12 Days of Football 2018: Eight Managers Managing
On the 8th Day of Football, UEFA gave to me
Eight Managers Managing
Six Games Amazing,
FIVE GOLDEN GOALS,
Four Calls Blown,
Three French Clubs,
Two title races and
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City
Welcome to It's Round and It's White's second annual flashback over the past year in football. To correspond with the twelve days of holiday fixtures, we're leaving a different article on football in 2018 on your monitor. Think of it as our way of going round the neighbourhood carolling. Zaid Pathan has eight managers, many of whom had a 2018 worth singing a joyful tune and one or two who might find a funeral dirge more appropriate.
People just never tire of talking about the Special One. Whether his team is flying high or crashing to the ground, whether it's his touchline antics or press interviews, the Portuguese always remains in the headlines.
Unfortunately, Manchester United found no Christmas cheer with Mourinho at the helm. following an uninspired defeat to arch-rivals Liverpool, the club sacked their polarising manager. Although it was inevitable, it happened sooner than expected.
Under Jose, United won two trophies but never looked like title contenders, playing well below the club and manager's standard. Critics faulted his prosaic, outdated approach. Falling out with star players created more problems for the club on and off the field. When the club failed to deliver the players he wanted in the transfer window, his headache compounded.
It was nothing compared to the brain haemorrhage that hospitalised United legend Sir Alex Ferguson. The 76-year-old recovered, however. Well on the road to recovery, the Scot was on hand to witness United's defeat at Anfield. With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and former assistant Mike Phelan returning to complete the season following Mourinho's dismissal, it looks like he is prepared to take a more active role in the club again.
The former manager will be inactive for the second Christmas in three years although the New Year is almost certain to bring better tidings for the two-time Champions League winner.
An unknown before nearly toppling Juventus as Napoli boss, last season, Maurizio Sarri's become a household name since arriving at Stamford Bridge.
Max Allegri’s Juventus proved too good in the end, but the chain-smoking Italian left no stone unturned in his pursuit. Napoli finished runners-up with 91 points, four behind the Old Lady. Eusebio de Francesco's Roma, who made so much noise in the Champions League, were way off the pace at 77 points.
Sarri’s Napoli played the most attractive football in Serie A. The Italian employs a 4-3-3 system with his own tweaks. He focuses on high pressing and cutting off opponents' passing lanes. The main tenets in his system are possession and direct attacks. When the strategy is named after you, important people are impressed. Despite Napoli chairman Aurelio de Laurentiis' firm resistance, Roman Abramovich brought Sarriball to Chelsea.
His pursuit was warranted. Well into November, Chelsea kept pace with Manchester City and Liverpool as the Premier League's three unbeaten sides. Life has been more difficult in December but the Blues remain in fourth on 40 points. The 59-year old who gave up his banking job to pursue football management made a good start to his life at Stamford Bridge. There's no reason to think it won't continue.
How does it feel to lift the World Cup as both player and coach? Very few can answer. This summer in Russia, Didier Deschamps became the third man in that elite club.
Despite criticism for favouring certain players and playing an asymmetrical 4-2-3-1 system, the former defender carried the water as he did in his playing days. Blaise Matuidi on the left flank often dropped deep to make a midfield three. Most thought Deschamp’s conservative tactics would not work after Les Blues strained to progress from the group stage performances. They couldn't believe he would leave Kingsley Coman, Adrien Rabiot, Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Dimitri Payet home. But world champions tend to find their stride in the knockout rounds. The 50-year old enjoyed the last laugh.
From overachievers to one-season wonder, it's been a roller coaster ride for Burnley. The Clarets punched above their weight last season, finishing seventh while scoring just 36 goals. Sean Dyche’s tactical prowess was seen at the other end.
Burnley were so good at defending. The centre-back pairing of James Tarkowski and Ben Mee gained the most recognition in what was a collective approach. The fullbacks tucked in; the defensive midfielders dropped deep. Burnley defended narrowly with organisation and positioning keys to their success.
