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What to expect from the Premier League’s new managers

Compared to the past couple of summers, this has been a quiet summer for managerial changes in the Premier League. Just four managers will take charge of their club for the first time on the opening day of the season. Here’s what to expect…

Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur

Football clubs preach the need to appoint similar types of manager to suit the clubs’ characteristics, prompting evolution rather than revolution upon their appointment. Spurs appear to be going down the complete opposite route, always appointing a manager in stark contrast from their predecessor, from back-to-basics man-manager, to tactical obsessive. Harry Redknapp to Andre Villas-Boas, Tim Sherwood to Mauricio Pochettino. If Pochettino fails, they’ll probably turn to Dave Bassett.

There’s no reason to think Pochettino will fail, however. After an impressive 18-month period at Southampton, he takes charge of a squad that is packed with raw potential, and Pochettino should have his eye upon nothing less than a top four finish. The paradox of Spurs’ 2013/14 campaign is that they were badly mismanaged in two completely different ways, and yet they finished sixth, just ten points behind Arsenal in the final Champions League position.

Imagine what this squad would be capable of with strong, intelligent leadership.

We might not have to imagine. Last summer’s signings might have flopped, but they all have great potential and were recruited to play the style of football favoured by Villas-Boas, which isn’t entirely different from what Pochettino wants: heavy pressing, lots of ball possession.

Spurs might again suffer because of the Europa League, however. This time around they’ll be forced to compete in a two game play-off even before the group stage, and Pochettino must rotate his squad expertly to keep them fresh throughout the campaign – his high-energy approach depends upon physical fitness. It’s notable that Southampton put relatively little energy into cup competitions last year, and it might not be a disaster if they don’t get through the play-off round – although their calibre of opponent will be very weak.

There haven’t yet been significant signings or departures, but there is considerable ability in this Tottenham squad – it’s Pochettino’s job to bring the best out of them.

Ronald Koeman, Southampton

While Southampton fans will be nervous about the upcoming campaign having lost three fan favourites in Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Rickie Lambert, Ronald Koeman will be delighted at having the opportunity to shape the club. With between £60m and £70m in the bank, plus a raft of talented youngsters coming through the ranks, he has something of a blank canvas.

His first two purchases have been from Holland, prolific forward Graziano Pelle and tricky winger Dusan Tadic – on paper, they could be seen as replacements for Lambert and Lallana. Tadic looks set to develop into an excellent player but Pelle is more of a risk – Eredivisie goalscoring tallies don’t always translate successfully in the Premier League. Besides, Pelle’s goalscoring record was incredibly mediocre until the last two seasons, and at 29 he might have peaked already. It’s also worth remembering the quality of Lambert’s link play, which encouraged midfielders forward into attack. Pelle might not have that ability.

Koeman’s favoured style should suit Southampton’s squad, however. He likes playing an adventurous, attacking game and has stated his preference for bringing through youngsters, in line with many other Dutch coaches. He’s also traditionally favoured a high line and lots of midfield pressing, so there are certainly similarities between he and Pochettino.

In all, this seems a logical appointment, and Koeman will probably have Southampton playing good football by the midway point of the season. Nevertheless, both he and his signings will have to adjust to the Premier League, and it’s likely Southampton’s transfer business will be continuing throughout the first fortnight of the campaign. Currently around 7/1 to be relegated, this could be a good back-to-lay bet.

Alan Irvine, West Bromwich Albion

You can be forgiven for missing this news. On the day the rest of the football world was watching Colombia start their World Cup with a 3-0 thrashing of Greece, Costa Rica providing the first of many shocks with a 3-1 win over Uruguay, and England going down 2-1 to Italy, West Brom were appointing Alan Irvine as their new coach.

Irvine has Premier League experience having worked under David Moyes at Everton, though as a manager he has had just two spells with Preston and Sheffield Wednesday. He was sacked from both positions, albeit in difficult circumstances.

It’s difficult to feel too inspired by the appointment, and it feels as if West Brom are trying to recreate the success they tasted under Steve Clarke – himself only previously known as an assistant – in 2012/13. The club haven’t entirely recovered from his premature sacking last year, and it’s worth wondering whether they’d be in a better position had they given Clarke more time.

Nevertheless, this is a huge opportunity for Irvine. His signings so far have been quietly encouraging – Joleon Lescott brings title-winning experience, Craig Gardner and Chris Baird are the type of solid, reliable and versatile players every squad needs, although new Belgian left-back Sebastien Pocognoli is rather inconsistent.

The question, though, is about Irvine’s man-management and tactical skills – and the answer is that we genuinely don’t know, because of his complete lack of experience at this level. Whereas Clarke became renowned as a defensive specialist at the various clubs he worked for, Irvine’s role alongside Moyes was always less certain because of Moyes’ tendency to do everything himself, from transfers to training ground sessions. This is a step into the unknown for West Brom, and for Irvine, and it’s difficult to make any serious predictions at this stage.

Louis van Gaal, Manchester United

For those unaware of Van Gaal’s managerial style, the Netherlands’ World Cup campaign was a decent introduction. He’s a serial formation switcher, changing between a back three and a four-man defence to ensure he always has a spare man against the opposition forwards, and he asks for heavy pressing – which means man-marking at times – throughout the midfield zone, combined with a high defensive line.

The major difference is that the Dutch generally played on the counter-attack, because they were lacking a midfielder who could dictate play in the absence of Kevin Strootman. Manchester United fans are accustomed to their side being on the front foot, and that will continue under the Dutchman.

The club will undergo a significant transformation, however. The appointment of David Moyes was a failed effort to continue the philosophy of Sir Alex Ferguson, but Van Gaal is an entirely different type of coach in a tactical sense – perhaps more methodical and more flexible, even if he returns Ferguson’s harsh, strict demeanour.

The biggest change will be in defence, where Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra’s departures will see a completely different backline: more mobile and playing higher up the pitch. In turn, this allows the midfield to move higher and the forwards to play closer to goal. Van Gaal isn’t a ‘build from the back’ type of manager in the mould of George Graham’s Arsenal or Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea – in fact, the defence is entirely flexible – but the change in approach of the defensive unit will essentially define the side overall.

The arrivals of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera make sense. They’re both young, energetic and Van Gaal will look forward to moulding them into ‘his’ type of player – he rarely likes working with veterans. The apparent pursuit of Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen is more surprising on paper, but he’s the type of proactive centre-back he likes, and is able to play wide in a back three, or even out at left-back when needed.

Van Gaal has his critics, but he generally gets results – United are trading at just under evens to finish in the top 3 on Betfair, which seems a good bet.

Posted in , Premier League, Zonal Marking | 0 comments

July 17th, 2014 by Michael Cox

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