·25 January 2023
·25 January 2023
We’ve lost Frank Lampard and a few other managers are in the final stages of their destroy-and-exits, so it felt like a good time to revisit the old Premier League manager rankings.
And there’s a couple of new faces in the group too, with Julen Lopetegui and Nathan Jones making their first appearances. We’ve got everything crossed that Marcelo Bielsa is back in here for the next one having taken the Everton job.
November’s rankings are in brackets and if for some reason you want to read the unhinged and deranged justification for those you can click here.
28. Scott Parker, Bournemouth (26) Managed to pull off the exceedingly difficult task of being a promoted manager sacked outrageously early in the season yet elicited minimal sympathy. Clearly a load of stuff going on behind the scenes, but if you’re going to be issuing ‘back me or sack me’ ultimatums in the wake of 9-0 defeats, you need to be really damn sure of your footing.
Blame-shifting, doom-laden predictions of further whompings to come (because what on earth could he or anyone else do with this squad of wretched inadequacy?) were rather undermined by his replacement Gary O’Neil promptly taking 10 points from six unbeaten games.
In a surprising twist, Parker has since rocked up as manager of Champions League last-16 qualifiers Club Brugge, where he has taken his stellar Bournemouth form with him and still awaits a first win. We wish Parker no specific ill but can’t deny it will be very, very funny if he fails to last long enough to take charge of those Champions League games against Benfica after landing so ludicrously on his feet by getting the job in the first place.
27. Steven Gerrard, Aston Villa (23) We genuinely thought he was going to be good because he was good at Rangers. We’re mainly disappointed in ourselves for falling for it. A lesson learned. The big problem, as well as just the general ropeyness, was that no matter how much he insisted otherwise, Gerrard clearly viewed Villa as a means to an end and loaded the squad with short-termist oldsters and left quite a mess for Unai Emery to sort out. To make matters even worse for Gerrard, Emery has promptly gone and done precisely that. It’s a double whammy.
26. Frank Lampard, Everton (11) The media love-in very nearly had us fooled in November. Eleventh? Eleventh?! What the f**k were we thinking? Admittedly at that point Everton weren’t doing quite as horribly dreadfully as they are now, but they still only had 14 points from 13 games. It’s not anywhere in the region of good is it? Anyway, it’s done now. He’s the latest in a long and increasingly eclectic line of Everton managers who couldn’t stop Everton being Everton.
Seriously, the list of Everton managers in the last decade is absolutely batshit: Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez, Frank Lampard. Of course the next choice is apparently between Sean Dyche and Marcelo Bielsa. This is a club with no idea what it wants or how to go about achieving it.
But while Lampard wasn’t the only – or even the biggest – problem at Everton, let’s not go all Henry Winter and kid ourselves he was ever any kind of solution. The last year has seen a quite staggering number of column inches devoted to the simple act of removing the word ‘entirely’ from the sentence ‘it’s not entirely Frank Lampard’s fault’.
But it is still quite a bit his fault. What even were Everton during his reign? What was the plan? What were the tactics? Which players demonstrably improved? The only time Lampard’s Everton possessed the vaguest hint of competence and coherence was when going Full Dyche to avoid relegation at the end of last season and then decided in the early days of this season that the route to humiliation avoidance lay in drawing 0-0 a heck of a lot. It’s not much of an ethos, and it’s not one that’s going to land Lampard any decent job any time soon.
Dyche and Bielsa represent an absurd managerial dichotomy but they are both far more qualified for the job than Lampard ever was. They would, of course, both still fail in their contrasting ways because this is increasingly looking like the impossible job. We’re Team Bielsa, obviously. While we carry grave doubts that his methods and idiosyncrasies are ideally suited to a mid-season relegation scrap there is also no possible outcome to ‘Bielsa at Everton’ that isn’t massively entertaining. For one thing, before he even takes charge of a single game, Bielsa replacing Lampard is already dripping in narrative thanks to that entirely hilarious Spygate thing.
25. Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea (24) We’re surprisingly sad he’s gone, because we were really, really enjoying his supervillain origin story. It was an unexpected highlight of those heady early August days but then Todd Boehly’s New Chelsea went all Old Chelsea and binned him off just because he’d had a few bad results and, to be completely fair, gone ever so slightly mad.
It was clearly premature and has had the knock-on effect of bollocksing Brighton about which is annoying, but it wasn’t a good start to the season by any reasonable measure. Chelsea had really only played truly convincingly well in one game, against Spurs, and they didn’t actually win it. Defeats at Southampton, Leeds and Dinamo Zagreb are not the sort of thing to keep a manager at Chelsea for long.
