The Man City manager Pep Guardiola will be the most relaxed as the premier league enters its last furlong a few managers are about to find their mettle tested and their managerial abilities questioned like never before.
Jurgen Klopp knows that his Liverpool side are either going to make history by winning a first league title in nearly 30 years or he will join the list of nearly men who have managed the club.
The German is under pressure and rightly so. A few weeks ago it seemed that the title was well within the club’s grasp but 2 draws have allowed the Champions from Manchester sneak up and go past them.
The narrative being pushed against the German is that he is more the bridesmaid and rarely the bride on account of his consecutive defeats in Cup finals. Klopp has 2 back to back Bundesliga titles on his CV one has to remind these narrators.
Draws are position killers in the league. 2 wins and 3 defeats give more points than 5 straight draws and this is what is now evident for Liverpool who have only suffered one defeat all season but are behind City with 4 defeats.
Klopp (R) publicly taking issues with Gay Neville’s comments that Liverpool might need to sacrifice the Champions League is probably a sign of the pressure getting to him. To be fair, Neville has been consistent on this view since the start of the season and not just now that Liverpool are on the verge of a Champions League quarter-final stage.
There are those who will say that City have a better squad and have better overall quality than Liverpool but the truth is that the Champions lost 2 out of 3 matches during December/January mad period of matches. Liverpool failed to capitalise and pull further away. Should City retain the title questions will – rightly – be asked of Klopp.
Unai Emery has after 30 matches gathered 12 more points than Arsenal had at the same stage of the season in Arsene Wenger final season at Arsenal. That they are in 4th place too adds to the fact that Spaniard is doing a very good job in his first season in England.
The multiple Europa League title winner with Sevilla has been doing a quiet rebuilding job at a club that had been so deeply steeped in the spirit of the departed French man. However, he knows that the battle to secure Champions League football for next season is not even secured.
Emery (Left) might be the manager amongst those featured with the least pressure on him to deliver. Arsenal had been out of the top 4 in the previous 2 seasons. The work he is doing thus far has been impressive but only a Top 4 finish will establish it in the minds of those who view football only in stats.
The defeat of Man United at the weekend showcased a manager who was brave and prepared to stick with his convictions no matter what. Starting and sticking with 2 strikers plus Mesut Ozil hampered United’s style of defending and playing through the middle via Nemanja Matic.
It also ensured that whenever possession was recovered that his team were dangerous on the counter. Probably the only match since the change of managers that Victor Lindelof looked so unsure of himself which was a credit to how Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette played that afternoon in North London.
Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea started the season with very good results and very good press about “SarriBall”. Then it seemed the wheels have come off following hammerings at Bournemouth and City, however, they are now only 3 points outside the Champions League spot having played a game less than United and Arsenal. Things are not so bad after all eh?
Chelsea fans and their Italian manager can choose to see the glass half-full but they are aware that the battle to get into that Champions League spot is going to go the distance and the visit to Old Trafford next month will be critical.
Sarri knows he is at a club that has shown over the years not to be very patient with managers not meeting targets. The Italian I feel has not helped his cause. In the first 15 league games one of Oliver Giroud or Alvaro Morata started as Chelsea seemed primed to challenge for the title.
In December – as the transfer window was close to reopening – and after the win over City at Stamford Bridge, Sarri reverted to Eden Hazard in a false number 9 position. I remember thinking that this was just a ploy to ensure the club got him Gonzalo Higuain.
Even as results did not improve, the Italian persisted with Hazard in that role as Morata and Giroud captained the bench, until Higuain arrived from Milan. This will count against him should Chelsea fail to make it into the Champions League places.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer took over at Man United with the club 11 points outside the Champions League places. 10 wins, 2 draws and 1 defeat later and they are still outside the Champions League slot with 8 matches to go.
The defeat to Arsenal last weekend must have jolted Solksjaer and his backroom team. How they react after this is what will determine if they are able to finish in the Top 4. At the weekend is a tricky FA Cup tie away at Molineux against Wolves, another defeat there and the critics will certainly be out and cries of “new manager bounce gone” will be loud and shrill.
The Norwegian is auditioning to get the full time role at a club he served so well as a player but he knows that only winning a trophy or Top 4 finish will give him that full time role. I have written it before here that the midterm future of Manchester United rests on how successful Solksjaer’s caretaker tenure is.
The squad available to him is a top 4 one. That he started with an 11 point deficit will not be an acceptable excuse to critics and supporters of the Manager he replaced. A trophy or/plus a Champions League place and the job is his.
The title race is a fascinating 2 horse race but the fight for the last 2 Champions League places is just as fascinating and will go to the last day of the season.
Mauricio Pochettino of Spurs is another man in this mix but he gets a whole column next week.