There may still be six games to go for most teams in the Premier League but the league table is shaping up fairly clearly for the first time this season. Chelsea look to have a tight grip on the title, as they have for the majority of the season. Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City look set to round off the Champions League places, although Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham are still in with a shout. Aston Villa and West Brom have largely broken free of the relegation scramble and most would agree that it is now a straight up battle between Leicester, QPR, Burnley, Hull and Sunderland for those three relegation places.
As such, it seems like a reasonable time to assess the managers of each of the 20 Premier League teams and their relative performances this season. Last season, Tony Pulis picked up the award as he steered Crystal Palace from what seemed like certain relegation into essentially midtable obscurity. Here we will outline our three main candidates, as well as giving a verdict upon who should actually be awarded the Manager of the Season when the time comes. First though, here are six managers who miss out on our top three and the reasons why.
Few gave Burnley a chance before a ball was kicked this season, and after a dreadful start even fewer did. Sean Dyche stayed loyal to the players who earned him promotion last season, although he may not have had much choice, working to probably the tightest budget in the division. The club made a modest outlay in the summer, bringing in the likes of Michael Keane and George Boyd for nominal fees, in Premier League terms at least. More importantly, Burnley managed to hang on to their most prized assets, the likes of Kieran Trippier and in particular, Danny Ings, had been linked with moves elsewhere but Dyche managed to retain their services for what promised to be a tricky season ahead. Burnley have battled valiantly, and although they may well still be relegated, they have not once become cut adrift at the bottom of the division and have more than held their own in most games this campaign. Should Dyche keep Burnley in the Premier League he deserves immense credit.
His critics will say Arsenal have once more not mounted a serious challenge for the title but should Arsene Wenger add a second FA Cup victory in as many seasons to an impressive league campaign, he is likely to be a very satisfied man this summer. The Gunners are in terrific form right now, and look likely to finish in second place behind Chelsea. Wenger misses out on our top three on the grounds that his team are no longer a collection of carefully assembled bargains, but in many cases, very expensive previously established players. At £42.5 million and £35 million respectively, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are a reflection of Arsenal’s altering transfer policy, factor in the likes of Mathieu Debuchy, Gabriel Paulista, Calum Chambers, Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck and others, the current Arsenal squad represents a serious outlay. The quality and cost of the squad means a top four finish is far from remarkable, and whilst Wenger has had a good season, it is not a special one given his resources.
Personally I think having his name included here is very generous on Louis van Gaal. Manchester United spent some serious money in the summer and had every right to expect a top four finish and only in recent weeks have the side looked to be putting in really convincing performances. Big money deals like Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao have been largely disappointing, whilst the likes of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera have a lot to do before justifying their hefty price tags, although both have considerable time on their hands it should be added. United began the season under van Gaal in largely the same way that they had under David Moyes, but the results of others kept them in the top four mix all season. More recently, since the injury to Robin Van Persie, van Gaal seems to have found a much more balanced team capable of far more commanding displays, recent wins have put United in with a chance of a second place finish and a thoroughly respectable season.
Few people have put Garry Monk’s name forward in regards to the Manager of the Season award, and that is probably a credit to the quiet way in which Swansea have gone about their business this season. The youngest manager in the Premier League, Monk has continued the ethos and style of play that has taken Swansea City so far in recent years and ensured that the club consistently picks up points, and they currently lie in no-mans-land, just outside the top 7. The loss of £30 million man Wilfried Bony hasn’t stopped the Swans from marching on towards a very impressive season. Monk deserves a great deal of credit for the way in which he has quietly made Swansea a really strong Premier League outfit.
Never without his critics, particularly during his time at West Ham, Sam Allardyce continues to go about his business unmoved by the views of others. Summer recruitment saw the introduction of the likes of Alex Song, Cheikhou Kouyate, Aaron Cresswell and Diafra Sakho, all of whom have proved inspired pieces of business for the Hammers. A lack of consistency has prevented the club from ever mounting a serious challenge to the divisions European places but following a campaign in which the club flirted with the drop, this season represents a considerable improvement by West Ham. There are still some who can’t wait to see the back of Allardyce, but they should perhaps take a look at the likes of Bolton Wanderers and be careful what they wish for.
Mark Hughes was my personal choice for last season’s award. His appointment was heavily criticized at the time and many touted Stoke as potential relegation candidates. Not once did they look threatened by the drop and Hughes oversaw a move from the direct approach of Tony Pulis to his own style of play. Given their impressive campaign last season, this years achievements seem rather less remarkable, but Hughes deserves credit once more for cementing Stoke’s position as an established Premier League side, with a staggering 17 point gap between themselves and the bottom three.
If you take a look at the history of Premier League Manager of the Season winners, the vast majority also won the league title with their club side. The manager who wins the league is almost always considered for the award and this season will be no different. Chelsea have led the league table practically all season and have looked a good bet to stay there throughout this period. Mourinho has assembled a team with a winning mentality and great balance between attack and defense. Should they win their game in hand they would extend their lead at the top to 10 points, making for an exceptionally comfortable title. The signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa have supplied the finishing touches to an already strong Chelsea team and Mourinho’s leadership has once again proved a recipe for success.
Many Newcastle fans wanted rid of Alan Pardew for a long time and this season they finally got their wish as he headed to Crystal Palace. Newcastle, at the time, were comfortably sat in midtable whilst Palace were in the midst of a serious relegation battle. Now it is Newcastle who are struggling, whilst Palace are one of the form sides in the division and are a cool 14 points above the drop-zone. John Carver has failed to continue the performance levels Pardew got out of the Newcastle players and they are likely to stay up due to the points amassed under Pardew, despite a horrific run of form.
It seems like a long time ago that some fans and pundits were suggesting Southampton could be relegated this season, but it did happen. The mass exodus in the summer has failed to hamper the Saints meteoric rise in recent years and if anything, they have improved under the watchful eye of Ronald Koeman. The departed Mauricio Pochettino finds his Tottenham team currently behind the Saints in the league, as Koeman continues to push for a European spot. Southampton spent much of the season in the Champions League places, but now 5 points behind fourth-placed Manchester City it looks as though they will just miss out on what would have been a stunning achievement. Even so, Koeman has done an exceptional job and Southampton continue to be the one team who look capable of disrupting the ‘usual suspects’ in the upper reaches of the division.
It is a tricky decision, Mourinho has made Chelsea so dominant and Koeman has defied all the odds at Southampton but both had sizeable resources and strong squads to work with. The Crystal Palace squad which Alan Pardew inherited, with the greatest deal of respect, was probably where it should be in the league. It is not a squad laced with quality and the fact Pardew has them sitting above Everton and former club Newcastle is very impressive. The job he has done is as commendable as last years Manager of the Season winner Tony Pulis, also at Crystal Palace, and Newcastle’s downfall since his departure is further testament to the great work carried out by Alan Pardew.