The Football Faithful
·25 January 2023
The Football Faithful
·25 January 2023
Fans can be fickle when it comes to the popularity of Premier League managers, with top-flight bosses only ever one run of results away from coming under pressure.
It’s important then that we acknowledge those who have excelled this season and we’ve picked out eight managers who have impressed during the current campaign. From overachievers to unlikely title challengers, here are eight Premier League managers doing impressive jobs.
Eddie Howe has done an extraordinary job at Newcastle, with the 45-year-old having overseen an incredible transformation on Tyneside. A little over a year ago, Howe inherited a side languishing in the Premier League’s relegation places having opened the season without a win in 11 games. That run was extended to 14 games – a start to the season no team had ever survived from – before a win over Burnley kick-started a turnaround that has shown no signs of slowing.
The resources brought in from the club’s Saudi-backed takeover certainly helped, as new signings were brought in in January, but Howe’s recruitment has been almost flawless since taking the reins. Unfashionable additions in Dan Burn and Matt Targett played their part, while Kieran Trippier has proven an inspired signing.
Across the second half of the season Newcastle excelled, winning 12 league games following the turn of the New Year to end the season in 13th. Howe had arrived as the first appointment in the club’s post-takeover era, but had not been the board’s first choice with Unai Emery having turned down the role before Newcastle turned to the ex-Bournemouth boss.
That success has proven no flash in the pan with Newcastle having continued to improve this time around, despite being just the eighth-highest spenders last summer. While the club’s takeover has led to expected improvement, few envisaged it happening so fast. Newcastle have lost just once in the Premier League this season, with no team having lost fewer games. It is a run that has led to an unexpected challenge for Champions League football, built on the division’s best defence.
The areas of concern around Howe’s appointment – his ability to organise a defence and recruitment record at Bournemouth – have been answered in emphatic fashion, which married alongside his coaching credentials and conduct off the pitch have made him hugely popular at St James’ Park.
His ability to improve underperforming assets in Miguel Almiron, Joelinton and Fabian Schar among others has contributed to Newcastle’s rapid rise into the top four. Champions League football is well within reach and the Magpies are dreaming of a return to Europe’s elite for the first time since 2003/04. We’ve not even mentioned that they’re also one game away from a cup final…
Even given the recency bias, it can be argued that Steve Cooper is Nottingham Forest’s best manager since Brian Clough.
Last season Cooper walked into a Forest side in turmoil. Bottom of the Championship after the worst start to a season in 108 years, he inspired a renaissance that ended in the club’s 23-year exile from the Premier League coming to an end.
A highly-rated coach with England’s youth teams previously, Cooper earned his stripes in the national set-up before moving to club football, winning the u17 World Cup with a side containing the likes of Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi in 2017.
🗣 "We're really proud." Steve Cooper says Nottingham Forest are up for the fight of facing Manchester United in the Carabao Cup semi-final
Forest rode a wave of momentum to victory in the play-offs last season, before a remarkable summer recruitment drive that saw a British record 22 players arrive for a sum in excess of £145m. Cooper insisted the rapid rebuild was required given the club’s unexpected return to the top division, but as expected there proved to be teething issues at the City Ground.
A poor start saw Cooper’s position come under threat, but Forest trusted their head coach and instead handed him a new deal when others questioned his position. It has proven a wise move as Forest have improved, losing just one of their last seven to climb up to 13th. The tightness of the bottom half means the club are far from safe, but with summer arrivals in Morgan Gibbs-White, Renan Lodi and Serge Aurier beginning to impress there is confidence Forest can survive this season.
Manchester United have been a club in decline across the past decade, with a succession of big-name managers having tried and failed to stop the rot that began following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
Erik ten Hag was the latest name to take on the challenge and arrived from Ajax with a fine reputation, having led the Dutch side to three consecutive Eredivisie titles. It is a reputation that has enhanced during his first half-season in English football, with United appearing a team headed in a positive direction for the first time in some time.
