Stick or twist: The Premier League managers whose jobs hang in the balance
With the Premier League table beginning to take shape, a cluster of managers are starting to feel the heat.
Whether they are failing to meet lofty targets or facing the drop, the Premier League’s under-fire coaches find their jobs hanging in the balance.
Maurizio Sarri must turn results around at Chelsea to secure a top-four finish, while Everton’s Marco Silva and Leicester City’s Claude Puel are also in danger of being crushed by the weight of expectation.
Then there is Claudio Ranieri at Fulham, who had been expected to engineer an escape from the relegation zone but has so far failed to do so.
Below we’ve looked into the respective plights of the four top-flight managers who are rumoured to be fearing for their futures and advised their employers whether to stick or twist.
It’s been a season of up and downs for Sarri. The Italian is set to compete in a cup final later this month – an admirable achievement in his first season in England – and the 2-0 league win over Manchester City at Stamford Bridge was an obvious highlight.
Moreover, Sarri has managed to fully implement his style of football incredibly quickly. Bringing Jorginho with him from Napoli helped; the midfielder has made 94.65 passes per 90 league minutes this season, far more than any Chelsea player last term when Cesc Fabregas topped the charts with 85.4, exemplifying Sarri’s instant influence.
But therein lies the major problem; Sarri believes in his philosophy to the point there is no plan B. He has been criticised for leaving Jorginho isolated in midfield and shifting N’Golo Kante into a more advanced role slightly to the right, a tactic he has stuck with even when the team has been torn apart – see Chelsea’s defeats at Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City.
Those results have left Chelsea outside of the top four, a failing that is even more disappointing given the Blues were thought to be in a title race earlier in the campaign. If results don’t improve, Chelsea will be tempted to make a mid-season change. It has worked for them in the past, and one wouldn’t put it past the club hierarchy trying it again.
Defeat in the EFL Cup final, coupled with falling further adrift of the Champions League places, could spell an early end to Sarri’s spell – but it shouldn’t. For all of their success, there is a sense Chelsea are stuck in a kind stasis. It would be refreshing to see them stick with a manager, allow him to adapt and re-evaluate later. Is that a realistic prospect, though? Probably not.
Stick or twist?
Fulham should: Stick
Fulham will: Stick
Tasked with performing a mini-miracle – although nothing on the level of what he achieved at Leicester – by reversing the fortunes of the Premier League’s leakiest defence, Ranieri was brought in by Fulham in November to replace the outgoing Slavisa Jokanovic.
Jokanovic’s Fulham knew how to attack but simply couldn’t keep things tight at the other end, something Ranieri has been renowned for in the past. But just how much have the Cottagers improved under Ranieri at the back?
Before the Italian was appointed, Fulham conceded 31 goals and failed to keep a single clean sheet in their first 12 Premier League games of the season.
Since Ranieri came in, they have conceded 27 goals and kept two clean sheets in 14 league matches. It’s a minor improvement, but it hasn’t been good enough to steer Fulham clear of danger; they are currently 19th and eight points from safety.
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All of which raises a difficult question: should Fulham be considering a second change of manager this season? Ranieri remains extremely likeable but finds himself in a thorny scenario with no sign of things turning around.
At this stage of the campaign, however, it would be very difficult for Fulham to find a replacement capable of doing a better job.
A new coach would be required to learn the squad’s strengths and weaknesses, implement his own approach and dramatically improve results in a short period of time. The west Londoners would be well advised to stick.
Stick or twist?
Leicester should: Twist
Leicester will: Twist
From the outside looking in, the Leicester fans’ disillusionment with Puel has sometimes been confusing, as was the despondency at St Mary’s when Puel managed Southampton. The Frenchman has kept both sides far away from the danger of relegation with ease – so why won’t supporters take to him?
There are two primary reasons. For one, those sides expect more than merely avoiding the drop; a quick look at the current Leicester squad suggests they should be higher than 12th in the table. The second reason pertains to Puel’s style of football, which is often referred to as boring and negative.
Dig a little deeper and there are further concerns. Leicester have lost their last two matches against Manchester United and Tottenham, and while encounters with the top six are always going to be difficult to win, there was a feeling the Foxes could have taken more from both games had Puel not made two strange decisions.
Against United, Puel removed James Maddison on the hour despite the playmaker being one of Leicester’s key threats. The manager’s judgment was questioned again as Jamie Vardy was bizarrely left on the bench against Spurs, only to be given permission to take, and miss, a penalty with his first touch.
Puel put his decision to leave Vardy out down to anticipating the future: “I would like to develop other options than Jamie,” he said.
It’s a choice that’s likely to backfire as Leicester might soon be developing other options in the dugout. With next to no chance of being dragged into the relegation dogfight, a judgement call could and perhaps should be made sooner rather than later.
Stick or twist?
Everton should: Stick
Everton will: Twist
Everton fans have experienced the full gamut of tactical deficiency over the last 18 months or so. With Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce and now Silva at the helm, the Goodison Park faithful has seen their side fall short of expectations in a variety of ways.
Silva was seen as the answer to Everton’s problems, a manager who would implement an attractive style of play and help the club push for place in the top six. That simply hasn’t happened. The Toffees sit ninth in the table, 17 points behind sixth-placed Chelsea and facing a flat final stretch of the season.
On the face of it, last summer went quite well. The club brought in plenty of promising signings, namely Richarlison, who started the campaign brilliantly. Since then, however, results and performance levels have tailed off, piling the pressure on Silva, who suffered a particularly damning defeat against his former club Watford over the weekend.
An inability to defend set-pieces has been the most frustrating deficiency of Everton’s poor recent run (they have lost four of their last five league games). Set-piece struggles are sometimes forgiven if free-flowing football is the focus, but that’s hardly been a reality.
All of that said, there is a case to be made for Silva to be given more time. There’s no denying the club recruited heavily in the summer, a factor that will be used against the Portuguese coach by his detractors, but he will need more than one transfer window to overhaul a squad that remains stale in key areas. Though if Everton’s position in the table doesn’t recover quickly, Silva will surely be out of a job.