THERE’S nothing like Christmas and the gift of giving for a football manager.
Giving? Yes, giving out those P45s, as clubs desperate to maintain their various league positions, wield the axe. Already in the EPL, two have gone, with Fulham and Southampton both looking for new direction.Like January coming after December, more will inevitably follow.
But who? Who is safe and who is vulnerable?
All the talk of the league currently surrounds Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. United, for all their glitz, glamour, world appeal and apparent riches, still cannot challenge at the very top of the game. Tactically United look a very ordinary team, compared to the new styles of Liverpool, Arsenal, the free-flowing football of City or even Spurs, who despite defensive frailties and off-field stadium issues, are well up there in the race for European places.
Many fans are asking if Mourinho’s style is ‘last decade’ and it’s time to bring in fresh, young blood. The jury is clearly still out – but the odds on the Portuguese coach still being at Old Trafford in January are not positive. United do not have the financial resources of their across town rivals. And that irks many. City remain odds-on favourites for the title, with so much talent across their impressive squad.
That may change as Uefa investigates fair play allegations about third party sponsor payments, which, if proven, could see them banned from European competition.
Liverpool remain the one true challenger. Coach Jurgen Klopp is the prefect fit for the Anfield mentality and he will push City all the way.
Little chance of managerial change there, likewise in north London at both the Gunners and Spurs. But go below mid-table and there are all sorts of permutations. Claudio Ranieri will have hands full trying to keep Fulham up ad Burnley’s dramatic fall from grace could see long-serving manager Sean Dyche replaced. The Turf Moor club have been remarkably restrained in recent seasons, so Dyche may remain, even if they do go down.
Southampton’s fall from grace has been on the cards for a while. Mark Hughes and his team looked tired and devoid of ideas for many weeks before Hughes departed. Hughes though left with a smile on his face – a potential $10m contract settlement, such is the nature of the game circa 2018-19 – where failure is so richly rewarded. Saints have given former RB Leipzig coach Ralph Hassenhuttl, known by fans as ‘Alpen Klopp’ for his similar style of play to the Liverpool boss, the task of resurrecting the club. The Austrian has a good record in the Bundesliga, but will need to spend in order to keep Saints up, few in the squad would be able to play the high press game he will demand. Cardiff may decide to hang on to one of the oldest coaches in the game – 70-year-old Neil Warnock. Warnock’s style may not be pretty, but their combative approach could keep them up.
Chris Hughton at Brighton and Manuel Pellegrini both look safe, as does Rafa Benitez at Newcastle – although nothing is certain under owner Mike Ashley. Benitez has fashioned a side from the scraps of others but all could be changing as Ashley continues to search for a buyer.
The price? Sources at the club say $500 million-plus would secure a sale! Wolves return to the top flight saw them get off to a flyer early season, but their form has dipped of late. If that continues, don’t be surprised to see their Chinese owner go for a change. Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson has stabilised the club after a tortuous 2017 and despite his age, he’s another who won’t see 70 again, maintains a relatively youthful approach to the game.
Palace need to maintain their home form and then pick up points at clubs around them to stay Premier League – something Huddersfield Town are also attempting to achieve. Punching way above their weight, the Terriers are staring at another relegation battle come March – with or without popular coach David Wagner. And popularity is not something Manchester United’s Mourinho has in spades right now. His cautious style of play has seen him booed by home fans as the Old Trafford giants sit outside the European places. Failure to qualify for even the Europa League would spell the end for Mourinho. Will he go before that is decided? Who knows. And more importantly, who would the United board look to?
Zinadine Zidane’s name is on everyone’s lips, primarily because he is available. or would they go for an English coach? Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe would be the only choice there. Whatever, once Christmas is over the managerial rumour mill will inevitably intensify. From stars to turkeys overnight. Enjoy your Christmas, whoever you support.
* Perth is the place to be for football action next July when Manchester United will play two pre-season games at Optus Stadium.
United will play local A-League side Perth Glory at the venue on Saturday, July 13 and will then face Leeds United four days later (July 17), at the same venue. United are planning an open training session on Thursday, July 11, plus a host of other events, including a golf tournament and a dinner during their visit. Leeds United will also play Western Sydney Wanderers at the new Western Sydney Stadium in Parramatta on July 20.
“The 30,000-seat stadium is on track to open in April 2019 and will be home to both the Wanderers and the NRL Eels.
“This match will be a fantastic part of our centenary season and we expect between 4000 to 5000 of our passionate supporters from all over the world to travel to Sydney and we look forward to seeing them all there,” Leeds CEO Angus Kinnear said.
If it’s January, then it’s FA Cup time. The world’s oldest sporting knockout competition, the romance of the cup. And for 2019 there are some mouthwatering ties to savour with some giant killing acts sure to follow. Most of the big boys of the Premier League look to have easy routes to the next round; Arsenal and Spurs being the exceptions. The Gunners could face an awkward trip to non-league Solihull or Third tier Blackpool while north London rivals Spurs face a tricky trip to either Tranmere Rovers or Southport. Struggling Southampton would, on current form, be the underdogs with a trip to Derby County and Huddersfield Town will not relish their trip to the west country to face Bristol City.
A south coast derby between Bournemouth and Brighton should be a cracker, as should the Wolves v Liverpool clash. Except ‘most’ premier league sides to make it through, although the Cup does have a habit of throwing up an upset or two.
FA CUP THIRD ROUND
Aston Villa vs Swansea
Burnley vs Barnsley
Wolves vs Liverpool
Middlesbrough vs Peterborough or Bradford
West Brom vs Wigan
Fleetwood vs AFC Wimbledon
Norwich City vs Portsmouth
Sheffield United vs Barnet
QPR vs Leeds United
Woking vs Watford
West Ham vs Birmingham City
Bournemouth vs Brighton
Manchester City vs Rotherham United
Solihull Moors or Blackpool vs Arsenal
Shrewsbury Town vs Stoke City
Fulham vs Oldham Athletic
Wrexham or Newport County vs Leicester City
Bristol City vs Huddersfield Town
Accrington Stanley vs Ipswich Town
Derby County vs Southampton
Crystal Palace vs Grimsby Town
Chelsea vs Nottingham Forest
Newcastle United vs Blackburn Rovers
Preston North End vs Doncaster Rovers
Tranmere Rovers or Southport vs Tottenham
Everton vs Lincoln City
Manchester United vs Reading
Sheffield Wednesday vs Luton Town
Brentford vs Oxford
Gillingham vs Cardiff City
Millwall vs Hull City
Bolton Wanderers vs Walsall or Sunderland