The Premier League season is once again almost over, and just about everything has been wrapped up. The title has been won, the top four and relegation battles have all but been decided, and even the European places seem pretty much certain. And whilst there may yet be a twist or two in the tale, I don’t think it’s too early to have a look at which managers are in serious contention for the coveted Manager of the Year prize, and who I think should win (as well as who I think will win).
Where else to start? Whilst Champions League success has eluded Pep once again, Man City have already been crowned the Champions of England with five games still to play, and 87 points already on the board. With little else to play for, you’d expect them to break the 100 point barrier, becoming the first team to do so in the Premier League era. They also look set to break the records for most wins in a PL season (30, they’re currently on 28), most away wins in a PL season (15, currently on 14), and most goals scored (103, currently on 93).
Look, enough superlatives are going to be flashed around about this City side in the next few weeks as they take their victory lap, but the truth is that they’ve earned every single one of them. Whilst their implosion to United was a minor blip that took their shine off of their win, they still have to be considered one of the best Premier League sides of the era, and a League/Cup double is always enough to put a manager into contention for Manager of the Year.
Burnley. European football. That’s really all there is to it. I could end this section there to be honest, as this one is another one that speaks for itself. The idea that Burnley in Europe is a huge shock is quite a modern idea, as the Clarets have played in the European Cup before back in 1960-1, but given that this is only their second season back in the Premier League and they’ve not been serious contenders in this competition for decades, yeah okay it’s a big shock.
Dyche has done an absolutely incredible job at Burnley, making them incredibly tough to beat, very hard to score against, and extremely hard-working. Conceding just 29 goals so far this season, Burnley have the third best defensive record in the division, conceding just four more than Guardiola’s City. To win 14 games and pick up 52 points having scored just 33 goals is absolutely brilliant efficiency, and despite a sticky patch between December and March, Burnley have pulled it out when it matters, winning their last five games to put that Europa League spot within touching distance. They’re just two points behind Arsenal with five games to go, and nine points clear of Leicester. Sensational.
If you’re looking at managers who have managed to elevate their team and finish well above what they had any right to do, Benitez is another man who has to be considered. His Newcastle team looked like relegation fodder before Christmas, and on 16th December they were in the relegation zone with 15 points from their first 18 games. They’ve picked up 26 points from the last 15, and have surged into the top half of the table, putting themselves within punching distance of a top eight finish, which would be remarkable considering the state of their plight.
It’s easy to forget because of their pedigree, but this is Newcastle’s first season back in the Premier League, and Rafa has not only kept them up on a shoestring budget, but pushed this team back into mid-table, and comfortably so in the end. Their form in 2018 is bettered only by the top four, and is better than both Arsenal and Chelsea, with their only defeats in this calendar year coming at Anfield and the Etihad, including wins against Man United and Arsenal. They look a force to be reckoned with at home, they’ve got a better defensive record than anyone outside the top seven, and like Burnley, they look like a cohesive team. Brilliant stuff from Rafa considering the lack of funds to bolster what remains at its core, a Championship squad.
Okay so this one isn’t entirely serious, but he couldn’t? Could he? West Brom have 12 points left to play for, and are 10 points from safety. They still have to play Liverpool and Spurs. And yet. And yet. Moore masterminded their phenomenal 1-0 win over Man United and looked very comfortable whilst doing so. He’s managed just 1/17th of their league games, yet has recorded a quarter of their league wins and a sixth of their points. He’s managed to make a team that looked completely and utter devoid of any spirit, strength or tactics under Pardew look organised, disciplined and together against one of the best sides in the league.
Now any sane, betting man would tell you that West Brom are going to go down. And even if you were to predict them to somehow win every single game that they have left, which you can do using free football predictions sites, you would still say that there’s no way Swansea or Huddersfield won’t win another game and be safe.
And yet. It’s not mathematically certain. And if Darren Moore can pull off the greatest of all great escapes, in my eyes he would have to win Manager of the Year by default. Sorry Pep.
It’s Pep. Sorry to be a buzzkill on this one but it just has to be. Burnley have massively improved on last year, but the standard of the bottom two-thirds of the table is pretty rank and whilst 52 points is a seriously good haul for Burnley, it’s also a damning indictment of the state of the bottom half of the Premier League.
Whilst I don’t think Pep has necessarily been quite the revolutionary that some make him out to be, it would be incredibly churlish to suggest he’s nothing but money either. Plenty of managers have spent millions upon millions on their squads or even just bought the best players back when they weren’t expensive, but nobody in recent years has been able to play the style of football that Pep has played, or get the results that he has, in quite the same way. To pick up eight wins out of ten against the top six, as well as to absolutely smash the rest of the league, is absolutely brilliant, and if and when this Man City break record after record, there can be no denying their, or Pep’s, place in the history books.
I think Pep will win too for what it’s worth.