With the new Premier League season drawing ever closer, all eyes will begin turning to the future stars of this season – the young prospects, the big name summer signings, the returning debut season revelations (a la Amr Zaki). Yet few will cast a glance to the men who’ll be leading these stars to the top…or the bottom. Below is my list of the five managers who we’ll be keeping a close eye on this coming season.
1. Louis Van Gaal
Riding into Old Trafford on the back of the Netherlands’ surprisingly impressive World Cup campaign like Manchester United fans’ own biblical hero, Louis Van Gaal has (despite what many supporters may protest) a large amount of pressure weighing on his arrival. However, this expectation for excellence is simply a burden of his own making.
With a total managerial win percentage of 61.47%, above and beyond the rate held by any Premier League manager ever (bar his ‘true’ predecessor, Sir Alex Ferguson and the brilliant Jose Mourinho). His reputation as a born winner and disciplinarian fits the job description for a successful United manager; David Moyes’ palatable uncertainty during his campaign as Red Devils boss alienated many a fan, and the inconsistency of United’s whole squad last year characterised a season of underachievement.
Van Gaal’s no nonsense and steadfast approach to handling a team is an antidote to these problems if nothing else is. I (along with every other EPL fans) will be interested to see how this incredibly successful manager fares in a new league, particularly in a team who were so famously dissapointing last season.
2. Mauricio Pochettino
Pochettino will be expected to keep up the exciting football he brought to Southampton last season. Some were doubtful of the Argentine’s managerial appointment, citing his lack of Premier League experience and command of the English language as reason to believe he isn’t cut out for the top job at a side with Champions League aspirations.
His eighth place finish with Soton was impressive, of course, but critics have argued that Pochettino is unlikely to achieve a higher finish with Tottenham due to the wealth of improvement seen at those clubs above him. Despite only making two signings thus far (Ben Davies and Michel Vorm, both from Swansea City), and showing little sign of many higher transfer aspirations, Tottenham fans are quietly confident that this man can do the job, as he has recently exhibited a level of support for Tottenham’s post-Bale transfers that wasn’t evident under Tim Sherwood.
If Pochettino can piece his perfect new team together and pull off a successful string of early season results, we can see Spurs going far this season.
3. Tony Pulis
Tony Pulis arrived at Selhurst Park in a situation that is usually destined for failure. Newly promoted side (from the playoffs at that) with four points from their first eleven games.
In spite of his reputation at Stoke as a boring, medieval tactician, Pulis turned around Palace’s campaign (thanks in part to the die hard Palace supporters) in a feel good twist of events reserved usually for Mighty Ducks movies, with surprise results against Chelsea and Liverpool towards the end of the season.
With a Premier League Manager of The Year award now proudly under his belt, Pulis will set out this year in what appears to be a much easier position. However, this season will undoubtedly be one of the strongest squad-wise, with all teams strengthening, particularly the top sides who were surprised by teams like Palace.
Although fans and players alike will be spurred on by their team’s historic climb last season, results may not go their way as often this year. Should they not, let’s not write this team of troopers off too quickly.
4. Brendan Rodgers
In the 2013/2014 season, Liverpool supporters expected an improvement on their seventh-place finish the year before, but even the most optimistic inside the Reds camp wouldn’t have predicted their team’s finish at second (by way of a final day race with Manchester City as well).
The catalyst for this unprecedented success was club (and league) top scorer Luis Suarez, but his recent move on to sunnier pastures in Barcelona see’s Rodgers face the task of filling in a 31-goal sized gap in his squad. After all, if a manager can achieve second place with Iago Aspas and Aly Cissokho on their books, they can do almost anything, so Rodgers shouldn’t be too worried.
This coming season could likely be less friendly for Liverpool, with the chance of multiple relatively serious injuries at once (an occurrence that would have crucified Rodgers’ side last season) and a more gruelling fixture list (with the introduction of Champions League football), so it will be very interesting to see how Liverpool’s new signings cope, and how well they live up to expectations following last season’s great league campaign.
5. Sean DycheBurnley’s Louis CK lookalike manager travelled around the lower leagues for years, until he gave cash-strapped Watford their highest league place in four years in 2012, and he was named Burnley manager later that year.
Despite being sixth favourites for the drop in the 2013/2014 Championship season, Dyche’s Burnley side earned automatic promotion to the biggest league in the world, and Dyche believes these turnarounds can happen in the Premier League also. In an interview with the Guardian the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ displays a strong preference for a strong group mentality over big summer signings, stating that a ‘£20 million signing is not appropriate for the club’.
With this contrary opinion to surviving in the league, it will be very interesting to see how this side fares. With players like Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier leading the way for the Premier League newbies, Burnley could again surprise everyone.