Friday, 13 December 2013

The New Bosses

Unprecedented circumstances in the Premier League this summer as  the top three finishers from last season all changed managers over the summer. Rafael Benitez at Chelsea was only an interim manager anyway so his departure was always inevitable. Sir Alex Ferguson, having secured his 13th Premier League title, decided the time was right to finally walk away from Old Trafford and leave them in the hands of his chosen successor. Roberto Mancini was sacked as Manchester City manager in May following a trophy-less season, one year to the day after leading the club to their first league title in 44 years.

So we've had 15 league games to evaluate the new managers. How are they doing?

David Moyes - Manchester United

 After 15 games last season under Alex Ferguson, United were 1st with 36 points.
-After 15 games this season under David Moyes, United are 9th with 22 points.

Bedding in period has been tough for Moyes

The highest profile managerial departure of the summer was no doubt the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson after 27 years in charge at Old Trafford. Replacing him, and suffering comparison with his extraordinary record was probably the most undesirable job for any football manager but one that none of them could rightly refuse. Fergie was given the option to recommend his own successor and he picked his fellow Scot David Moyes, who was consequently dubbed 'The Chosen One'.

Ferguson didn't exactly leave Moyes with an easy job. A disgruntled Wayne Rooney, an ageing backline and an almost non-existent centre midfield were among the fires the younger Scot has had to fight over his first few months in Manchester. Rooney is back playing better than ever in his preferred position but yet to commit to the club long-term. Moyes has rotated his defence a lot, giving the likes of Evans and Smalling more games, Ferdinand and Vidic have not played together since September. The central midfield is still a massive issue. Injury to Michael Carrick has left them exposed lately and left Moyes relying on the 40 year old Ryan Giggs more often than he would have liked I'm sure.

Moyes transfer policy has not quite worked out

Moyes has shown a certain ruthlessness with regards to under-performing players. Anderson has barely featured since his abject showing in the defeat to West Brom. Ashley Young has suffered similar isolation following a few deplorable shows. Nani hasn't got much of a run either. Marouane Fellaini has found himself on the bench more often than not, despite being a Moyes favourite at Everton. Only a lack of any serious competition for places is keeping Tom Cleverley in the side right now. Moyes is much less patient with under-performers than Ferguson was. His introduction of teenager Adnan Januzaj into the side earlier on in the season highlights his complete lack of trust in his wingers.

Playing Phil Jones in midfield, which Moyes has shown a tendency to do lately, is a good move. He gives United an energy and a ferociousness that Carrick lacks. The two have the potential to be a fantastic pairing and I think when everyone's fit, they'll be his first choice pairing. That said, I can't see him letting January go by without attempting to make up for his failings in the summer transfer market. Expect an attempt to sign Atletico Madrid's playmaker Koke and/or Ander Herrera from Bilbao.

United under Moyes

An stunning 5-0 win in Leverkusen has papered over some cracks in Europe. United were unconvincing in both games against Sociedad and outplayed in Donestk. A different result in Germany would have them struggling to qualify from what looked a fairly straightforward group. United have topped the group however which is basically all they could do. Moyes deserves credit for this, it being his very first Champions League campaign.

In the league however, it's not gone well at all. Despite a 1-0 win over Arsenal, United now find themselves 13 points off the top of a league they won by 11 points last season. They can now forget about winning the title they've pretty much owned for 20 years under Ferguson and concentrate on the 'trophy' that is a 4th place finish. A Champions League season without Manchester United is almost an unthinkable scenario but it's what the club may have to face up to.

The Chosen One has looked out of his depth, overwhelmed and tactically clueless at times. His first transfer window and a chance to make his mark on the team ended in embarrassing failure. Moyes doesn't seem to be earning the respect of the players who've all accomplished a lot more than he has. Hard to know how much time he'll be given as the owners have no history when it comes to failing managers. On thin ice.

Manuel Pellegrini - Manchester City

 After 15 games last season under Roberto Mancini, City were 2nd with 33 points.
 After 15 games this season under Manuel Pellegrini, City are 4th with 29 points.

The Engineer has gone about his work quietly

The most low-key by far of the three new arrivals, Pellegrini completed his long awaited move from Malaga in July, replacing Roberto Mancini at the Etihad. His low-key nature has continued so far as he's yet to cause any major headlines in England.

It's debatable how much of an impact, if any, Pellegrini had on City's summer transfers with quite a few of them being completed or virtually completed by the time he arrived. Nevertheless, Navas, Negredo and Fernandinho have all been excellent signings. Jovetic has yet to really be given a chance.

Perhaps the most notable decision Pellegrini has made with regards to team selection is to drop Joe Hart, England's No.1, from his side. Although it provoked debate throughout the country, it pretty much inevitable given his continuous poor form. He started the season with Dzeko up front but Negredo has since muscled his way in there. James Milner and Micah Richards are two who currently find themselves on the fringes of the team given the impressive form of those ahead of them.