His reign began with disasters against Brighton and Brentford, perhaps a blessing in disguise as Ten Hag learned in humbling fashion the task that faced him at Old Trafford. Since then it has been steady improvement and each setback has been handled in commendable fashion.
The 50-year-old has made clear in no uncertain terms that he is the man in charge, handling the saga surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo in decisive fashion. Underperforming assets have either been improved (Marcus Rashford and Diogo Dalot), helped (Jadon Sancho) or removed from the side (Harry Maguire) and the foundations already appear in place for the Red Devils to challenge once again.
The club’s summer recruitment drive addressed weaknesses in key areas and United appear within two to three additions from a side capable of competing for big trophies. A return to the Champions League – United are fourth at present – will be crucial to their development, while ending the club’s five-season barren run without silverware should be an immediate objective as the club compete for the Europa League, EFL Cup and FA Cup.
Fulham returned to the Premier League this season looking to end a recent yo-yo existence, one which had seen the Cottagers not spend consecutive seasons in the same division since 2017/18.
Marco Silva’s side have since silenced all doubters during a season in which the club have exceeded all expectations. Aleksandar Mitrovic has thrived in the Premier League after accusations that the Serbian was a Championship bully, while the likes of Tim Ream and Bobby Decordova-Reid – players who struggled during Fulham’s last season at this level – have been reborn under Silva’s management.
The momentum from their Championship-winning campaign has continued into the new campaign, with Fulham in the top half and pushing for a place in Europe. The west Londoners are seventh, above both Liverpool and Chelsea, and within touching distance of the continental qualification places.
Silva’s signings have largely worked. Joao Palhinha has been one of the success stories of the season after his arrival from Sporting Lisbon, producing a level of authoritative performance that must have ‘Big Six’ clubs wondering how he slipped through the net. Elsewhere Andreas Pereira has found a home after struggling for status at Manchester United, while Willian has shown flashes of his Chelsea best since returning to English football.
It’s been a season of fun for a Fulham side who appear unburdened by past disappointments. They press high and with aggression, having been unafraid to ruffle the feathers of the Premier League’s top teams. This is the best version of Fulham created under Shahid Khan’s ownership.
Brighton continues to underline their status as one of the best-ran clubs in English football, with the Seagulls having taken the exit of their highly-rated head coach, much of his coaching staff, and the club’s technical director in their stride and kept on improving.
Inferior infrastructures would have wilted under the challenges presented earlier this season, but Brighton have built a culture that allows for big-name departures – on and off the pitch – without drastic impact to the club’s project.
Roberto De Zerbi has proven a fine fit for the Seagulls since replacing Graham Potter, using the strengths of Potter’s side while implementing his own, more entertaining, approach. De Zerbi’s Sassuolo side were one of Serie A’s most fascinating watches and Brighton are becoming even more fluid and fun. A cutting edge has been found following the wastefulness that plagued Potter’s reign, with only Manchester City and Arsenal having scored more open-play goals than the Seagulls this season.
Evan Ferguson and Karou Mitoma have been revelations since coming into the side in recent weeks, while loanee Levi Colwill has demonstrated his huge potential since coming in from the cold. De Zerbi’s possession-based style focuses on short build-up from the back, inviting the press from opposition sides before progressing the ball with pace into the final third when gaps appear.
It has been a brilliant watch to date and the Seagulls have swatted aside the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea since De Zerbi’s arrival. A place in Europe should be a realistic aim.
Aston Villa chose change after an underwhelming start to the season under Steven Gerrard, dismissing the former Liverpool captain and turning to a more experienced option.
In came Unai Emery, a four-time winner of the Europa League and a coach with huge credentials after spells at clubs including Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla.
The Spaniard’s previous spell in English football proved disappointing as he lasted just 18 months at Arsenal, but he has returned to the Premier League with renewed intent and has made a fine start at Villa.