Tuchel fans need not despair, though. He’ll be back before you know it, probably at Tottenham when Antonio Conte huffs off into the sunset because it is almost sarcastically on brand for absolutely everyone involved.
24. Bruno Lage, Wolves (21) Wolves’ awful run-in last season spilled over and became a terrible start to this one. They’d won one in eight at the start of the campaign when the goodwill with Lage’s drab football finally ran out. They’d scored three goals in those eight games without ever managing more than one in a single game. They’ve not been wildly better since, managing only nine goals in 12 games. But they’re out of the bottom three for now, though. That wasn’t happening with Lage in charge.
23. Brendan Rodgers, Leicester (25) He is obviously a good manager, but was probably a lucky boy to survive Leicester’s wretched start to the season. A six-game losing run concluding with 5-2 and 6-2 defeats right before the management-replacement window offered by the interlull would have done for most managers.
Not Brodge, though, and while that may have owed more to the financial implications for Leicester of sacking him than any continued belief in the long-term viability of The Project, results did pick up. A bit. A solitary post-World Cup point has Leicester right back in the shit and Rodgers firmly under the spotlight once more. Normally he would love that.
22. Ralph Hasenhuttl, Southampton (19) We found ourselves sadder than we expected to be when Hasenhuttl finally ran out of lives at Southampton. He waistcoated his way through four years before finally getting the sack without ever really moving the team forward in any tangible way. It was a fascinating performance which in its best moments saw him look like a viable contender for a Big Six job but for the rest of the time like a jocular father of the bride who’d just put five grand behind the bar.
Hasenhuttl’s Southampton were, on their frequent bad days, the most easily thrashable team in the Premier League. But on a good day, they could quite literally beat anyone. He died as he lived, though. Southampton won just seven of their last 32 Premier League games under Hasenhuttl. Three of those were against Big Six opposition, another was against Leicester before we knew they were also shit now, while there was also a draw against Manchester City and a 1-1 against an Arsenal side that had been cheerfully whomping every other team that moved.
21. Gary O’Neil, Bournemouth (10) Should really be two separate categories. Gary O’Neil, caretaker Bournemouth manager (excellent) and Gary O’Neil, permanent Bournemouth manager (mainly shit). His previous top-10 ranking reflects that giddy caretaker spell when by sheer virtue of being Not Scott Parker he inspired his troops to a series of eye-catching results. Recent results have been equally eye-catching, but not in quite the same way. It’s eight defeats in 10 games now and right back into the bottom three they go.
They simply couldn’t afford to go into February in this kind of form: between February 4 and March 11 they have to play Brighton, Newcastle, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool. Genuinely doubtful O’Neil emerges with his job intact on the other side of that lot.
20. Steven Davis, Wolves (20) Wolves were drab and crap before Steve Davis (not that one) took temporary charge and remained drab and crap under his tutelage. Steve Davis (not that one) didn’t make them any worse, but the baffling commitment to never scoring more than a single goal in any game remained.
19. Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool (22) It’s… it’s not going well is it? Liverpool have turned so many corners this season they’ve left themselves dizzy, confused and deservedly losing at home to Leeds. The muscle memory of a champion team occasionally allows them to do things like go toe-to-toe with Manchester City and win or swat Spurs aside like it’s a 2019 Champions League final but they look broken, their aura is gone and the once impregnable defence is starting to look distinctly brittle now the midfield is no longer controlling games as it once did.
The goalless draw against Chelsea was a grimly forgettable mid-table team and Premier League record lows for points and finishing position remain firmly on the cards for Liverpool this season and Klopp, for the first time in his hugely successful seven years at Anfield, doesn’t appear to have either short-term or long-term solutions.
18. David Moyes, West Ham (18) Victory over Frank Lampard’s Everton (oh how we shall miss them) in El Sackico means he lives to fight another day. But it all seems forlornly pointless, doesn’t it?
Finished sixth two years ago. Almost did it again last year. Then spent a massive wedge. And they’re just awful. A point above the relegation zone with just 17 goals to their name in 20 games.
What West Ham mustn’t do if they bin Moyes is immediately appoint another one. We’re overwhelmingly confident that is precisely what they will do. If Everton don’t get Dyche, the Hammers will.
17. Graham Potter, Chelsea (13) “I understand that whenever you do something and it doesn’t work you look a bit of a fool,” was Potter’s assessment of what was, let’s be real, a mortifying thrashing on his return to Brighton. We can argue all day about whether the fans who booed him and Marc Cucurella throughout should be more grateful or whatever, but there’s no denying the fact it’s piss-funny that Potter’s shiny new big club got so thoroughly worked over at his old one.
