With the conclusion of the international break, Premier League clubs are entering the business-end of the campaign. Nearly half of the teams in England’s top flight moved to replace their managers this year. Of the nine newly hired managers, eight have been in charge for at least half a dozen games—some quite a few more. The exception being Mark Hughes at Southampton, appointed during the recent break. Some have already guided their new clubs to safety, while others seem to be sinking their clubs deeper into the mire.
Crystal Palace—eight is enough?
Four matches into the worst-ever start to a Premier League season (no points, no goals) Palace sacked Frank de Boer. No immediate turnaround resulted from the appointment of Roy Hodgson, as the club went on to lose another three matches while still hunting that elusive first goal. However, the eighth time, Palace notched a win over champions Chelsea, signaling an upturn in their fortunes. The club have earned 30 points since Hodgson took over and currently sit in 16th—two points above the relegation zone. Matches against several relegation rivals during the run may well decide Palace’s fate. Hodgson will hope the quality of players like Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke will see his club over the line.
After a solid seventh-place finish the year before, and an outlay of more than £100 in the offseason, Ronald Koeman faced high expectations in 2017–18. Despite the lavish spending, the failure to sign a replacement for Romelu Lukaku meant the team would always struggle for goals. In their opening nine matches, the Toffees managed only eight points and seven goals. Following a fall into the relegation zone, the club axed the Dutchman. Under-23 manager David Unsworth took over, seemingly as caretaker, though the club took more than a month to name a permanent successor.
Despite leading Everton out of the relegation zone, the club replaced Unsworth with Sam Allardyce after five league matches. The club have jumped up to ninth place in the table, sitting on the magic number of 40 points. Though the possibility of a spot in Europe next season remains on the table, the Toffees will have plenty of thinking to do come the offseason. A leaky defense, the lack of a reliable goalscorer, and continued uncertainty over whether Big Sam is the man to lead the club going forward suggest a busy summer.
Leicester City—in praise of Puel
Few probably expected Craig Shakespeare to last as long on the job as he did. The Foxes’ fine finish to the 16–17 season, including a run to the Champions League quarterfinals, earned the manager a permanent deal in the offseason. But after one win in their first eight this year, the Foxes parted ways with their manager. An after one win under interim boss Michael Appleton, the club named Claude Puel to the post.
Sacked somewhat surprisingly by Southampton over the summer, the Frenchman has overseen a charge up the table at his new club. Much maligned for his defensive tactics with the Saints, this time around Puel is earning praise for steadying the Leicester ship. In particular, his handling of the Riyad Mahrez transfer saga displayed his managerial acumen. Leicester, currently in eighth on 40 points, remain in the running for the Europa League spots. As in recent seasons, the club’s success rests on the production of Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. Accounting for more than half the team’s league goals, the Foxes’ fortunes look bleak should they fail to retain the services of the duo for next season.
Stoke City—sinking lower?
The Potters showed Mark Hughes the door after taking only 20 points through their first 22 matches. After a short (though intensive) search for a replacement, during which the club were turned down by their top three targets, Paul Lambert took over at the helm. Perhaps the club initial lack of interest in Lambert was justified. In the nine matches since his appointment, the club have taken only seven points. In addition to possessing the worst defensive record in the league, Stoke now sit one place lower than when they fired Hughes. Three points from safety, with one more game played than several of the teams around them, the club face an uphill battle for safety. Lambert will need to repeat the survival heroics of his first season at Aston Villa for the team to stay up.
Swansea City—saved by Carvalhal?
In the bottom three for nearly four straight months, Swansea have been reborn under Carlos Carvalhal. Producing some inspired play since replacing Paul Clement at the end of December, the Swans now sit 14th—three points outside the relegation zone. Two late goals to see off Watford in his first match in charge set the tone for the Portuguese’s tenure. Followed later by back-to-back wins over Liverpool and Arsenal, as well as a victory over Burnley, Carvalhal has demonstrated his ability to get the best from his players. With matches against Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea to come, Swansea’s survival hopes likely rest on positive results against fellow strugglers West Brom, Stoke, and Bournemouth.
Watford—got (managerial) skills?
The only club to fire their manager while in the top half of the table, the Hornets parted ways with Marco Silva with the team in 10th place. Silva earned a fair bit of praise for the team’s performances early in the season. But results took a downturn after his link with the vacant post at Everton. Seemingly distracted and drawing the ire of the fans, the club removed Silva in favor of Javi Gracia. The Spaniard’s reign has featured more of the same, the club bouncing between 10th and 11th in the table, eight points above the drop. Watford’s results belie a team possessed of some real quality. Convincing wins over Arsenal and Chelsea hint that the right manager could lead this team on a push for Europe. For now, the club will have to be content with a likely fourth consecutive Premier League season.
West Bromwich Albion—got miracles?
After two wins in a row to start the season, the Baggies have won only once since. Failing to stop the rot by replacing Tony Pulis with Alan Pardew, West Brom sit bottom of the league, ten points from safety. Should results stay the same, there is every possibility that Pardew will also face the sack. Though not technically relegated at present, there may not be enough points on the table for West Brom to save their season. Meetings with both Manchester clubs, Tottenham, and Burnley among their final seven matches leave the club in need of a near-miraculous upturn in performance to stay in the top flight.
West Ham United—Premier League disgrace?
The bedlam during West Ham’s most recent match (a 3-0 defeat to Burnley) gave a new and disturbing meaning to Premier League survival. The scenes of fans tussling with players on the field, projectiles thrown at the director’s box, and Burnley players offering young fans, endangered by the irate crowd, refuge on the away bench disgraced the once proud club. Whether David Moyes (named the successor to Slaven Bilić at the beginning of November) can keep the Hammers up seems secondary at a club seemingly at war with itself. Secondary and unlikely. Matchups with the Chelsea, Arsenal, and the Manchester clubs during the run in present a daunting challenge to a club in complete disarray. This weekend’s match against Southampton, just below them in the table, may go along way to determining West Ham’s future prospects on and off the field.
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