Don’t know about you, but we reckon 23 games into the season is the perfect time to pass judgement on all the managers who have been in charge of Premier League clubs this season. So that’s what we’ve done.
22) Sam Allardyce (West Brom, since December)
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) Slaven Bilic (West Brom, September – December)
Having the two worst managers of the season is not good. But our objective analysis says that’s the case. Bilic got two things wrong: first, limping over the line in the Championship to hit the top flight with both confidence and goodwill in short supply, and then making West Brom look quite bad but not irredeemably so. Turns out they actually were irredeemably bad and that he was actually holding the whole sh*tshow together, but still. He doesn’t even sneak above Frank.
20) Frank Lampard (Chelsea, September – January)
We were childishly disappointed last season that it didn’t go all to pot for Super Frank. This season it went all to pot. Chelsea’s game-changing ‘Project Manager’ got the sort of cash injection that requires an instant return. They did get it, but not for long enough. When it fell apart, it fell apart fast with Chelsea firmly in mid-table and Lampard very much not waving but drowning when he was finally put out of his misery to send Fleet Street into a period of in-no-way-ridiculous mourning. Bambi!
19) Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves)
Shouldn’t be judged too harshly (although we pretty much just have) for trying to kick Wolves on to the next level after back-to-back seventh-placed finishes, and losing Diogo Jota to Liverpool and Raul Jimenez to long-term injury were cruel blows. But let’s be fair; it hasn’t worked. At all. In the sort of position now that in normal seasons might prompt nervy looks over the shoulder. No such worries this time, but Wolves are a diminished beast this season and next year might be harder.
18) Chris Wilder (Sheffield United)
Probably far too high in this list but we’re giving him some weird credit for inadvertently highlighting just what a ridiculous job he did last year and because we think they’ll actually end up 18th in the end. Is that fair on those lower down the list? No, but it’s our list so there.
17) Steve Bruce (Newcastle)
Bloody Newcastle fans, always wanting more than dreary and joyless bottom-half finishes. Gets some bonus points because Newcastle are once again higher in the league than all logic dictates and, grudgingly, Bruce must probably have something to do with that. But jiggered if I know precisely what.
16) Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
It has to get significantly better for significantly longer at some point relatively soon or Arsenal will have no choice but to follow Chelsea’s lead and appoint a proper, qualified manager befitting of their elite status. But dang it we still can’t shake the notion that he’s going to be a really good manager in the end and unlike Lampard there does at least look like something approaching a long-term plan. Arsenal might all be too much too soon for him, but think of the things he might do continuing Carlo Ancelotti’s good works at Everton in a few years’ time. Yeah. That might be lovely.
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.’ Three-and-a-half years now. And we predicted Brendan Rodgers and David Moyes instead. Haha. FFS.
14) Scott Parker (Fulham)
Will get relegated but given the fact everyone expected them to get basically no points all season Parker gets some credit. They have been okay at times.
13) Jose Mourinho (Tottenham)
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world this squad wasn’t good enough. Especially doing so after getting them to the top of the table. Firmly in the death spiral now, just a question of how long the unpleasantness is drawn out and how far the club and how many of its players are dragged down before it all ends. Currently to be found frantically shoving all eggs into a fragile ‘Carabao final against a rampant Man City’ basket. Grim.
12) Ralph Hasenhuttl (Southampton)
Needs to stop overseeing 9-0 defeats. And currently just defeats in general, because there are suddenly a lot of them.
11) Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea, since January)
Has started very well, and rather exposed Lampard’s limitations in quite a short space of time. Despite (because?) of this will inevitably face the wrath of The Press at the first sign of trouble. Will not see the end of the season for this and all the usual Chelsea reasons. Will probably be Spurs manager before too long because that seems to be very much a thing these days. Will probably be higher up this list by the end of the season, but limited data available at this point means he can only go above those managers who have overseen some form of conspicuous bed-sh*tting.
10) Graham Potter (Brighton)
On course to survive with plenty to spare. No matter the flaws of the bottom three, that’s a fine achievement and there’s just something wholesome and encouraging about the club under a man who looks like the bassist from an early 90s indie band whose one long-forgotten hit single is unexpectedly back in the charts after being used in a Christmas ad.
9) Sean Dyche (Burnley)
A miracle worker, basically. You do wonder whether he could ever pull off this alchemy at any club. We don’t know and frankly we don’t want to know.
8) Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
Three seasons appears to be an unclearable hurdle for extreme Premier League brilliance. Losing all centre-backs to long-term injury a questionable strategy, you have to say, and Liverpool’s attempts to plug the gap with midfielders had a debilitating effect on their attacking play. Intriguing now to see if and how he can rouse his players for a top-four scrap before going again next year.
7) Dean Smith (Aston Villa)
Slightly streaky survival last year has been parlayed into a fine second season back in the top flight for Villa. Fine summer recruitment took the pressure off Jack Grealish, who has responded marvellously. Smith a strong contender for least memorable Premier League manager of all time, which isn’t necessarily a criticism.
6) Carlo Ancelotti (Everton)
A genuine coup for Everton to get him and there’s definitely something brewing at Goodison now under one of the most decorated managers in the modern game. Ancelotti being Ancelotti, it’s been a quiet revolution yet in many ways the most encouraging signs have been in Everton’s response to the collapse of their red-hot early-season form. There’s a serenity about Ancelotti that is starting to find its way through to his players. There is also The Eyebrow.
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, fifth place in this list.
4) Brendan Rodgers (Leicester)
The general weirdness of the season means Rodgers’ achievement in putting last season’s late collapse behind him in a shortened pre-season and getting Leicester right back on top-four pace from the word go this time is nothing short of excellent.
3) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Man United)
We put him fifth at the end of last season after much deliberation and still weren’t sure whether he was two places too high or two places too low. Nothing has changed except everything has changed. Is he actually any good? Are Manchester United actually any good? Is football any good? Is anything any good?
2) David Moyes (West Ham)
Never mind Solskjaer, what the f*ck has gone on here then? David Moyes’ West Ham are bang in Champions League contention and one point behind Liverpool after 23 games, which I think all of us saw coming back in September. Given everything that has happened since, should probably now be looking back on that game at Spurs as two points dropped. Could cost them dear in the end.
1) Pep Guardiola (Man City)
Cannily got his City side to be just about shoddy and unconvincing enough in the first 10 or 12 games of the season to make people actually sit up and take notice when they got all good again rather than just shrug and go “Pep and City, innit. Course they’re good.” Easy to be glib now, but if not exactly a crisis then a few months ago there were reasons to be concerned at City. They were not great last season by their own standards and it leaked into this one, with Guardiola reaching the time where he’d started getting antsy in his other jobs. Could he build another great City side? Did he want to? Yes, it turns out. After a pretty piss-poor goalless draw at Old Trafford I sniffily ruled City out of title contention. Then they drew their next game at home against West Brom. Since then they’ve won 10 in a row, rounded off with that 4-1 thumping of Liverpool. They’ll win this league at an absolute canter, and with my record of predictions you can take that to the bank.