Twelve games into the Premier League season and six clubs have already changed managers. Ole Gunnar Solskjær became the latest to pay for his side’s poor form after Manchester United’s 4-1 loss at Watford forced the board to act. United fans will have been sad to see the back of the club hero, but a run of five defeats from seven in the league – their sole win in that streak ultimately cost Nuno Espírito Santo his job at Tottenham – was not good enough. In all, Watford, Newcastle, Spurs, Norwich, Aston Villa and United have already pulled the trigger on managers this season.
There have already been more managerial changes this season than there were in the entirety of last season. when just four managers lost their jobs in the Premier League. Perhaps clubs were reluctant to pay off managers while playing behind closed doors and missing out on matchday revenue – or maybe the lack of angry fans complaining in the stands helped managers survive for longer.
Either way, how are these changes working out? Clubs are said to enjoy a “new manager bounce” when they appoint a new boss. A fresh face comes in, the slate is wiped clean, players give their all again, confidence returns and results start to pick up. Yet, do new managers bring about a bounce in results or just enjoy a regression to the mean?
Only two of the five new managers who have stepped in at Premier League clubs this season – Steven Gerrard and Dean Smith – have picked up three points in their opening league matches, Aston Villa beating Brighton 2-0 thanks to two late goals and Norwich coming from behind to see off Southampton. Claudio Ranieri was on the end of a 5-0 thumping against Liverpool in his first game in charge of Watford; Spurs were held by Everton in Antonio Conte’s first game; and Newcastle could not get the better of Brentford while Eddie Howe watched on from a local hotel.
Of the four managerial changes last season, only one – Ryan Mason at Tottenham, whose victory came courtesy of a penalty in stoppage time – won his opening league game in charge. Chelsea were held to a goalless draw at home to Wolves in Thomas Tuchel’s first game; Sam Allardyce watched West Brom lose 3-0 to local rivals; and Paul Heckingbottom had to sit through a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Leicester when he stepped for Chris Wilder in at Sheffield United.
Managers cannot turn things around instantly but the four clubs that replaced their managers last season all went on to win more points per game with a new man in charge. It was too late for West Brom and Sheffield United to avoid the drop, but Allardyce achieved better results than Slaven Bilic (0.76 points per game under Allardyce up from 0.54 with Bilic) and Heckingbottom did the same at Sheffield United (0.90 points per game up from 0.50). Of the four clubs that changed managers last season, though, Chelsea enjoyed the biggest improvement.
Frank Lampard was shown the exit at Stamford Bridge exactly halfway through the season with a points-per-game average of 1.53 from the opening 19 games. That figure rose to 2.00 points per game under Tuchel and, of course, the club added a second Champions League title to its collection. Chelsea may have started slowly, failing to beat Wolves at home in Tuchel’s first game, but only Manchester City (48) earned more points (38) in the second half of the campaign.
Although, was Chelsea’s quick improvement under Tuchel a bounce or a revival to where they should have been in the first place? Chelsea spent more than £200m on Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Édouard Mendy and Hakim Ziyech in Lampard’s final transfer window at the club yet they were ninth in the league shortly before sacking.
A squad with that much talent should have been much higher in the table, which is where they ended up under Tuchel. They finished the season in fourth; had the season begun when the German took charge, they would have finished second. They have pushed on again this season, going top of the league with 2.42 points per game and beating Juventus 4-0 on their way to booking a place in knockout stages of the Champions League.
Tuchel has improved Chelsea by working with the players over time. Even he could not bring about an instant fix. New managers often look more effective because they are starting from a low base. For the most part, a manager is sacked when the team is playing poorly. Solskjær had overseen five defeats in seven league games; Aston Villa had gone five games without a win when Smith was shown the door; and Norwich were bottom of the table when Daniel Farke was given his marching orders, even if they had just won their first league game of the season. Nuno was unable to inspire a shot on target let alone a win in his final match during his short-lived spell as Spurs boss.
The “bounce” that comes when a new manager is appointed is often because things cannot get any worse. An uptick is almost inevitable. The bounce is an illusion and the new manager is the beneficiary, with any positive results giving him the time he needs to do the real work of sorting out a team.