Dyche’s sides always had a resilience about them, working hard and keeping games tight. This season, it's all disappeared. They've already conceded five more goals than they scored last term. If opponents found the secret passages through Dyche's low block, it may be time to try new tactics. It may also be time to find a new nickname. Ginger Mourinho doesn't carry the weight it once did.
Given Los Blancos poor start, everyone thinks they know why Zinedine Zidane stepped down as Real Madrid manager after winning his third Champions league in two-and-a-half seasons. Even so, I bet Madridistas would welcome Zizou back in a heartbeat.
The French might not be tactically astute, but his man management skills can’t be overlooked. He dominated a dressing room inhabited by Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Isco and Karim Benzema. His short but glorious stint as manager already ranks him among the all-time greats. With nine major honours already won, top clubs are camped on his doorstep, hoping he will come out for more than the morning paper.
The former Galactico is just 46. There is more for him to do in football if and when he wishes.
While Manchester City were in their own league last season, Jurgen Klopp reminded Pep Guardiola no one is invincible. Someone will always have your number.
Outsmarting Guardiola in the Champions League quarter-final 5-1 on aggregate stunned many, only it was hardly the first time. Head-to-head, no other manager has a better record against Guardiola than Klopp. The German is kryptonite to the supermanager. “They scare me.” Pep Guardiola’s words in the documentary ‘All in or nothing’ sum it up.
While Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League last season, Klopp steered them to the Champions League final. They were outplayed by Real Madrid but Klopp learns his lessons well. He revamped the squad through the transfer window. A record-fee was paid to semifinal victims Roma for their Brazilian keeper Alisson Becker. Naby Keita had been purchased on layaway the season prior. Fabinho is coming around. Xherdan Shaqiri is making up for all that lost time at Stoke. The Reds now possess the squad depth to compete on all fronts.
Klopp has turned Liverpool into a force to be feared and given them a new identity. This season they are more cautious but also unbeaten. It means little until May. If his side feels confident about topping the table at Christmas, the boss need only remind them the Reds are the only squad not to win the title from that position in Premier League history.
Borussia Dortmund are making strides in the Bundesliga this season and the reason is Lucien Favre. The Swiss manager made an immediate impact after replacing Peter Stoger in the summer.
Dortmund top the table at the halfway point, six clear of the second-placed Bayern Munchen. Die Schwarzgelben last won the league title in 2011-12 under a certain Liverpool manager. Since then, their rivals Bayern dominated, winning the league six times in succession. Now Favre is setting the tone with BVB. The 61-year-old Swiss is determined to end the Bavarian's reign.
Another tactician who believes in the quick strike, Favre puts great stock in young players, giving his best every opportunity to shine. He can reach veterans too. Marco Reus owes his renaissance to the new man. The German is back to his best. Favre had the advantage of working with the winger previously at Borussia Monchengladbach.
New faces Paco Alcacer, Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel fit in comfortably, too. Favre’s faith in young players has paid off for budding England international Jadon Sancho. The teenager is lighting up the Bundesliga with six goals and eight assists.
The perfect blend of speed, skill and experience has Favre and Dortmund in the Bundesliga driver's seat.
“It’s coming home”. Well, only in spirit, but Gareth Southgate managed to keep the Three Lions’ fans believing. No predecessor had done so in a long, long time. Like Zidane, doubters questioned his inexperience and the Englishman didn't have a legendary playing career to soften the criticism.
Again, like Real Madrid, managing England presents unique complications. Expectations are through the roof and one's life is under a microscope. And the pressure. For far too long, the Three Lions underperformed. Frustration alienated players from fans. His decision to start anew with untested players was met with both hope and scorn. Hope obviously won.
Steering England to the semi-finals in the World Cup is an achievement in itself for a man who is still a raw tactician. After a horror show in Euro 2016 under Roy Hodgson, Southgate deserves every bit of praise for England’s journey afterwards. The Nations League semifinal beckons. For a change, England fans believe.