With the 2018-19 Premier League campaign on the horizon, the top six clubs are as firmly positioned at the favourable end of the table as any group has been since Manchester City and Tottenham forced their respective ways into the conversation.
While the rest of England’s top-flight teams are set to clamour for mid-table safety and a slim chance at a Europa League spot, a distinguished sextet of heavyweights will face their own objectives – and when things go pear-shaped, it’s often the man on the sidelines who suffers.
Here’s a ranking of the managers from the top six clubs in the Premier League based on the amount of pressure they’re set to face during the upcoming campaign:
6. Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Following a trophyless maiden campaign at the Etihad, Guardiola returned to winning ways last season with a domestic double that included the most dominant title-capturing run in Premier League history.
With City now favoured to repeat the league feat with an obscenely deep squad that’s also set to challenge in local cups and the Champions League, the Catalan tactician’s footing appears to be on solid ground. Pair that with a contract extension through 2021 penned in May, and Guardiola is set to outlast his famously short-lived prior tenures. After spending four decorated years with Barcelona and three at Bayern Munich, the 47-year-old will enter his third season at City eyeing a third continental conquest as a manager. But even if Guardiola doesn’t lead his club to Champions League success this season, his job is safe.
In fact, barring an unforeseen disaster, Guardiola is arguably more secure in his position than any of his 19 top-flight colleagues.
5. Unai Emery (Arsenal)
There will be an unfamiliar sight on the Emirates Stadium sidelines this season. Gone is zipper novice Arsene Wenger, and in comes Emery, who will look to repair both Arsenal’s and his own reputation.
Emery is the capital club’s first new gaffer since Wenger took over for Bruce Rioch in August 1996, and represents the tactical influence of the club’s reorganised hierarchy – namely CEO Ivan Gazidis, scouting savant Sven Mislintat, and former Barcelona director Raul Sanllehi. For Emery, the early signs are good. Twice-daily training sessions and the arrivals of experienced no-nonsense defenders Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Stephan Lichtsteiner – combined with the £26.4-million move for Uruguayan ball-stopper Lucas Torreira – have signaled a focus on taming the Gunners’ characteristically permeable set-up
Emery, who should have a long leash, will aim for a return to the top four, an improvement on last year’s 37-point gap behind City, and Europa League hardware.
4. Maurizio Sarri (Chelsea)
The managerial carousel at Stamford Bridge has spit out its latest appointment, with Sarri swapping Napoli for Chelsea to replace countryman Antonio Conte as the 15th gaffer under Roman Abramovich.
Because of Chelsea’s penchant for short-lived coaching spells – and due to the uncertainty over Abramovich’s ownership that’s tethered to a failed British visa application – Sarri’s tenure appears slightly more tenuous than Emery’s, though the dart devotee arrived with a gift in the form of Jorginho. The Italy international’s £50-million move should solidify a rock-hard midfield alongside N’Golo Kante. And despite inheriting a relatively thin squad with a few notable question marks, Sarri’s brand of attacking football is sure to garner the plaudits of pundits and supporters alike.
Following two decades and change of managing in Italy’s lower leagues, which culminated in a three-year spell with I Ciucciarelli, Sarri appears set to at least equal his predecessor’s two-year term.
3. Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham)
Largely responsible for Tottenham’s emergence since joining north London’s other outfit in 2014, Pochettino’s honeymoon period with Spurs is screeching to a halt.
With the club moving into its ritzy new digs, and with its darling image in the English press fading, it will be desperate to end a trophy drought that’s entering its 11th year. Meanwhile, save for Toby Alderweireld, the Argentinian gaffer should return the same side that finished third last season, while links to reinforcements have been curiously reticent. Despite being hampered with a budget that pales in comparison to England’s other big-six sides, the pressure will be on Pochettino to succeed with nary the resources of clubs he’s expected to beat.
At least Pochettino is a fan favourite, and his gig is still safer than those of his peers with similar expectations.
2. Jose Mourinho (Manchester United)
Unlike Pochettino’s charges, Manchester United are accustomed to winning football’s most prestigious prizes, and after capturing the League Cup and Europa League in his first season in charge, the pressure is on Mourinho heading into 2018-19.
Despite the additions of Brazilian midfielder Fred and full-back Diogo Dalot, there are several squad concerns among the Red Devils. Anthony Martial appears to be on his way out, Alexis Sanchez hasn’t quite been his tireless self, and rumours continue to link World Cup star Paul Pogba with an exit. Additionally, Mourinho said critics would “kill” him if United lost last season’s FA Cup final to Chelsea – which they did – while his tenuous relationship with the media continues to waver, a sampling of supporters have not warmed to the mercurial manager, and his recent quotes haven’t helped.
Even worse, local rival Manchester City are the toast of the league, and after finishing runner-up last season, Mourinho will be expected to lift Premier League silverware come May. Will the third-season syndrome strike again?
1. Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
After splashing a combined £170 million on world-record summer signing Alisson, Naby Keita and Fabinho, the pressure is on Klopp to win his first trophy at Liverpool in his third full season with the Merseyside giant.
The likable German is more than aware of the situation, telling the Guardian’s Andy Hunter: “I cannot give guarantees here but I understand if people think that. I know about the expectations and that is completely normal.”
For stretches of last season, Liverpool appeared most likely to usurp Manchester City for league honours courtesy of an electric front-three, and a trio of big-name acquisitions will only legitimise those ambitions. Meanwhile, Klopp has fielded doubts about his ability to win a title, as he’s lost his last seven major tournament finals with Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool.
“I am prepared for these moments,” Klopp offered. “I don’t want to have them but I don’t go nuts in these moments.” Prepared or not, Klopp will enter the 2018-19 season shouldering the burden of a side mired in a six-year trophy wait.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)