Is it ideal to do a manager rankings piece when there are two Premier League managers who haven’t yet taken charge of a single game for their current clubs? No. Does the international break mean we’re going to do it anyway? Obviously yes.
Mainly because there’s a lot of lads who have done/are doing really quite strikingly poor jobs of it at the moment, and we like to be mean…
23) Brendan Rodgers (Leicester)
How is this still just rumbling on? Sack him, you maniacs. It’s somehow very Brendan that the thing keeping him in the job is that Leicester pay him too much to be able to sack him. Nevertheless, the 6-2 defeat at Spurs has drawn wider attention to a fact Leicester fans have known for some weeks and, in truth, many of them had started to suspect even last season: Rodgers’ race is run.
In a way, it’s faintly ludicrous that it is still only being framed as a debate: is making your team literally the worst team at defending in the history of the Premier League grounds for dismissal?
Even the man himself, shielded as he generally is by bulletproof self-confidence, appeared resigned to his fate at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, reduced to mitigation that included the accurate yet damning self-own that “four of the goals we conceded were from corners and individual errors”. By the end of the press conference you got the impression that Rodgers knew that if he were making the decision in this scenario, he would sack the manager.
Leicester had an awful transfer window, but nothing can excuse Rodgers’ record this year. It’s six straight defeats for what is now the only side without a win, and more goals conceded than anyone else (including the lads who shipped nine in one game).
We’re way past the point where replacing Rodgers represents any kind of risk for Leicester because it literally cannot be worse than this. He’s probably already had at least one game too many and cannot be afforded the possible dead-cat bounce offered by games against Forest and Bournemouth after the international break. The rot has set in and decisive action is required.
22) Scott Parker (Bournemouth)
Has managed to pull off the exceedingly difficult task of being a promoted manager sacked outrageously early in the season yet managing to elicit minimal sympathy. Clearly a load of stuff going on behind the scenes, but if you’re going to be issuing “back me or sack me” ultimatums in the wake of 9-0 defeats you need to be really damn sure of your footing.
Blame-shifting, doom-laden predictions of further whompings to come (because what on earth could he or anyone else do with this squad of wretched inadequacy?) also now thoroughly undermined by Gary O’Neil securing five points from three games.
21) David Moyes (West Ham)
As the boy Stead put it in the latest Winners and Losers: ‘A manager who happily accepted the credit for turning things around in east London has to start taking responsibility for their current predicament. Moyes even made a cursory nod to having played a European game in midweek as a caveat to the Everton loss and such nonsense will only be excused for so long.’
You also can’t keep whinging about a stagnant squad while refusing to give Gianluca Scamacca and Maxwel Cornet proper chances or Flynn Downes any chances of any kind at all.
Hammers fans sensed this season coming, but nobody surely thought it would be quite as bad as this. We’ve had plenty of managerial churn already this season, but there really are several more managers for whom surviving until after the World Cup looks a real challenge. Moyes is one of those managers, in case you hadn’t worked that bit out.
20) Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea)
We’re surprisingly sad he’s gone, because we were really, really enjoying his supervillain origin story. It was an unexpected highlight of those heady early August days but then Todd Boehly’s New Chelsea went all Old Chelsea and binned him off just because he’d had a few bad results and, to be fair, gone a bit mad.
It was clearly premature and has had the knock-on effect of bollocksing up Brighton which is annoying, but it wasn’t a good start to the season by any reasonable measure. Chelsea had really only played truly convincingly well in one game, against Spurs, and they didn’t even win.
Tuchel fans need not despair, though. He’ll be back before you know it, as Tottenham manager next season because it is almost sarcastically on brand for absolutely everyone involved.
19) Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
Not very good, is it? You have to be careful with phrases like ‘apart from the 9-0 win…’ because they can make you sound a bit ridiculous, but apart from the 9-0 win, Liverpool have been really quite plop and Klopp has seemed grumpy and easily distracted. Eight points is a big gap to make up to the top three, and while everyone’s Octobers and Novembers are arduous this season, Liverpool’s pre-World Cup programme is strikingly so with Premier League games against each of the top three squeezed in.
Maybe it’s just coincidence, but if you’re a Liverpool fan you’re surely at least a little bit concerned that things dramatically falling apart after seven very successful years is exactly what happened to Klopp at Dortmund.
