The past summer saw five managerial changes in the league. Three of the five managers had not managed a Premier League club before this and with the exception of Ronald Koeman, all of them have taken some time to adapt to the rigours of football in England’s top flight. Here’s an in-depth analysis of each of their reigns three months into the 2014/15 season.
1) Crystal Palace: Neil Warnock
2013/14 position: 11th| Current position: 16th
Just two days before the start of the Premier League season, Tony Pulis left the Crystal Palace post. The LMA’s Premier League Manager of the Year winner and the Palace co-chairman Steve Parish were at loggerheads over the club’s summer transfer targets. Pulis wanted to have a greater control of the way things ran and had higher ambitions than the owners. Therefore he eventually decided to leave when he missed out on a couple of key players that he wanted at the club.
In came Neil Warnock who rejoined the club he had left almost four years back when they were placed in administration along with a 10-point penalty due to their financial position. Warnock took charge in dramatic fashion with his first game in charge, just three days after he joined, finishing in a breathless 3-3 draw at the Sports Direct Arena against Newcastle United. That was the first point Palace won after defeats against Arsenal and fellow Londoners West Ham United.
Palace have managed just one point from five games since late September after the successive league wins against Everton at Goodison and against Leicester at home. In between the two wins though, they got knocked out after extra-time against Newcastle United. The home loss earlier this month against Sunderland would have hurt them particularly as even at this early stage, those points could be very crucial towards the business end of the season. Consistent performers have been few with the likes of Scott Dann, Mile Jedinak, Damien Delaney and Yannick Bolasie being impressive in bursts.
There was a flurry of transfer activity in the four days following Warnock’s appointment. Palace lumped out 7 million pounds for James McArthur who joined from Wigan Athletic on the last day of the window after coming very close to joining Leicester City. Zeki Fryers was signed from Tottenham Hotspur for 3mp and loaned in Wilfried Zaha and Kevin Doyle from Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively though Fryers and Doyle have rarely played. McArthur has adjusted well to life back in the Premier League and has put in some decent shifts in the six league matches he has played for his new club.
Next five fixtures:
23-11-2014 Crystal Palace vs Liverpool
29-11-2014 Swansea vs Crystal Palace
02-12-2014 Crystal Palace vs Aston Villa
06-12-2014 Tottenham Hotspur vs Crystal Palace
13-12-2014 Crystal Palace vs Stoke City
An encouraging return in the opening few weeks has since fallen flat with poor results in the last month and a half. Tricky trips to the Liberty Stadium and White Hart Lane make up the next few matches and if Palace aren’t careful, they may be stuck in the relegation zone come Christmas. Therefore home games against Aston Villa and Stoke City are must wins, and they should be aiming for three points against a lacklustre Liverpool side in their next game as well.
2)Manchester United: Louis van Gaal
2013/14 position: 7th| Current position: 10th
After the tumultuous reign of David Moyes and the caretaker role of Ryan Giggs, Louis van Gaal joined Manchester United immediately after leading the Netherlands to a largely unexpected third place finish at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Having initially stuck with the 3-5-2 formation with which he prospered at the World Cup, Van Gaal had to switch to a back four after the first three league games brought just two points along with a disastrous night in the Capital One Cup at MK Dons.
The 4-0 win against Queens Park Rangers was a false dawn because a woeful 20 minute spell in the second half against Leicester in the next game saw them lose a 3-1 lead before eventually being beaten 5-3. They have improved since that forgettable match at the King Power Stadium though, and the recent gritty defeat in the Manchester derby is their only loss since then. Unimpressive wins against West Ham, Everton and Palace along with late draws against West Brom and Chelsea have steadied the ship a bit and Van Gaal finds his side in 7th place, just two behind 4th placed West Ham.
Injuries haven’t helped Van Gaal’s opening couple of months in charge and Marcos Rojo’s dislocated shoulder at the Etihad was United’s 35th injury this season. United is extremely top heavy with their plethora of attacking talent, and the fragile defence will remain an issue at least until January.
Van Gaal spent £149m on summer transfers and it is the most any English club has spent in one transfer window. Bringing in the likes of Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind for big money, the club’s transfer record was broken after Angel Di Maria was signed for £59.7m. The Argentine trickster started off well in his first few games but has fallen well below his high standards in the recent weeks. Also, the one-year loan deal for Monaco’s Radamel Falcao was seen as a real coup, but the Colombian striker has started just three matches so far as he continues to struggle with injury problems.