Five wins from seven games has lifted Villa up to 11th, climbing away from a tight relegation dogfight with attentions now turned towards the top half. Those wins include victories over Manchester United, Brighton, and Tottenham, while the underlying numbers have demonstrated the 51-year-old’s impact.
▫️ Five wins in seven @PremierLeague games since @UnaiEmery_'s arrival. ▫️ Unbeaten in four @PremierLeague games in 2023. ▫️ Three away @PremierLeague wins on the spin. Onwards and upwards. 👊
Villa scored just 11 goals in 13 games before his arrival, but have 12 in seven since he took charge. The club’s statistics for distance covered, goals conceded and shot conversion are all also markedly improved during a strong start for the new man in charge.
Villa have not competed in Europe since the 2010/11 season, but are just three points adrift of the top six at present.
Thomas Frank and Brentford continue to punch above their weight in the Premier League, with the Bees riding high in the table despite pre-season predictions for a campaign of struggle.
Christian Eriksen’s exit last summer was viewed as a loss that Brentford would struggle to cope with, but Frank’s side have remained well clear of the dogfight during a strong second season at this level.
Brentford have thrashed Manchester United and Liverpool on home soil this season, while the Bees stunned Manchester City with a 2-1 win at the Etihad in November. Ivan Toney has been in fine form for the west Londoners with 13 goals for the campaign, a haul which only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane can better in the Premier League this season.
Brentford are unbeaten in 8 Premier League games! ▪️ 4 wins ▪️ 4 draws ▪️ Placed 8th in the league ▪️ Lowest Wage Bill budget Fantastic job by Thomas Frank and his team 👏
Frank deserves huge credit for his work at Brentford, having utilised the club’s strengths in fine fashion. No side has won more aerial duels than Brentford this season, while just three teams have scored more set-piece goals than the Bees (8).
He switches between a 5-3-2 and 4-3-3 system and is willing to adapt to the opposition. It is an adaptability and willingness to be pragmatic on occasion that has served well. Brentford have won 16 and lost none of the 20 games in which they’ve scored the first goal.
Recruitment has been a factor in their modern success, often targeting players with potential who can be developed and sold on for profit. On the rare occasion that Brentford have wavered from that policy, the club have also failed to miss. Ben Mee – a 33-year-old free transfer signing from Burnley last summer – has been one of the best value deals of the campaign, adding leadership at centre-back.
Not afraid to mix it in a bid to get results, it is a recipe which has the club’s fans dreaming of Europe.
Mikel Arteta can do no wrong right now. Arsenal are top of the Premier League after the club’s best ever start to a top-flight campaign, with the Gunners beginning to dream of a first title since 2003/04.
Just 18 months ago Arteta’s position was under threat after Arsenal began last season with three straight defeats to sit bottom of the division. The club’s faith in the plan and his vision has been rewarded as Arteta has built a formidable side growing in confidence with each win.
Arsenal are vibrant, exciting and boast a steel that has been lacking in north London for over a decade. William Saliba’s introduction to the side at centre-back has been crucial, while in Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli the club boast two of the most electric wide talents in the Premier League. With the ever-improving Martin Odegaard drifting between the lines and threading passes, it is a forward line which has thrived this season.
Arsenal have become just the fifth side to reach 50+ points at the halfway point of a Premier League campaign and would match Manchester City’s ‘Centurions’ with a repeat performance over the second half of the season. It has been an incredible improvement from a side who have not finished inside the Champions League places since 2015/16, but who are now in pole position for the title with a healthy advantage over their closest challengers.
There have been shades of Pep Guardiola to Arteta this season, particularly his use of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Granit Xhaka in a fluid and inter-changing left-sided axis. Arteta earned his coaching stripes under Guardiola at Manchester City and currently poses the biggest challenge to his compatriot’s dominance of the division. Few envisaged that before a ball had been kicked.
Read Also – Appreciating the five teams to have recorded 50+ Premier League points at the halfway point
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