choice have done much better at that point than a win over Nottingham Forest and a point at Brentford in their seven league games? Probably not.


8) Southampton – Nathan Jones to Ruben Selles
We understand it. We get it. We don’t even disagree with it. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Jones was going to be one of the all-time great comedy characters in a league that will always need the comic relief to pierce the po-faced seriousness of it all. And while Selles’ Southampton were less mortifying as well as inevitably less fun, they never at any stage remotely looked like pulling off a great escape miracle so truly what was the point of it all?

Southampton boss Nathan Jones

7) Leeds – Javi Gracia to Sam Allardyce
I mean, even if it works it’s just not very dignified is it? And very expensive. Decent investment if he keeps them up, of course, and despite no win thus far in his three games in charge there was enough about the 2-2 draw against Newcastle to suggest that Allardyce should absolutely be able to engineer some final-day caper or other against a Tottenham team that is pure shit and hasn’t won away from home since January. That might well be enough to keep them up, but the amount of praise Allardyce would get for keeping Leeds up with four points from four games is already annoying us before it’s even happened, while the nature of the collapse against a West Ham team with literally nothing to play for on Sunday was distinctly alarming. Even this woeful Spurs team still for now has a career-peak Harry Kane in it, and Leeds/Allardyce will need some kind of answer to that.


6) Everton – Frank Lampard to Sean Dyche
It doesn’t excuse Lampard’s failure, but Dyche isn’t exactly finding the going much easier. They’re still probably going to just about be okay because some kind of ancient spell cast into the creaking framework of the Goodison Park stands appears to prevent Everton ever suffering relegation from the top flight no matter how much of a complete balls they make of things. Everton could still be in trouble if they lose their final game of the season against Bournemouth, but even if that were to happen Dyche would still have taken 18 points from his 18 games in charge. Not great, clearly, but enough extrapolated across a whole season to at least avoid relegation.

And undeniably better than what went before – Dyche will end with at least three points more from 18 games than Lampard’s Everton managed in the first 20. For comparison, Lampard’s ‘miracle worker’ record to ensure survival last season was 20 points from the last 18 games. Even if Dyche does keep Everton the right side of the trapdoor, he won’t be getting the broadsheet long-reads of his predecessor.

But at the same time, Dyche was brought in with a specific job to do and plenty of time in which to do it. And it’s still not certain he’ll achieve it. Really, there should be no comparison with Lampard at all because these are wildly different managers of wildly differing experience. Dyche should be a far better manager than Lampard in most situations but especially this one.


5) Crystal Palace – Patrick Vieira to Roy Hodgson (via Paddy McCarthy)
Ah, this one makes us a bit sad. It’s nothing against Hodgson, really, just the fact that it feels like a backwards and retrograde step from a club that really looked like it might be threatening to do more than just survive in the Premier League under Vieira.

The rumblings of behind-the-scenes discontent towards the end of Vieira’s time at Palace cannot be ignored and it may well be that the Arsenal legend did have to join his fellow midfield superstars Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard on the managerial scrapheap. But we can’t shake the notion that Palace’s wildly lopsided fixture list fully stitched him up. The winless run that did for him was bad, obviously, but also absurd: Vieira’s final 12 Premier League games as Palace boss all came against the 11 teams above them in the league.

Then in comes Hodgson and of course he wins his first game against Leicester. Hodgson kept Palace up with plenty to spare and will get the credit. But there’s no denying he did so while playing on easy mode after Vieira had the difficulty rating turned up to 11. Hodgson has only had to face one supposedly good team during his victory-lap run-in, and that was f***ing Tottenham in relegation form and he still lost there anyway. Childish to pretend 17 points from nine games is anything other than excellent, though. Not that such a thing will ever stop us from trying.


4) Wolves – Steve Davis to Julen Lopetegui
It’s rarely been particularly eye-catching, but Wolves’ improvement under Lopetegui has been real, appears sustainable and has kept them in the Premier League with a good deal to spare. Which really is all that could be asked for. It’s not exactly been Emery-at-Villa levels of attention-grabbing, but Wolves sit 10th in the post-World Cup league table with 31 points from 22 games under the Spaniard. That’s six points more than any of the other eight teams who found themselves in some kind of relegation bother and absolutely enough to justify the gamble Wolves took in identifying Lopetegui as the man they wanted and waiting for him to be ready and willing to take over.