Next five fixtures:
EPL 22-11-2014 Arsenal vs Manchester United
EPL 29-11-2014 Manchester United vs Hull City
EPL 02-12-2014 Manchester United vs Stoke
EPL 08-12-2014 Southampton vs Manchester United
EPL 14-12-2014 Manchester United vs Liverpool
After starting off poorly, Van Gaal is beginning to adjust to life in England though United are yet to get that morale-boosting win. Tough fixtures against Arsenal, Southampton and Liverpool over the next month or so represent such opportunities but there is a major need for defensive reinforcements with the two month injury lay-off for Rojo as well as injuries to Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans. Even with their quality upfront, they haven’t been able to score a lot of goals as they promised on paper. There is a lot of work still to be done, and the manager remains confident that he can get the best out of his side.
3) Southampton: Ronald Koeman
2013/14 position: 8th| Current position: 2nd
Widely tipped to be relegation contenders after the departure of former manager Mauricio Pochettino and a bulk of their first team squad, which included Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Calum Chambers, what has transpired in the first few months has been nothing short of extraordinary. Southampton have enjoyed their best start to the Premier League and after a run of eight wins in their last nine Premier League games, the Saints find themselves in 2nd place, four points behind the league leaders Chelsea.
Koeman was a tad lucky to have a generous fixture list in which they have till now faced only two of the top seven teams from last season, away to Liverpool and Spurs, the only two games they have lost so far this season in all competitions. There has however been no luck involved with Southampton’s football this season. The midfield base of Steve Davis, Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin has shielded the defence as well as helped out in the attack with the latter two registering three goals apiece and the 8-0 win over Sunderland has been the highlight of their season so far.
Summer signings Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle have taken to this league like ducks to water and have helped their side score the second highest total goals in the league (23), while the compact defending has seen them conceding the fewest goals (5). They have attempted the joint highest crosses with 27 per game along with Arsenal. Allowing 8.3 shots per game, they are second in that list only behind Arsenal’s 7.7 per game. And the 24.1 tackles made per game is the most in the league.
Ronald Koeman made some astute signings including Dusan Tadic, who had the most assists in the Eredivisie last season with 14 and Graziano Pellè, who was the second highest goalscorer with 23 goals. Both have shone in the opening few months of the Premier League with Tadic third in the assist chart with 6 assists while Pelle is the joint 5th top scorer with 6 goals. Owing to their impressive defence, Fraser Forster has kept 7 clean sheets which is the best in the league.
Loan signing Ryan Bertrand has played every minute of Southampton’s season and along with fellow on loan defender Toby Alderweireld has been very solid. Sadio Mane has played a restricted role so far but has been lively whenever he has been on the pitch while the costliest summer signing Shane Long who was signed from Hull City for £12m has shown with his brace in the 2-0 win over Leicester City that he is gradually adjusting to Koeman’s methods.
Next five fixtures:
EPL 24-11-2014 Aston Villa vs Southampton
EPL 30-11-2014 Southampton vs Manchester City
EPL 03-12-2014 Arsenal vs Southampton
EPL 08-12-2014 Southampton vs Manchester United
EPL 13-12-2014 Burnley vs Southampton
Five years ago Southampton were in the bottom three of League One and had a 10 points deduction. Any improvement on last season’s creditable 8th place finish would be seen incredible keeping in mind the mass exodus in the summer. But Koeman’s side has exceeded expectations and their fairytale run could yet continue in the coming few weeks making European football seem a very realistic possibility for next season. They will be favourites to grab all three points in the away trips against Aston Villa and Burnley whilst also being capable of upsetting the odds in the home games against the two Manchester clubs in the coming few weeks.
4) Tottenham Hotspur: Mauricio Pochettino
2013/14 position: 6th| Current position: 8th
Much was expected of Tottenham Hotspur when Mauricio Pochettino took charge from Southampton with his pressing and passing style of play. Spurs were expected to challenge for the Champions League places with the Argentine, who had joined on the back of an impressive season with Southampton. Spurs had suffered a dire last season which had seen Andres Villas Boas and then Tim Sherwood come and go and fail to replace the gap left by the departure of Gareth Bale last season.
But the frequent changing of managers has had its adverse effect on the players, and Spurs have endured a torrid start to the season, especially at home and after the defeat at the hands of Stoke City, they have now lost four of their last five games at White Hart Lane.
Pochettino has introduced rigorous training methods and many players have questioned them along with being uncertain of what is being asked from them. With four different managers in the past two and a half years under Daniel Levy, the players seem to be reluctant in committing to the new manager’s philosophies because they have grown used to the constant managerial changes, and therefore expect another one in the future.
