Frank Lampard, roller coaster year for Big Six managers
The report only followed the defeat for a few hours.
Blues manager Frank Lampard was reportedly at risk after a 3-1 loss to Manchester City, a fourth in six Premier League games that saw Chelsea drop to eighth and 17th in the form table in the past twelve matchdays to be fired.
According to The Athletic, the club was already looking for alternatives. And statistically, Lampard’s slow march to his professional demise was clearly inevitable.
Managerial jobs in the Premier League are unstable even in the best of times, but this reversal of luck felt especially quick. After all, it was only six match days since Lampard’s team had won four times in five games, had not lost in nine games and were only two points away from first place. The young manager and the club legend were praised for his performance. And Lampard still had the honor of leading a young Chelsea through a year of transition last season and still earning a place in the Champions League.
But Lampard was hardly the only Big Six manager to ride a safety roller coaster this season.
Just two weeks ago, Mikel Arteta was either on the verge of being sacked by Arsenal, one loss or three losses, depending on what you’ve read. After all, a run of a win of 10 that included seven losses had doomed the Gunners to an unimaginable 15th place and the worst start to any campaign in generations.
Since then, Arteta’s Arsenal have defeated a collapsing Chelsea, 17th place in Brighton and 19th place in West Brom in a row, lifting the Gunners to eleventh place and within six points of Champions League spots. And so the shouting for Arteta’s position has subsided. Everything is fine again, regardless of the fact that the 13-time English champion is still in the lower half of the table.
Less than a month ago, there was speculation that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be sacked as Manchester United manager if his side lost to rivals Manchester City from Crosstown. Because the derby fell just four days after the unfavorable elimination of United from the group stage of the Champions League in RB Leipzig and threw it into the Europa League. But United drew City 0-0 and the Red Devils have still not lost in the league since losing to Arsenal on November 1. That was eight out of ten wins that drove them from 15th place to a tie with the defending champions Liverpool.
The worries about Solskjaer are gone. Now the Norwegian, who has been so close to losing his job several times, is the subject of gushing stories about how he brings “togetherness” and “morals” back to his talented but mercurial side.
The innate weirdness of this second season in the COVID Premier League has put a heavy strain on the league’s beleaguered managers. As with every season, every Big Six head coach is expected to get their team in the top three. Or at least the first four and the associated berths in the Champions League. And that is still a mathematical impossibility like never before.
It’s just that given the compressed schedule and increased injuries and players lost to positive tests and the shortened off-season and shortened preseason and lack of fans and everything else, the results are more unpredictable than ever. And that has resulted in an up and down campaign for most large teams and their managers, sort of a seesaw of the optics, although the chaos is a constant.
At the beginning of the season, even Pep Guardiola von City didn’t look that untouchable with just three wins from the first eight league games. And after four games without a win and a jump from first to seventh place, the shine of Tottenham Hotspur’s Jose Mourinho, one of the season’s top-performing managers, faded. The only manager who can evade close scrutiny is Liverpool’s incontestable Jurgen Klopp, whose side overcame an injury rash against their defenders.
But all of this job insecurity is a function of the pandemic, as is the relentless volatility in these clubs. Chelsea have spent a lot of money improving their attacks without addressing their defenses in any similar way. United remains an ensemble of stars who make the most of a hackneyed script. Tottenham is still thin and fragile. The city still looks full on too many days. Nobody knows where to start with Arsenal at all.
However, the football business is not based on nuances. Only the results are taken into account. And these results have had an impact on the manager. As long as the conditions in the Premier League remain so unusual and the results are turned upside down, no manager will sleep soundly.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a columnist at Emox News and a lecturer in sports communications at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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