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If it was any other season, Chelsea’s home win against Sunderland would have barely made the news. The Black Cats are flirting with relegation for quite some time now, while the Blues continue to flourish their trophy cabinet that got a new lease of life since Roman Abramovich revolutionized modern football. But this time is different.
Yes, Sunderland are still in the danger zone, but they are only three places below their star-studded hosts. José Mourinho – the man behind the club’s first-ever league title – saw the exit door, or, as they put it rather boringly, leave with a mutual consent, and it was time for Guss Hiddink’s second home coming.
When Mourinho suffered his first defeat against his old foe Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal, in the curtain raiser cup, Community Shield, few predicted it was the beginning of an historic downfall. Before they cut ties with the controversial manager, the defending champions come out victorious in only four of 16 league matches, with more than half (nine) of the matches ended in defeats.
So the first impression of the convincing win under caretaker manager Steve Holland must have been a welcome break for all involved with the club.
Yet that wasn’t to be the case, as players like Oscar and Branislav Ivanović “accused” of their impressive showings by fans who believed that they weren’t playing to their potentials before the managerial shift.
The fact that there was a noticeable progress in performance, excluding the results, in Mourinho’s last few weeks at the club or Sunderland being everyone’s favorite opponent in the otherwise unpredictable season were easily outshined by the final scoreline of the evening.
Only a couple of months earlier, fellow Premier League side Liverpool entertained a somehow similar storyline, when they held Tottenham Hotspur to a goalless draw in White Hart Lane. Jürgen Klopp had only the international break – where most of his players were out in national team duties – to prepare for his Premier League baptism, but the pressing football taken as the German’s first miracle in Merseyside.
Not blessed with match winning players in his disposal at Liverpool, unlike the league’s top teams, Klopp expected to bring back Liverpool’s glory days. In Brendan Rodgers’ last game as Liverpool manager, they came away with a draw at Everton, a point that deserves as much credit in its own right, albeit the boys upstairs in Liverpool were already prepared for firing Rodgers even if he won the fierce derby. Here comes the real question: how in earth they fail to sort out their managerial preference in pre-season to avoid such rushing decisions in the season’s first quarter?
Since the change of personnel in the dugout, there is no shortage of a fresh start talk in both Chelsea and Liverpool camps. The Londoners are at least able to change what could have been heartbreaking defeats to hard-fought draws under caretaker manager Guus Hiddink, while Klopp’s all-around refreshing attitude makes up for the mediocre results at Liverpool. But that couldn’t be reflected on the actual standings, as they are still there or thereabout from where the predecessors left them in the league table. The hypes surrounding the clubs finally settled down a bit, and the pressure is only getting to mount with the knockout rounds of European football under the corner.
A big plus in Chelsea and Liverpool’s cases was the fact that they had someone in the corner who is more than capable of steadying the ship. Chelsea get hold of an evolutionary coach in the form of veteran Hiddnik, and the sought-after Klopp made his return with the Kops. Getting a high profile coach is no mean feat after a season start, not to mention we witness clubs like Bayern München and Manchester City already sign contracts with top managers six months prior in fear of a deal that could be triggered by such accidental managerial alterations.
Sunderland thought they got a masterstroke of their own when they unveiled Sam Allardyce as their coach after separating ways with another veteran of the game Dick Advocaat. But that wasn’t going according to the plan, as Aston Villa are the only thing separating them from the bottom of the table.
The once European Cup winners were as good as gone when they kicked-off the hectic holiday fixtures, and former Lyon manager Rémi Garde has to produce a miraculous turnaround if Villa has any chance of retaining their ever-present league status.
Changing a manager in the middle of the season is also what sizable struggling sides opted to take a gamble on around European top leagues. The extensive demands were enough to make the media and fans alike restless if a game or two failed to deliver the expectations.
Of course it was not always desperate measures that led to a managerial exit, as Valencia could be a case in point. Gary Neville is yet to win a single league game, and the cup being a good distraction is now old news since they received a spanking by Barcelona in the first-leg of the semi final. The Englishman could have stayed in the pundit room if it wasn’t for Nuno Espírito Santo’s resignation.
Las Palmas, Levante, Real Sociedad and Real Betis all parted ways with the managers they started the season with, but that did little to change their firm places in the lower half of the standings in La Liga. Real Madrid are the other side to trigger such a move when Rafael Benítez get the sack to be replaced by the inexperienced Zinedine Zidane, as that was not something unusual for Les Blancos, where either the board or the fans are not known for their patience.
The downside of such drastic measures is seeing a coach who worked wonders at a club losing it all for a run of bad results, which may not be changed with the new man in the tunnel after all. Roma’s Rudi García and Swansea’s Garry Monk could serve as perfect examples here, with both guys having their moments with their respective clubs before getting the sack earlier this season.
But to find the combination of most of these scenarios, we shouldn’t look further away from Germany.
As it has been the custom in recent seasons, the Bundesliga saw its share of managerial casualties, and it comes with a mixed fortune. Hoffenheim and Hannover are still occupying the bottom places despite pulling the plug in the managerial tunnel, whereas their usual company Stuttgart impressed since Jürgen Kramny took over the reigns in November.
Despite the five-points gap from the safety zone, Hoffenheim and Hannover could take heart from their new trainers’ impressive track records when it comes to a relegation fight. If there is someone who’s not up for such tasks anymore, though, it is Lucien Favre. The Swiss gaffer was a miracle worker at Borussia Mönchengladbach for years, before starting this season with five league defeats in a row, which convinced him to leave his post.
The contrasting form under their caretaker manager Andre Schubert revised the record books, and it was only a matter of time before the former Under-21 coach gets the job on a permanent basis.
Early day luck
In general, the influence of new manager’s early days – ranging from enhancing players motivation to fill fans with new hope – is destined to change the fortunes of a struggling side in its early days. You should expect players putting an extra effort to impress their new gaffers, either for keeping their place in the side or step up to the lineup in expense of those who couldn’t deliver.
Even for those who were in comfort zone knowing they are untouchables no matter what happened, a sight of a new boss leaves the door wide open for them to prove their worth to the team.
In a time where everyone is calling for an immediate change of scenery for every drop in performance, the fact that there is no guarantee for managers to keep their jobs could be a real bottleneck for coming up with new philosophies. One would be tempted to follow the usual script instead of rescuing his job by testing new methods.
If football is all about getting the much-needed result at the meantime, we would see more of gritty title winners instead of vintage sides that we could speak of for years to come.
Written by Eskender Tamrat
Follow Eskender on Twitter @eskeBMG
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