Guardiola, Klopp, Mourinho, Conte, Wenger, Pochettino, Koeman: Verdict after 10 games
Guardiola, Klopp, Mourinho, Conte, Wenger, Pochettino, Koeman: Verdict after 10 games
The Premier League is taking shape after 10 games and many of the usual suspects are assembling near the top of the table.
It gives the league a familiar appearance – but this season there is a new dimension, with the battle of the superstar managers well under way.
Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have taken charge at Manchester City and Manchester United, Antonio Conte is the latest arrival at Chelsea, while Jurgen Klopp is in his first full season at Liverpool and Ronald Koeman is making an impressive start at Everton.
Who has impressed and who has underwhelmed?
Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Pep Guardiola is the appointment Manchester City longed to make – and it has been justified as they sit top of the table and on a high after a magnificent 3-1 win against Barcelona in the Champions League.
Saturday’s 4-0 victory at West Bromwich Albion ended a six-game winless run. It restored City’s equilibrium as they faltered after opening with six straight league wins.
City’s world-class stars such as Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne are in prime form while Ilkay Gundogan looks a class act, scoring twice against Barcelona.
Confidence will be overflowing after Barcelona were beaten in a manner that spoke eloquently about Guardiola’s methods and that will strengthen belief between manager and players, as well as fans.
Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)
Arsenal are back in business after a stuttering start to the season that saw them lose 4-3 at home to Liverpool and draw away at champions Leicester.
Manager Arsene Wenger remained calm amid heavy early criticism and has been rewarded with seven Premier League wins from eight games – with the added bonus of being in a good position to finish top of their Champions League group.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are influencing games, Theo Walcott is excelling at club level – and are they now showing that added touch of steel that might actually make them prime title contenders?
Wenger looks rejuvenated and the Gunners look good.
Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
Is any side – or manager – more exciting to watch at the moment than Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp?
Klopp’s effervescent and positive personality is reflected in his team as they have become a free-scoring, all-out attacking combination based on the quartet of £34m summer signing Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana.
Early days yet, but this Liverpool side – led by the charismatic Klopp – is showing some of the characteristics of the group that almost won the title in 2013-14.
Klopp has built a team in his own image in 12 months.
Antonio Conte (Chelsea)
Antonio Conte has optimism rising at Chelsea after they suffered emotional lows with dreadful performances in the 2-1 home defeat by Liverpool and the 3-0 reverse at Arsenal.
The Italian held his nerve, changed his system and is now getting the best out of stellar performers such as Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, who lost their way last season as Jose Mourinho was sacked.
Four straight league wins, including a 4-0 thrashing of Mourinho’s Manchester United, has ignited hopes they might be in title contention again this season.
Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham)
It is strange that spirits are low at Spurs as they still remain the only unbeaten Premier League team after 10 games – but they are in danger of going out of the Champions League and have struggled to cope without injured striker Harry Kane.
The blistering performance in beating Manchester City 2-0 illustrated the potential of a team that pushed Leicester City so hard for the title last season but three successive league draws have halted momentum.
Confidence appears fragile at present but Sunday’s visit to Arsenal presents a big opportunity to rebuild. A win could change everything.
Ronald Koeman (Everton)
Ronald Koeman has brought instant stature, respect and experience to Everton and he has had a big impact on an off the pitch to put them in sixth place after 10 games.
Koeman inherited a shambles from the sacked Roberto Martinez after Everton finished 11th last season but he, and a fervent fanbase, can be quietly satisfied with a start that has been solid, if unspectacular – so a higher rating, given where they have come from.
Jose Mourinho (Manchester United)
It has been a strange start to Jose Mourinho’s reign at Old Trafford as they lie in eighth place, eight points off the leading pack after four games without a league win, including that 4-0 beating at Chelsea.
There is an unsettled air around Manchester United, with Mourinho downbeat and already in conflict with authority after getting a fine and touchline ban, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring only once in 11 games and uncertainty surrounding captain Wayne Rooney.
Very, very underwhelming from Mourinho and United.
Have they improved on last season?
Manchester City moved back to the top of the league after their 10th game last season – a dull derby draw at Old Trafford. They have got one more point, 23, this season.
A year on there is a mood swing away from the low-key approach of Manuel Pellegrini to the moderniser Guardiola, arguably world football’s most celebrated manager.
At the same stage they had scored the same number of goals, 24, and conceded one fewer (eight). This season City have had 64.93% average possession, played 5,913 passes with a completion rate of 85.3% – last season they had had 57.8% and had made 5,506 passes.
The biggest change is simply the mood and approach. City’s players now look more bold and motivated under Guardiola.
Arsenal were also in second place after 10 games last season, again level on points with Manchester City on 22. The Gunners, however, have been more been more potent, scoring 23 as against 18 although they have conceded 10 this time around as opposed to eight.
As with City, the big change is the feeling that this Arsenal side looks better equipped to maintain their form for the long haul – whether this faith is justified remains to be seen.
Klopp was only two games into his Liverpool reign last season and they were in ninth position after a 1-1 draw with Southampton in his first Anfield league game.
The transformation in 12 months is clear as Liverpool are level on points with City and Arsenal, with Klopp’s attacking approach reflected in the statistics. For a start they have 23 points compared to 14.
