Next season will be the first time in Premier League history that the three favourites have all appointed new managers in the summer – an obvious consequence of Sir Alex Ferguson’s amazing 26-year spell in charge of Manchester United.
Only United have confirmed their next manager, David Moyes, with Manchester City and Chelsea still in limbo, but widely expected to confirm Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho respectively.
In terms of background and experience, Moyes, Pellegrini and Mourinho are three entirely different coaches. One is British, another European, another is a real rarity – a Premier League coach from South America. They’ve had very different experiences in recent years: Moyes has been in the Premier League for a decade but has little experience of Europe or title fights, while Pellegrini has been in charge of top sides before, but has little knowledge of the Premier League. If both appointments are considered risky because neither coach has won a domestic title in Europe before, in a sense Moyes and Pellegrini are entirely different gambles.
Mourinho, of course, is the man at the centre of the Venn diagram – he has considerable experience of challenging for (and winning) league titles, he’s a regular in the knockout stages of the Champions League, he understands the demands of the Premier League – and knows all about Chelsea too. He ticks all the boxes, and while history suggests it’s entirely possible for a man like Pellegrini to come to England and succeed immediately – Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Carlo Ancelotti all won the Premier League title in their first full season – Mourinho’s title-winning experience shouldn’t be underestimated.
The direct contests between the three coaches will be particularly interesting. Whereas the last two seasons of the Premier League have seen some extraordinary scorelines between the top clubs, it feels as if there’ll be a defensive, cautious shift in head-to-head contests between the top three.
Moyes would dispute the idea that he’s a defensive coach, but he’s certainly a reactive coach that adapts his side to the strengths of the opposition, and focuses upon a good defensive shape. That will have to change at Manchester United, of course, and the Scot will embrace his best attacking talents, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll replicate the occasionally shapeless Manchester United side we’ve seen under Ferguson over the past couple of years, mainly because of the lack a reliable partner for Michael Carrick. Moyes will surely purchase another strong central midfielder, and his side will be more boxy.
Mourinho, too, is often unfairly considered a defensive manager – but there’s no doubt his sides focus upon counter-attacking football. Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar will all have a place in a Mourinho side, but rather than dominating possession, expect Chelsea to defend deep before playing on the break. This doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of goals – Mourinho’s Real have the most shots on target per game amongst clubs from Europe’s major five leagues, despite only the 14th-highest average possession, and the 21st-best pass completion rate. But if opponents don’t attack Mourinho sides, the game can become stilted.
Then there’s Pellegrini, perhaps the most difficult coach to predict. Although he has a clear love of exciting, creative playmakers and appreciates short passing football, his sides are generally about controlled passing rather than relentless attacking. His Villarreal side of 2005/06 nearly reached the Champions League final despite scoring only eight goals in 12 matches, and while his Real Madrid and Malaga sides have been more open, he demands a solid defensive shape without the ball.
As a result, it’s difficult to envisage matches like City’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford in 2011, Chelsea and United’s 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge in 2012, or even the excellent end-to-end FA Cup semi-final between Chelsea and City last month, a game that should have produced more than three goals. Under 2.5 goals might become an increasingly favourable bet in big games at the start of next season.
It’s interesting to see City and United neck-and-neck at 3.15 to win the Premier League title, with Chelsea a little higher at 3.75. Arsenal are 16, Liverpool 36 and Tottenham 42.
But this appears a three-horse race, so it’s extremely rare to see the three major contenders all trading at over 3.0 – that just sums up the unusual uncertainty caused by three new managerial appointments at the top of the league.