18) Eddie Howe (Newcastle)
Have events elsewhere allowed Howe and Newcastle to fly a little bit under the radar this season? We reckon so, and we’re going to redress that by administering a gentle kicking here. Howe rightly drew praise for the improvements he made to Newcastle last season, and while the sheer scale of the investment from the new owners was often overlooked in some of the more gushing celebrations of Howe’s genius, it was equally true that some were too quick to play down Howe’s contribution.
And the apparent understanding from on high that it will take time to turn Newcastle into an overnight success is also quite pleasing, and the summer’s transfer activity appeared decent. Yes, huge money was spent, but it was clearly targeted at taking the next steps down a long road rather than attempting to cover that ground in a single bound. Now it’s very possible that this is mainly because it was actually impossible for Newcastle to attract the sort of talent that would make such a bound possible. But still, steady improvement appeared to be the target and a fine, achievable one it appeared to be.
Problem is, they’ve not improved. Steadily or otherwise. It was nice to win their first Premier League game of the season after the unpleasantly long wait for one at the start of 2021/22 but it’s not unreasonable to think a second win really ought to have come along by now.
The fact subsequent games have been mainly drawn has definitely helped avoid too much unwanted attention, with the only defeat coming unluckily at Anfield. The fact one of those draws was a barnstorming 3-3 against Manchester City also helps. If you’re going to draw games, make it fun and make it against the best team in the country.
Alas, other draws against Wolves, Palace and Bournemouth have very much failed to fit any element of that description.
Once Rodgers has gone and Forest have decided what they’re going to do about Cooper, the sack race attention will by necessity have to fall somewhere. If October doesn’t go well, that attention is going to fall on Howe, a manager who has a whole bunch of admirable qualities but is currently offering little evidence he can take Newcastle where they demonstrably want to go. Patience will surely not be in inexhaustible supply.
17) Bruno Lage (Wolves)
There are absolutely three worse teams than Wolves and three worse managers than Lage knocking about the Premier League, but honestly could he not sometimes just have a bit of fun? Wolves have yet to score more than once in any league game this season and have already played out goalless draws with two of the promoted clubs.
Lage has credit in the bank from last season, but Wolves ceased functioning during the run-in and haven’t really managed to get going again. One win in 14 is the sort of thing that will eventually attract attention even if you’ve managed to make the football so grey people barely notice you.
16) Ralph Hasenhuttl (Southampton)
Good old Ralph. He just keeps buggering on, doesn’t he? In a league and an era where managerial reigns can often be measured in months rather than years, here’s a fella who has hung around for four years and famously survived not one but two 9-0 defeats. Scott Parker could never.
His Southampton career is a fascinating one combined with streaks of form that suggest the Saints – or at least Hasenhuttl – should be challenging for Europe and horror runs of relegation and/or sacking form. The combination leads to a perfect stasis: the best of Hasenhuttl stops him getting the sack, the worst of him stops the bigger clubs circling.
There hasn’t yet been time for any proper runs of form this season, yet still we’ve had the full Hasenhuttl gamut, following a win over Chelsea with defeats to Wolves and Villa.
And we still have to check where the double-letter goes in his name every single time we write it.
15) Steve Cooper (Nottingham Forest)
Promotion can be a terrible career move. As can trying to integrate 21 new players all at once in a fiendishly difficult league. Let’s be real, Forest are probably going to sack him, but the logical and emotional cases for Cooper and his hangdog face still being right for Forest remain compelling.
14) Steven Gerrard (Aston Villa)
We’re still not entirely sure what kind of team Gerrard is actually trying to build at Villa but there have at least been signs of deeply necessary improvement in recent weeks. Villa were a touch unlucky to lose at Arsenal and four points from games against Manchester City and Southampton is a very acceptable outcome.
Very unlucky that #respect postponements denied them the chance of the three free points currently on offer for playing Leicester. Who knows what the Foxes will be like when that game eventually gets replayed but it’s reasonable to assume it will be slightly less shit than right now. Gerrard and Villa do have one of the least horrific-looking Octobers, so every chance things continue the current trend of cautiously encouraging improvement.
13) Roberto De Zerbi (Brighton)
If the Brighton brand tells us anything at all, then De Zerbi will be instantly just as good as Graham Potter. Certainly an interesting and exciting appointment from Brighton, despite (because of?) being one that risks incurring the wrath of the Our League fundamentalists.
