The Rival Managers: A Quick Look – Part II

Last week fans of football in England couldn’t stop talking about Jürgen Klopp. Some were full of hatred towards him based on nothing more than the fact that he’s the manager of Liverpool, but most were impressed with his performance on Monday Night Football. He spoke as candidly as he felt he could to Jamie Carragher and David Jones on Sky Sports’ flagship show, informing viewers about the tactical approach he takes to games.

It got me to thinking: What are his rival managers like and is there anything we should be worried about? In my previous blog I had a look at José Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger. This time around I’m going to consider the bosses of Everton, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. Much like last week, I can’t promise it will be an in-depth look at any of their work, instead merely offering my personal opinion on what they’re bringing to our rivals with their management style. Let’s start with a trip to North London…

Mauricio Pochettino

I’m genuinely in two minds over the work of Mauricio Pochettino at White Hart Lane. On the one hand, there can be little questioning the work he’s doing North London. The results speak for themselves and this season Spurs sit second, just one point behind the league leaders Manchester City having beaten them 2-0 just before the international break. They have only lost one game in all competitions thus far, managing two draws and six wins.

On the other hand, they’ve performed at about the same level for the past seven seasons, give or take. In 2009-2010 they finished fourth with 70 points. The following season they notched up 62 points and finished fifth, then it was 69 points and back to fourth. In 2012-2013 they surpassed all previous seasons points-wise and got 72, but they finished just outside the top-four. In 2013-2014 – their last before Pochettino’s arrival, they finished sixth in the league with 69 points. The Argentinian’s arrival in the hot-seat for the 2014-2015 season saw them amass their lowest points total since 2011 when they finished 5th with 64, then last time out they finished third with 70 points.

The question is, therefore, are they getting to the point where they push through the barrier and finally challenge at the top? Or is this just a strong start to another season that will end up being par? Last season they were talked of as the only rivals to Leicester as the foxes went on their incredible rise to the top. In the end, though, they finished eleven points behind Claudio Ranieri’s men and ended up in third. The moment they dropped points to Chelsea and realised they couldn’t win the league was heart-breaking and they dropped off a touch, but even if they’d won their last two games they’d still have missed out by five points in a low-scoring season.

With my Liverpool filter firmly in place over my eyes it’s difficult not to see Spurs as something of a Liverpool-lite. Pochettino has got them playing good, pressing football that is all about closing teams down and breaking up the supply lines. He’s valuing teamwork and a strong ethic over star names. It’s impressive that he’s managed to get them scoring regularly and consistently without the injured Harry Kane who notched up an impressive 25 goals last time out.

Spurs have surprised many people so far this season, with some almost completely forgetting that they might well be involved in the title conversation at the end of the campaign. As I’ve said before, though, if Liverpool are going to benefit from not having European football surely that means those who do have the extra games might well suffer. If they make it through the group stages of the Champions League will they start to get distracted? Will Pochettino’s decision not to being in a more experience backup for Kane come back to haunt them? I think they’ll get silverware this year, but I don’t think it will be the Premier League trophy.

Antonio Conte

A friend of mine has a revolving door of relationships. No sooner haven they met one partner are they ready to move on to another one. It’s got to the point where most of us in our group don’t even bother to learn their name. That must be what it’s like to be a Chelsea supporter; constantly Googling a new name every few weeks as your Russian billionaire owner gets bored and decides to sack another one.

It said something for Antonio Conte’s future that when he was appointed the bookies thought he was more likely to be sacked before the end of the season than to win the Premier League. No wonder, really, when you consider that Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, André Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo all lasted a mere eight months before Abramovich pulled the trigger on their time in West London.

The tricky thing for Conte at Stamford Bridge is that he needs time to get his team to understand his system and it’s time he almost certainly isn’t going to be afforded. Considering that the Blues’ owner reportedly disliked Mourinho because of the style of football he got his team playing, it’s odd that the former Italy national manager was his first choice of a replacement. Conte is very much Italian in his approach to football, with defending being first and foremost in his line of thinking.

When you consider that Chelsea spent around £50 million on defenders in the summer it must be concerning for the manager that they’ve only managed to keep two clean sheets so far this campaign. On top of that they’ve conceded thirteen goals in nine games, a number that is nowhere near good enough for a team that is supposed to be tough to break down. The question for Conte is whether or not the problems are a hangover from Mourinho’s era and it will just take time to recover, or whether he has systemic problems that will not only cost him a charge at the Premier League title but also his job.

The Italian is a combustible personality, so it goes someway towards demonstrating just how many big characters there are in the league this season when you notice that he’s not actually receiving that much coverage compared to the likes of Klopp, Guardiola and his predecessor at Stamford Bridge, José Mourinho. It’s interesting that people think that Liverpool are going to struggle to win the title moving from eighth yet there’s a belief that Chelsea will be de facto title challengers even though they finished tenth last season. Unless Conte can get his message across sooner rather than later, there’s no guarantee that they’ll finish in the top four and Chelsea fans will be learning someone else’s name come May.

Ronald Koeman

The top-scoring defender in world football took over at Goodison Park this summer when the decision to let Bobby Martinez go was finally made by Bill Kenwright and his cronies. He arrived across the park with a decent pedigree, having won the Eredivisie twice with Ajax and once with PSV before heading over to Spain and winning the Copa del Rey with Valencia.

That said, his Ajax titles came in 2001-2002 and 2003-2004, his PSV Eredivisie win was in the 2006-2007 season and the Copa del Rey came the year after. That means he hasn’t won a major honour for nine years and didn’t win anything of note during his three seasons at Feyenoord. His two years at Southampton saw the Saints survive losing most of their best players and they also improved incrementally in points – moving from 60 points to 63 – and in their league position, taking them from 7th to 6th.

One thing that is in Koeman’s favour is that Everton’s team is stronger than Southampton’s. Admittedly they didn’t quite go out and buy Lionel Messi after Farhad Moshiri bought the club this summer as many Bluenoses thought they would, but they had a better starting base than the Saints when you remember that they essentially had a fire sale at St. Mary’s in the summer that the Dutchman arrived. The likes of Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley are genuinely good players, whilst Ashley Williams and Yannick Bolasie were both good signings this summer.

As a former defensive player it’s no surprise that Koeman has made Everton tighter at the back. Then again, it’s not harder to be tighter at the back than a Roberto Martinez team. He likes his teams to own possession of the ball and to dominate matches, something that his predecessor wanted his teams to duo but could never quite manage. He’s refused to be drawn on whether he thinks his side could be in the battle for a European place, though a draw against Spurs on the opening day of the season followed by four successive Premier League wins must have had him feeling quietly confident.

The Blues lost 2-0 at home to Norwich in the EFL Cup before the international break and, let’s be honest, they’re not going to be winning the Premier League any time soon. That means that all of their eggs are in the FA Cup basket if they’re hoping to end their 21-years-and-counting wait for a trophy. Koeman will be a definite improvement over his predecessor, but he’s unlikely to make a drastic difference to a side that has been established as a mid-table to top-half team for the best part of a decade.

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