It remains the low point of Potter’s Chelsea reign, but it wasn’t the only setback for a team that is not just 10th in the league but also deservedly 10th in the league.
And the increasingly exciting but esoteric and gaudy collection of players Todd Boehly is accumulating doesn’t feel in any way like it’s something that’s being done at Potter’s behest or, even more significantly, for his benefit.
Appointing Potter looked like quite a progressive move for Boehly’s New Chelsea, a sign that things might be done differently under the new regime. He’s demonstrably and provably a gifted coach and man-manager, but he doesn’t really seem like someone you’d necessarily gift this absurdly OTT array of shiny tools.
So the conclusion we must draw is that, even as Potter gamely tries to make the best of a job he now must realise just isn’t really his bag, all the expensive signings that will be used to sharpen the criticism and hasten his own departure are really being assemble for the next manager to exploit.
And to rub salt into all those wounds, Brighton have already moved on.
16. Jesse Marsch, Leeds (16) In many ways, Jesse Marsch’s Leeds are the most interesting puzzle in what we think is an eight-team relegation scrap. Marsch seems quite a canny manager with some good and interesting ideas, and there’s absolutely no doubt that Leeds’ signings have been very much his signings and they have a higher ceiling than most of those around them. Leicester and West Ham are perhaps the exception, but there’s still some very decent players in that Leeds squad capable of playing very decently under a decent manager. They’ve only won four league matches this season, but one of them was a thrashing of Chelsea and the other was at Anfield.
Marsch will thus forever be the man responsible for putting a stop to all the tweets telling us how many home games it has been without defeat for Virgil van Dijk, and for that alone he deserves our unending and heartfelt gratitude.
But it’s still just not quite going right, is it, and we just don’t think it ever will. Is it because at the end of the day he’s American and Our League just still isn’t ready for that? Is it because he isn’t Marcelo Bielsa and never will be? Or is it just that Leeds are a bit shit?
15. Aaron Danks, Aston Villa (14) A genuinely magnificent two-game interregnum for the Villa caretaker, featuring a 4-0 win over Brentford and a 4-0 defeat at Newcastle. That might well be the entirety of his Premier League managerial career, and the effort to render it into a literal, physical manifestation of the Gennaro Gattuso ‘sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe shit’ meme should be heartily applauded.
14. Patrick Vieira, Crystal Palace (8) Steven Gerrard let us down very badly but we’re still clinging like desperate fools to the hope that Patrick Vieira can show that all-time great Premier League midfielders really can go on and become good managers. Vieira, a bit like his Palace side, isn’t quite there yet but has shown plenty to suggest he’s not far off.
Hard-earned draws against Manchester United and Newcastle over the last week or so have felt important, highlighting the presence of character and fight to go with some of the better attacking football to be found outside the gilded elite of the English game.
Palace and Vieira have both slipped slightly from their November heights but they should be fine. If we were Vieira, we’d also be double-checking the fixture list and make sure they’re definitely playing everyone twice. Because every time we have cause to look up Palace’s results and fixtures they always, always, always seem to have some big bastard next. We’ve just looked now and it’s Man United apparently. Can’t be right. They only played them five minutes ago.
13. Julen Lopetegui, Wolves (NE) They love an Iberian former goalkeeper down at Wolves, and getting a former Spain, Real Madrid and Sevilla boss is undoubtedly a coup. He’s made a reasonable start. In all competitions it’s three wins, three draws and three defeats. One of those draws became a penalty shootout defeat to Forest in the Carabao, which is a bit of a pisser. Lopetegui’s side gave a decent account of themselves across two games against Liverpool in the FA Cup as well, and while getting knocked out of two cup competitions within your first eight games in a new job could be considered sub-optimal it would be fair to say mitigation abounds.
Seven points from his first five Premier League games represents improvement, even if the teams beaten were Everton and West Ham who are miserably awful themselves. It’s good enough, alongside draws against Unai Emery’s Villa and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool for cautious optimism. Given how short supplies of any kind of optimism were at Wolves, it’ll do for now.
12. Steve Cooper, Nottingham Forest (17) Seemed absolutely nailed on for the sack for a while there, paying the standard promoted-too-quickly tax, but then got a new contract instead. The former would definitely have been harsh, but the latter seemed a bit much even if it was mainly guarding against the possibility of someone else pinching a manager they weren’t entirely sure they actually wanted.
But now… it’s going really rather well, isn’t it? Forest’s summer business always meant they were likely to improve across the season as long as the start wasn’t entirely shitbone awful and left them cut adrift. It wasn’t, they weren’t, and now here we are. They’re 13th for goodness’ sake. And while it could only theoretically take a couple of games for 13th to become 20th it’s still a position absolutely any Forest fan would have taken in August and the Liverpool win and Chelsea draw in particular have been grand days for a fabled club with an overwhelmingly shit recent history.