12) Graham Potter (Chelsea)
He did such a great job at Brighton and clearly at some point was going to have to take the plunge for One of the Top Jobs. But did it have to be now and did it have to be this one? Chelsea looks an iffy fit for a project-type manager and dealing with Todd Boehly every day seems an utterly exhausting prospect. We genuinely wish him well, but can’t deny we are now a bit worried for one of our favourites. Joins De Zerbi in mid-table here by virtue of not having taken charge of a Premier League game yet.
11) Frank Lampard (Everton)
We remain steadfastly unconvinced that ‘being a really good footballer for Chelsea’ should be qualifying Lampard for Premier League management jobs, but must grudgingly admit that there are signs – signs that we perhaps spent too long ignoring out of our own deep-seated prejudices – that he might be doing a not-shit job at Goodison Park. Lord knows there are easier jobs out there and even when things were going awry even we had to concede Lampard was not the only – or even primary – problem at the club.
Now, though, things are moving tentatively but undeniably in a far more encouraging direction. Performing a Joelinton-style midfield transformation on Alex Iwobi is something that cannot be ignored, while Everton’s defensive work – both in recruitment and subsequently in deployment and organisation – is an extremely big tick against the name of a manager whose most conspicuous failings in previous jobs came in defence organisation or a lack thereof. Couldn’t do anything with Dele Alli but we are now sadly long past the point where this can be held against a manager.
10) Jesse Marsch (Leeds)
We feared for him, we really did, but the start to the season was eye-catching. After just about steering the club clear of relegation last season, Marsch was well backed in the transfer market with assorted Red Bull alumni joining him at Elland Road. There does appear to be a very clear plan to back the American over the longer term and results have been encouraging.
Sub-optimal, though, that by the time they play again they will have spent almost an entire month stewing on that 5-2 spanking at Brentford. If ever a team needed the palate cleanser of a home game against Nottingham Forest, it was Leeds. How Leeds do eventually respond to both that really quite horrific defeat and Marsch’s meltdown during it after a month of inactivity will be instructive.
9) Thomas Frank (Brentford)
A very good coach doing a very good job and he seems a decent fella as well. We like him, Brentford like him, there’s a very decent chance Leicester like him. They absolutely should like him, but we’d be annoyed to see a second enterprising coach leave a project that was going so well at the early stage of this uniquely silly season.
We’re quite happy to completely memory-hole the Arsenal game on account of the Gunners being so good and the result and performance from the Bees being so out of character that we can cheerfully dismiss it as a blip.
8) Patrick Vieira (Crystal Palace)
Palace are one of few teams we are confident currently find themselves in a truly false position in the table. People like to say the table never lies, but obviously that only really applies at the end of the season when the stagger unwinds. There are all sorts of reasons why it can talk absolute shit early on.
For one thing, Palace have got a game in hand on most and for another their start to the season has been particularly challenging. Their only two defeats have come against the top two – and they gave City an almighty fright along the way – and they’ve held Liverpool at Anfield.
In the battle of the Premier League midfield legends turned managers, Vieira remains a clear leader for now.
7) Erik Ten Hag (Manchester United)
Getting there, isn’t he? Slowly but surely the great big disaster-tanker that is Manchester United Football Club is being turned around. We’re working on a very clever if tortured theory that losing 4-0 to Brentford will end up being The Best Thing That Could Have Happened, Actually. It was so bad that it gave Ten Hag full licence to properly rip things up and start again, with so far highly impressive results. They’ve beaten Liverpool and Arsenal since those two opening defeats and have left the Crisis Club Mantle behind them for now. It’s been weeks since we’ve seen a Manchester United cracked badge, although we’re sure Cristiano Ronaldo + January Transfer Window can blow things up again.
Still, though. Weird that it’s halfway possible to make a case that the result which ruined United’s season last year was a 3-0 win at Spurs and the one that makes this season could be a 4-0 defeat at Brentford.
6) Graham Potter (Brighton)
Excellent even if it has now all turned to ash. Took Brighton to fourth place having once again seemingly effortlessly repeated the absurdly difficult trick of having already replaced the absolutely crucial players sold for huge money in the summer. Then buggered off to Chelsea where he must deal with greater pressure, greater scrutiny, fewer neutral well-wishers and above all the constant attentions of walking stereotype and banter content king Todd Boehly. Brighton, meanwhile, remain fourth despite not playing a game since Potter’s departure, two things that are going to have to change at some point you’d imagine.