Spurs don’t look half decent in even one position especially their defence with Younes Kaboul, and Federico Fazio often being prone to mistake while Belgian international Jan Vertonghen has refused to sign a new contract and looks to be on his way out sooner rather than later. The three main strikers – Emmanuel Adebayor, Harry Kane and Roberto Soldado have yielded just three goals between them in the league, and the only bright spark has been Nacer Chadli who has bagged six goals. Even Christian Eriksen and Moussa Dembele look shadows of the player they were last season. The wide players all have a tendency to cut inside, and it has all gotten too predictable. In the midfield, only local boy Ryan Mason’s performances in the recent weeks stand out.
Spurs spent 22 million pounds on six signings which include one substitute goalkeeper (Michel Vorm) and three of them who are 21 or below (DeAndre Yedlin, Eric Dier and Ben Davies). Davies was the costliest signing at 10mp though the left-back who shone at Swansea has struggled for game time with Danny Rose being his manager’s preferred player. Yedlin meanwhile was loaned back to Seattle Sounders FC from where he was signed and will return either in January or in June next summer.
Next five fixtures:
EPL 23-11-2014 Hull vs Tottenham
EPL 30-11-2014 Tottenham vs Everton
EPL 03-12-2014 Chelsea vs Tottenham
EPL 06-12-2014 Tottenham vs Crystal Palace
EPL 14-12-2014 Swansea vs Tottenham
Spurs are unfortunately going through another transitional period, but Pochettino has proved last season that he can produce some good football with hard working players. The word is that he is unhappy with the players at his disposal and wants to overhaul the squad that he has inherited. Dembele and Vertonghen are the players rumoured to be on their way out while major reinforcements are needed to bulk up a shaky defence as well as a misfiring attack. Things don’t look like getting better for Spurs in the coming few weeks with some tricky fixtures and they could be in for another long season.
5)West Bromwich Albion: Alan Irvine
2013/14 position: 17th| Current position: 11th
Alan Irvine’s appointment as the head coach of West Brom was met with extreme anger and sheer disappointment by the fans. The Scot had served as the academy manager of Everton for three years having been sacked at both Preston North End and Sheffield Wednesday after short spells prior to that. The Baggies had survived relegation by just three points last season when they finished 17th, and the fans were underwhelmed with the background of their new manager whose only experience at the Premier League level was as David Moyes’ assistant manager at Everton for a couple of years.
Irvine started off his 12 month rolling contract with two draws and two defeats and the supporters’ worst nightmares were beginning to come true. But after losing against Everton, West Brom arrested the slide with an away win at Spurs before thrashing Burnley 4-0. A plucky loss at Anfield was followed by a couple of 2-2 draws at the Hawthorns before an away win at Leicester. A loss against resurgent Newcastle United though leaves them in the 13th place with 13 points, just four points above the relegation zone, in a tight bottom half of the table and their home form needs to improve with just one win out of six in the league.
The standout performer for West Brom has been 21-year-old Saido Berahino who has prospered under the 56-year-old Scot and his excellent form which resulted in seven goals from 11 starts have earned him his first England call-up. Craig Dawson has shone in defence and has already played more minutes than he did in total last season. Along with Joleon Lescott, Sebastien Pocognoli and Andre Wisdom in defence and helped by the two wide men- Chris Brunt and Graham Dorrans, the Baggies have improved their defence from last season and that is a must for survival in the Premier League and the goals they have been conceding have been down to human mistakes rather than the problems in the system.
Irvine claimed Craig Gardner and Brown Ideye were already on their way in before he was appointed. One has worked out wonders while the club record signing Ideye signed from Dynamo Kiev for £10m has started just twice and in the recent weeks has failed to make even the bench.
Sebastien Pocognoli signed from Hannover and Andre Wisdom on loan from Liverpool have cemented their spots at full-back while the signings of Gardner and Joleon Lescott on free transfers was a real coup for the club. Gardner especially stands out as the main engine of the side with his range of passing and hard-work in the midfield.
Silvestre Varela was acquired on loan from Porto but the Portuguese winger is expected to feature soon after recovering from a groin injury.
Georgios Samaras, Chris Baird, Sebastian Blanco and Cristian Gamboa have been restricted to roles off the bench.
Next five fixtures:
EPL 22-11-2014 Chelsea vs West Bromwich Albion
EPL 29-11-2014 West Bromwich Albion vs Arsenal
EPL 02-12-2014 West Bromwich Albion vs West Ham United
EPL 06-12-2014 Hull City vs West Bromwich Albion
EPL 13-12-2014 West Bromwich Albion vs Aston Villa
Irvine has improved West Brom considerably from Pepe Mel’s time and despite being inconsistent, they seem to have enough in them to finish mid-table comfortably especially with Berahino firing upfront. His partnership with Sessegnon will be key in determining how high they finish and in the coming weeks they face three winnable games after the games against Chelsea and Arsenal.