Whatever happens, Cooper has secured himself a tangible place in the history of a club with two European Cups in the cabinet and Brian Actual Clough on its list of former managers. Not bad, is it?
11. Nathan Jones, Southampton (NE) We love him already. He talks about himself with a Rodgersesque lack of guile or humility and using his own quirky eligibility criteria – in which a home game against Lincoln counts but a trip to Liverpool does not – he still has his precious 50% win ratio.
The early signs are that Southampton under Jones will carry on the ‘great at their best, awful at their worst’ playbook of the Hasenhuttl era – home defeat to Forest one week, home win over Manchester City the next – and that’s exactly the kind of form that feels like it’s going to be the sweet spot for Jones to guff off amusingly.
It’s no good if they’re consistently good or consistently bad. They need to be good enough sometimes for Jones to go all hubristic on us, and then bad enough again for that to be funny. We’ve every confidence in our new hero.
10. Thomas Frank, Brentford (9) Only Arsenal, Newcastle and (just barely) Manchester City have lost fewer games this season than Thomas Frank’s Brentford, who have defied all talk of second-season syndrome and concerns last season’s fine end to the season might have been almost entirely down to Christian Eriksen to steer themselves very calmly to the fringes of the European picture.
Frank’s success is a double-edged sword for Brentford of course, with his efforts now starting to attract wider attention and mean he’s liable to be in the mix for some bigger jobs as and when they become available. A sign of how high his stock currently sits is the fact he’s drifted out of the top 10 for the Everton job.
9. Antonio Conte, Tottenham (6) As ever with Conte and Spurs, we just don’t have the emotional or intellectual energy to work out whether they’re good or not. The evidence of the eyes nearly always says shit, the evidence of the points table says something altogether different.
There are definitely the makings of a decent side here, and when they have those 30-minute spells where everything clicks they do look like something. But mainly they are nothing. And there is absolutely zero chance of Conte sticking around long enough to be there if and when that changes.
Like Jose Mourinho before him, Conte’s major failure at Spurs isn’t just that he sets them up to play dour defensive football. It’s that very often he sets them up to play dour defensive football badly. Spurs fans may want and demand entertainment, as is their right, but there’s actually a decent argument for playing in a more defensive manner with the players Spurs have available. When you have Harry Kane you can afford to be a side that creates a small handful of very good chances every game rather than unleashing wave after wave of attack. What you can’t be is drab and defensive and absolutely crap at it, which is what Conte’s Spurs have been too often once teams worked out they weren’t any good in about October.
We still think it’s a question of when not if Conte leaves this year and while we think it should be now we’ve got our 50p on it being sometime shortly after March 11, by which point Spurs will be out of the FA Cup, Milan will have beaten them in the Champions League, and they will have just lost at home to Nottingham Forest. It will also be one week after Mauricio Pochettino has taken the Chelsea job.
8. Graham Potter, Brighton (7) Excellent even if it has now all turned to ash. Took Brighton to fourth place having once again seemingly effortlessly repeated the absurdly difficult trick of having already replaced the absolutely crucial players sold for huge money in the summer. Then buggered off to Chelsea where he is dealing with greater pressure, greater scrutiny, fewer neutral well-wishers and above all the constant attentions and absurd transfer-market stylings of walking stereotype and banter content king Todd Boehly. And Potter doesn’t look like he’s enjoying a single second of it.
7. Roberto De Zerbi, Brighton (12) Lost Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella in the summer yet still somehow improved. Then upped the ante again by losing inspirational manager Graham Potter to Chelsea and once again getting even better. It’s a great knack they’ve developed there, you have to say.
Roberto De Zerbi has made a cracking start with Brighton, who we really did fear would fall away significantly after Potter left. We should have realised how deep the Brighton witchcraft runs. Which is very deep indeed. He’s got them sixth! And if they win both their games in hand they’ll go above Spurs into fifth!
We’re fascinated to see how losing Leandro Trossard to Arsenal is going to make Brighton twice as good as they were before. We can’t think of a possible way for that to work, but we know that it will. We’ve learned our lesson.
6. Pep Guardiola, Manchester City (2) We get the distinct impression that he’s just trying too hard this season. He’s always had the potential for unnecessary overcomplication or needlessly attention-seeking selection or tactic in his locker, but until this season they’ve generally been reserved for Champions League knockout games.