I like the look of this City side under Pellegrini. They've mostly played a 4-4-2 with Jesus Navas on the right wing and David Silva or  lately Samir Nasri on the left side as an advanced playmaker. Fernandinho has been used in a purely defensive role and Yaya Toure has been given freedom to attack. The defence looks weak without Kompany and without the extra protection from midfield they had under Mancini, whose defensive mentality is well and truly gone from the squad now.

City under Pellegrini

City's inconsistency is remarkable. 100% at the Etihad averaging over four goals a game and yet only the 10th best away record in the Premier League, with a negative goal difference on their travels. The 14 points dropped away from home leave City 7 behind Arsenal at the summit of the table.

For the first time this season they've impressed in the Champions League. Pellegrini has a great record of overachieving with clubs in Europe, reaching the semi-finals with Villarreal and coming within minutes of repeating the feat with Malaga last season. Taking charge of a club which has so far underachieved in this competition, Pellegrini has matched Bayern stride for stride in the group stage and his side were one goal away from usurping them as group winners. Remarkably, it doesn't seem Pellegrini was aware of UEFA's head-to-head tie-breaking regulations and seemed to settle for the 3-2 win in Munich, not to be scoffed at. As a result of finishing as runners-up, City will now face a tough draw in the last 16.

He's done pretty well. If he can improve their away form, City are capable of going on a title-winning streak. European form looks infinitely better than it did under Mancini and they are so much more enjoyable to watch. He still needs a trophy this season to justify the large investment made my the owners this summer.

Jose Mourinho - Chelsea

After 15 games last season under Di Matteo/Benitez, Chelsea were 3rd with 26 points.
After 15 games this season under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea are 3rd with 30 points.

"I want to be where I am loved"

Unlike the previous two managers, Mourinho's season opener against Hull was his 186th time to sit in the home dugout at Stamford Bridge as he returned to the club after a six year absence during which time both parties enjoyed a mix of success and frustration. Of the three new managers under scrutiny here, he's amassed the most points, has the best head to head record amongst the three and is the only one to have brought improvement to his side's points tally based on last year.

Upon his return, he announced himself as 'The Happy One', declaring he had mellowed and deciding under his own authority that he would fill the departed Sir Alex's role as the Premier League's Godfather, acting as a mentor for less experienced managers in the league. This charade didn't last beyond the opening week as he soon involved in a touchline bust-up with Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert. Normal service was quickly resumed and his targets in the media have included UEFA, Moyes, AVB, his old foe Pellegrini, his older foe Wenger, and perhaps his oldest foe and favoured punching bag Benitez. Even his own players can't escape with Torres, Hazard, Mata and the on-loan Lukaku coming in for public criticism.

He's done wonders for some players though. Oscar is continuing to blossom into a world-beater and the ever-present John Terry has already played more games this season than the entire previous  league campaign. Great managers bring out the best in great players and it seems that all the world-class talent that is Eden Hazard  needed was a top manager to give him that extra push.

Hazard: Massive potential finally being tapped

Leaving Juan Mata out of the team at the beginning of the season is a decision someone like Andre Villas-Boas or Rafael Benitez would have been crucified for, but the Chelsea fans trust Mourinho's judgement. Mata has since worked his way back into Mourinho's favour and now seems to have a regular berth in the side. The same challenge now faces Ashley Cole who has fallen foul of the boss and David Luiz. I don't think anyone is surprised that Mourinho hasn't favoured Luiz. When you talk about a 'Mourinho type of defender', he's probably the last name you'd think of.

Up front I'm sure Mourinho would love he had an extra striker. Neither Torres, Eto'o nor Demba Ba have shone for more than the odd game here and there. Expect movement in January or Schurrle to play a more central role.

Chelsea under Mourinho
In the league Chelsea have been most un-Mourinho-like in terms of their defence. They've already leaked more goals than during his entire first season in charge in West London, lost three games and came perilously close to losing his precious unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge, saved only by a contentious stoppage time penalty against West Brom.

In the Champions League they've cruised through a relatively simple group and will be  a force to be reckoned with in the knockout stages, probably going further than any of the other English sides due to Mourinho's European savviness. In both domestic cups too Chelsea will probably start as favourites. Jose has an incredible desire to win every single football match he's involved in. While other managers might tend to not take the FA Cup or League Cup quite as seriously, this mentality simply does not apply to Mourinho's Chelsea.

 He has found the league a bit more difficult this time around. The squad he's inherited and not being able to spend what he wants to bring in his own players has been a big part of that but that's part of being a football manager. His activity during the next few transfer windows will go a long way to determining the success of the second Mourinho-Chelsea era. Despite falling short of his own high standards, he's still done the best job of these three.

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