They do deserve credit for holding their nerve as they did, because Lopetegui undoubtedly represents something of a coup for Wolves and – unlike the short-termist emergency measures undertaken by certain other teams trying to avoid the drop – is an appointment that could have significant medium- and long-term upside. Lopetegui has done the firefighting with almost minimal fuss while also looking the ideal sort for the ensuing rebuild. Whatever happens this weekend to Everton, Leeds and Leicester that is not something any of them can claim. Nor can Palace. Forest and a West Ham team that never should have got themselves in that mess in the first place are the only other clubs who can feel similarly confident for better times under the current manager next season, and the thing with Forest and West Ham is that they never sacked their manager.


3) Bournemouth – Scott Parker to Gary O’Neil
Scott Parker’s promise of further beatings until morale improved weirdly didn’t go across well, and the hubris of issuing a back-me-or-sack-me ultimatum in the wake of a 9-0 defeat at Anfield suggested a man far too sure of his footing. Really, it was the opposite, though. He was attempting to throw his players under the bus, implying that 9-0 defeats were pretty much inevitable with this bunch of wasters involved. Off he went, and it would be several months before he was able to watch and learn from a master as Antonio Conte showed him how you really pin your own repeated failings on the players you coached and very often signed.

Parker was little lamented, though, and despite failing upwards to Club Brugge and an entirely unearned chance to manage in the Champions League, Parker was soon out on his ear again. O’Neil, meanwhile, immediately snaffled 10 points from his first six caretaker games in charge to land the permanent job. Our favourite Premier League stat of a season featuring many excellent stats is that, for one glorious week, the only Premier League team unbeaten since Bournemouth’s 9-0 defeat at Liverpool was… Bournemouth. That’s just excellent work. While lifting the mood after Parker’s grumpy denouement was hardly a difficult trick, it was still clear that O’Neil – perhaps benefiting here from being not far removed from his own playing days – recognised this was the first and most important thing that the Cherries needed.

Inevitably, the new-manager bounce dissipated instantly upon O’Neil’s full-time appointment, and entrusting a novice with this mother of all relegation scraps was certainly a bold choice from Bournemouth. They stuck with it, though, and the rewards have come. A run of six wins in nine games through March and April, beginning with a 1-0 win over Liverpool and ending with a joyous 4-1 thrashing of Leeds, took Bournemouth to safety with time and games to spare. They were so safe by the time May rolled around they were even able to casually lose a game to Frank Lampard’s Chelsea for the lols, which only makes us love them more.


2) Brighton – Graham Potter to Roberto De Zerbi
Massive bonus points here for making lemonade from life’s lemons and doing such a fine job of ensuring Potter’s years of fine work weren’t spaffed away. The only enforced change on this list and still easily one of the best. Brighton, that. It’s what they do and while we have no wish to see the Seagulls forced to go through it all again such has been De Zerbi’s impact in his first eight months that it may well happen. Fascinating to see how Brighton manage to grow stronger from that setback, but they will because they always do.

The exciting news for Brighton fans is that next season now contains a scenario where this involves winning the Europa League. Just a brilliant football club in a league full of variably questionable ones. But while Brighton’s fundamentals are there for all to see, let’s not underplay the role De Zerbi has played in it all. He’s been tremendous, and for all the Our League bluster from yer PFMs, it is still quite unusual for a manager to come to the Premier League for the first time and look this assured this quickly.


1) Aston Villa – Steven Gerrard to Unai Emery (via Aaron Danks)
Sometimes it’s enough to just look at the most basic information and accept that it tells you everything you need to know. Villa now sit seventh in the Premier League and may well be in Europe next season. This, in a wild example of understatement, was not on the cards during the dog days of Steven Gerrard’s reign. They had nine points from 11 games. Aaron Danks’ caretaker spell was short yet memorable, delivering a 4-0 win and a 4-0 defeat, while Unai Emery has quite simply transformed the team.

We admit we never saw them being quite this good, but there was always a definite sense of a team that was less than the sum of its parts under Gerrard. Emery has now delivered 46 points from 24 games. Since his appointment at the start of November, only Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool have more points. Since Emery took over, Villa have overturned a 14-point deficit to lead Spurs by a point, and have 24 points more than Chelsea. They’ve got a point more than Newcastle, and three more than Brighton. And all from what was not so much a standing start as a reverse one.