Seem to be happening a bit more often in the Premier League now, and our cod-philosophical theory is that he is trying to prove something to himself as much as anyone else. To prove that his success with an already absurd team now bolstered by the best striker in the world isn’t just something that anyone could do.
It would also explain why his team seems to now sometimes go 2-0 down for absolutely no reason other than to make life interesting for themselves. Maybe the whole season is a giant Guardiola experiment in giving himself a challenge in order to feel alive. Giving Arsenal Zinchenko and Jesus was one thing, but giving them an eight-point start as well might just be pushing things a bit f**king far.
5. Unai Emery, Aston Villa (15) We don’t want to be pricks about this (we do) but the alarming thing about comparing Unai Emery’s Aston Villa to Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa is that it almost seems like appointing someone who is a good manager is a better plan than someone who was a good footballer? We’re pretty sure it can’t be that, but gosh it looks like it.
Our prickery is aimed at us as much as anyone else because as we’ve said Gerrard had us fooled as well to our eternal shame. We honestly thought he might be good because he was good at Rangers. We will redouble our suspicions of both great former players and Scotball. Consider ourselves upbraided.
Emery’s done lovely work thus far, with 16 points from his seven Premier League games with thoroughly convincing beatings of Manchester United and Spurs among his five wins already. It’s a significant upgrade on the three wins and 12 points Villa had amassed in their first 13 games.
Emery has lifted Villa out of a relegation scrap and to within touching distance of the top six and done so in barely two and a half months that included a six-week break for a World Cup. Fair play.
4. Erik Ten Hag, Manchester United (4) He’s doing an irritatingly good job of turning Manchester United back into a proper football team again, as we always suspected and feared he would. Ten Hag’s United are not the finished article by any stretch but he’s delivered tangible and rapid progress, while also managing to solve the Ronaldo Problem without losing any authority or standing. Admittedly there was some unwitting help from Ronaldo himself and his bestie Piers, but still.
There are even signs that the Manchester United-Arsenal rivalry might be a proper thing again which would be lovely. Of course we’ve all enjoyed the pair of them being assorted shades of shit for extended periods of time, but a proper United-Arsenal ding-dong hits different. Liverpool-City was very, very good for a very long time but it was never quite the same.
3. Marco Silva, Fulham (5) Even the most strident Soccer Saturday panellist must now surely accept that Silva knows our football. Fulham are rollicking good fun this season, Aleksandar Mitrovic has worked it all out and the signs are clear that they are going to go toe-to-toe with absolutely anyone and everyone this season.
They’re seventh in the league, above Liverpool and Chelsea, and have been as fun to watch as anyone. Won four on the spin when the Premier League resumed after the World Cup and a couple of unfortunate narrow defeats to Newcastle and Spurs since then shouldn’t derail Silva or his side. And in any case two key words here remain these: Fulham. Seventh. He’s smashed the yo-yo to smithereens.
2. Eddie Howe, Newcastle (3) It’s easy and not incorrect to point at the most obvious reason for Newcastle’s improvement, but let’s not pretend that turning Nick Pope, Kieran Trippier, Dan Burn, Fabian Schar and Sven Botman into comfortably the Premier League’s best defence is an easy task that any manager could have achieved.
Howe has turned Joelinton, a laughing stock of a striker, into one of the division’s best midfielders and we still don’t really know what he’s done with the real Miguel Almiron.
The next challenge for Howe and his vastly ahead-of-schedule team is finding ways to cope with the fact that most opponents will now view playing Newcastle the same way as playing the Big Six.
It’s a different game for Newcastle now they’re so often up against teams who even at home will be happy enough to leave with a point. There certainly doesn’t seem to have been quite as much space for Almiron in recent weeks as there was a few months ago.
Three goalless draws and a 1-0 win in their last four games is no kind of crisis, but it’s a puzzle Howe does need to solve. He should definitely, in our opinion, stick to this ‘just never concede any goals’ part of his gameplan anyway.
1. Mikel Arteta, Arsenal (1) It’s just going absurdly, impossibly well. There was plenty of reason to think Arsenal would kick on again this season after some fine work in the summer, but there was also the potential hangover of the abysmal way last season ended and a decade’s worth of “Lads, it’s Arsenal” to make disaster appear at least distinctly possible.
Instead, they find themselves absolutely romping to the league title with barely a missed stride. Arsenal have backed Arteta through a good few periods where they didn’t have to and are now reaping the benefits. He also really annoys Richard Keys, which is a bonus, and this website. That’s when you really know you’re winning.
We’re rapidly approaching the point now where the only possible thing that can go wrong is becoming a victim of your own success; failure to win a league title absolutely nobody expected Arteta to win would now be a major disappointment.
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