5) Gary O’Neil (Bournemouth)
Enjoy the view from (somewhere near the) summit, Gary. Since taking over from Parker, who had succumbed to miserabilist defeatism, O’Neil has done something really quite marvellous with a squad that looked inadequate on paper and under Parker was shitter still on grass.
Clearly, City-Arsenal-Liverpool was a run that would test anyone so early in the season but that provides only so much mitigation when you go down 16-0 across those three games.
And the 9-0 defeat to Liverpool even managed to stand out as bad in the context of 9-0 defeats; a Liverpool team that has managed only six goals across its other five games genuinely could have scored many, many more and will have been quietly seething at missing such a golden opportunity to become the first Premier League team to score 10.
Parker departed issuing ominous forecasts of worse to come as he did so and O’Neil was left with the most arduous looking ship-steadying task on record. But he has done it splendidly. Hard-earned draws against Wolves and Newcastle sandwich a glorious 3-2 win from 2-0 down at Nottingham Forest.
Sometimes, elite football management really might be as simple as not going “Christ, we’re shit aren’t we? We’re going to get battered again, I reckon, and there’s nothing to be done about it” all the time.
4) Antonio Conte (Tottenham)
We’ve already made it clear that we don’t understand Spurs, a team that confuses and enrages us. But it’s hard to quibble with the job Conte is doing. Top four shouldn’t really have been achievable last year, and he’s already got them well on course for at least the same again despite there being very clearly more to come from the team and its shrewd array of new signings.
Conte also remains undefeated at delivering withering criticism both passive-aggressive and aggressive-aggressive of any players not matching his absurdly high standards, and still looks like he could just bugger off back to Italy at the drop of a hair-hat. But he’s made Spurs an extremely effective if only occasionally an extremely watchable team and the large number of really very good players who have signed on his watch are for the most nowhere near as short-termist as he probably is. While it still appears likely Conte will only be at Spurs for a couple of years at the outside, he will nevertheless leave them far better than he found them.
Conte’s Spurs are a team that seems to play joy-sapping sufferball, yet they have scored more goals than anyone bar City. Conte is a short-term manager, but one who is laying foundations that should benefit Spurs for years to come. In conclusion, then: Conte’s Spurs are a land of contrasts.
3) Marco Silva (Fulham)
Even the most strident Soccer Saturday panellist must now surely accept that Silva knows our football. Fulham are rollicking good fun this season, Aleksandar Mitrovic has worked it all out and the signs are clear that they are going to go toe-to-toe with absolutely anyone and everyone this season. They’re sixth in the league, above both Liverpool and Chelsea, and have been as fun to watch as anyone.
They’ve also not benefited from a straightforward fixture list to get there. We had opening-day clues about Fulham – and, it turns out, Liverpool – with their 2-2 draw against Jurgen Klopp’s side and their only defeats so far have been narrow ones away from home against Arsenal and Spurs.
They’re the only team to have beaten Brighton this season and, given the other promoted teams have either already binned their manager or are seemingly about to, Silva is sitting very pretty indeed right now.
2) Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
The best manager of the best team has now been handed a great big Norwegian cheat code which doesn’t really seem very fair. We’re huge fans of Guardiola’s apparent tactics of sometimes going two goals down just to feel alive.
1) Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
Has to be, really. We could pretty much have a rule that any time a team other than Manchester City is top of the actual league then their manager must, by definition, be top of this one. And Arsenal have been really quite excellent so far. Most pleasing for Arteta might be the way questions are being answered. They started the season by swatting sides away but have also shown the ability to battle back to win (Fulham) and to win when not playing well (Villa) and to win by playing really well after the sort of setback that everything we know about the brand tells us should have triggered a collapse and a wave of introspection (Brentford).
Arsenal’s summer recruitment was, obviously, excellent but knitting it all together this quickly was far from guaranteed. Greater tests still await, and will come with greater frequency for a side as yet unexposed to the full two-game-a-week-forever horror of this season, but for now this is a team riding a wave and a manager who feels able to bring on actual children to make their debuts just for vibes.