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Football Reporting


Arteta, Wilder most in danger heading into 2021

There have been at least six Premier League managers sacked every calendar year since 2012. In two of the past three years (2017 and 2019), that number rose to nine. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on football, as it has on all walks of life, but managers have at least benefited from greater longevity in employment.

After Nigel Pearson left Watford with two games of last season remaining, Sam Allardyce had to wait until Dec. 16 to replace Slaven Bilic at West Brom, one of only two top-flight managerial changes of 2020. The financial impact of COVID-19 brings the cost of sacking a manager into sharper focus. Equally, the lack of training ground time arising from a condensed fixture list elicits more sympathy for the strugglers trying to arrest a decline.

But patience cannot last forever, not least as the price of relegation or missing out on Champions League qualification will feel even higher after a season almost entirely bereft of matchday income with fans banned from stadia. So who could be next in line for the chop?

On the hottest seat

Neither Sheffield United nor Arsenal want to sack managers who exceeded expectations last season, but Chris Wilder and Mikel Arteta cannot continue in their respective ruts for much longer.

Wilder is second-favourite to be sacked by most bookmakers, but the threat of relegation is very real: two points from their opening 14 games is the worst start in English top-flight history. They are already 10 points adrift of safety but would be loathe to sack the man who brought his club back to the Premier League. Arteta won the FA Cup last season and was promoted from head coach to manager in September. His odds consequently look a little short given the internal recognition of the magnitude of the task, but lose to Chelsea, Brighton and West Brom over the festive period and Arsenal could be in the bottom three.

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Under threat with more bad results

Steve Bruce saw his demise as Newcastle United manager foretold in the summer when it appeared a Saudi-backed takeover would go ahead. Guiding them to 12th feels a success given that context, but the Magpies’ football is largely terrible and the fans remain unconvinced. Graham Potter was charged with the responsibility of implementing a better style at Brighton & Hove Albion but they have won just two League games all season.

Manchester United continue to lurch from majesty to calamity under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He has already survived several turbulent spells in two years, but Mauricio Pochettino won’t be available forever and United’s form is so capricious that the club appears in a cycle the Norwegian is struggling to break.

Safe … for now

Scott Parker looked doomed at the start of the season, but Fulham‘s late summer transfer activity has helped them no end: six of the XI that drew with Liverpool earlier this month were signed after Sept. 1. Fulham remain in the bottom three, however, and having been backed in the market, he must now deliver.

Burnley have similarly launched their own mini-revival with three wins from their past six games, easing the pressure on Sean Dyche. Chelsea gave Frank Lampard £220 million worth of new players this summer and must a top-four finish at a minimum. Lampard’s legendary status as a player will buy him more time than most Chelsea managers, but owner Roman Abramovich’s ruthlessness knows no bounds.

David Moyes began the season under considerable pressure, but after retaining key midfielder Declan Rice — continually linked with Chelsea — he has steered West Ham into the top half, with results including a win at Leicester and draws against Tottenham and Manchester City.

Sam Allardyce has never been relegated, but faces a genuine challenge with West Brom five points adrift in 19th place after 14 games. He will earn a reported £2 million bonus if he keeps the Baggies up, and he’ll surely be given every chance to do so. Aston Villa survived on the final day of last season but look primed for a more comfortable season, having climbed to ninth place so far with Dean Smith also managing to convince Jack Grealish to tie his future to the club with a new contract.

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Wolves are stuck in mid-table, but it is a measure of the job Nuno Espirito Santo has done that it feels like something of a mild disappointment. They are two points and two places above Crystal Palace, where Roy Hodgson continues to keep his team out of trouble with a comfortable cushion.

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Leeds United would be top of the table if plaudits equated to points, but Marcelo Bielsa’s expansive style continues to enjoy complete buy-in from his squad and supporters. Things can always unravel very quickly where Jose Mourinho is concerned, but Tottenham led the way until one point from nine against Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Leicester. His renaissance is far from over.

In no danger

Jurgen Klopp will surely leave Liverpool on his own terms, even if their grip on the Premier League has not been so assured so far this term. The same is true of Pep Guardiola, who only just signed a new contract extension at Manchester City with an eye on a return to the summit.

Ralph Hasenhuttl has overseen a remarkable transformation at Southampton to see them emerge as this season’s surprise challengers for a top-six spot along with Everton, where Carlo Ancelotti has steered the Merseysiders to fourth after a summer of shrewd acquisitions.

Brendan Rodgers has shrugged off Leicester City‘s late collapse — and subsequent failure to secure a Champions League place — last season to put them in the running again.

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