Liverpool have scored 24 goals compared to just nine at the same stage last season. This is level best with Manchester City, although they have conceded 13 as opposed to 11 after 10 games last term.
Klopp is prepared to trade the odd defensive lapse in exchange for firepower up front – and it is an exciting approach.
A freakish set of comparison figures here when set against last season. This time last season Chelsea were 15th as the then champions collapsed under Jose Mourinho.
Chelsea had already conceded 19 goals compared to nine this time around and had lost five games compared to two this season – exceptional circumstances reflecting the turbulence.
After Guus Hiddink steadied the ship last season and Conte’s appointment, Chelsea are now sailing in calmer waters and have already collected twice as many points as the 11 they had this time a year ago.
Spurs were sixth after 10 games last season and despite a recent dip, things look more favourable this season as they are fifth and the last unbeaten team in the Premier League.
They have found goals slightly more difficult to come by this season, 14 as against 16 last term, although they have only conceded five as against eight at the same time last year. They have three more points with 20.
Everton look and act like a different team under the organised and structured Koeman compared with the carefree, almost reckless approach of Martinez – and it shows.
They are sixth rather than 11th last season and have scored more goals and conceded fewer than in the first 10 games under Martinez last year. Everton have scored 15 compared to 13, have conceded only eight goals compared to 13 and have five more points on 18.
So are Manchester United better off under Jose Mourinho than Louis van Gaal?
Not yet – although plenty will say the football is better this season after lavish spending on the likes of Pogba, Ibrahimovic and the lesser-spotted Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
United are eighth compared to fourth last season and have five fewer points on 15 than they did under Van Gaal. They had scored 15 goals, two more, last season and only conceded eight compared to 12 this time around.
Fair to say this has been under-achievement by Mourinho so far.
Who’s getting their game plan right?
Questions have been asked about Guardiola’s decision to shunt England keeper Joe Hart so unceremoniously towards the door – and at this stage Claudio Bravo, a £17m signing from Barcelona, does not look like an upgrade.
Guardiola, however, is not afraid to take the big decisions, including leaving Sergio Aguero out of the 4-0 Champions League loss in Barcelona.
He has built his new City around Aguero, De Bruyne, Silva and Raheem Sterling. The young England winger has almost become a project for Guardiola and has matured rapidly.
Guardiola may need to keep adapting as teams attempt to stifle City’s passing game with pressing – but so far so good and his signature style is all over this side.
Wenger addressed the problems in central defence and midfield with the purchases of Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka – but it is in attack where Wenger is hitting the jackpot.
Alexis Sanchez scored twice in the 4-1 win at Sunderland. He has been involved in eight goals in his last eight league appearances. He has scored six league goals, while Theo Walcott has five.
Wenger’s Arsenal is working smoothly in all departments and when this is happening it is a wonderful sight.
Klopp’s tactical imprint runs through Liverpool’s side. He has had a full summer to work on his “gegenpressing” approach. Opponents are not given a second’s peace.
The attacking quartet mentioned defend from the front, which explains why Daniel Sturridge has been marginalised, while the arrival of Gini Wijnaldum has brought composure alongside Jordan Henderson in midfield.
Klopp must work on Liverpool’s defending and fragile goalkeeper Loris Karius – but his decision not to sign a left-back and convert James Milner has proved inspired.
The German may need a “Plan B” when teams dig in, as Burnley did in inflicting Liverpool’s only league loss, and Manchester United, but this is now a Klopp team.
Good marks to Conte for proactive management to turn Chelsea’s slump around.
Conte insisted he would find “a solution” after Chelsea lost at Arsenal – and so it proved as he reverted to his tried and trusted three-man defence that brought success at Juventus.
David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta were the men deputed with the task, while the deployment of Victor Moses as a right-sided wing-back has been a revelation.
Chelsea have won four league games without conceding a goal and are back in the top four.
Pochettino’s big problem has been Tottenham’s inability to replace Kane’s goals.
Spurs have played 903 minutes without Kane since he was injured against Sunderland on 18 September. They have scored 13 times in that period, including five against Gillingham in the EFL Cup.
The manner in which they disposed of Manchester City without Kane has proved an exception rather than the rule. Son Heung-min is not a goalscorer in the Kane mould while Vincent Janssen has not yet settled after his £17m transfer from AZ Alkmaar.
Kane’s return, perhaps at Arsenal this Sunday, will make Pochettino’s life much easier.
Koeman made it his priority to shore up a defence that conceded 55 goals under Martinez last season and almost considered defending at set pieces an optional extra.
The experienced, uncompromising Wales captain Ashley Williams replaced John Stones following his £47.5m move to Manchester City, while Idrissa Gueye provides a midfield security blanket after his £7m switch from Aston Villa.
The pair are crucial to Everton’s improvement. They have only conceded two goals on one occasion in the league this season, the 2-1 loss at Burnley. A record of conceding 14 goals from set plays last season, “crazy” according to Koeman, has been addressed.
Koeman relies heavily on the goals of striker Romelu Lukaku but he has made great strides on Everton’s biggest problem.
The big question is whether Mourinho yet knows what his best Manchester United team is – a conundrum reflected in results.
Is it playing Ibrahimovic up front on his own and two wide players? One holding midfield man or two? Three central defenders or two? Who plays as the “Number 10” – Rooney or Mata? And does playing anyone there stifle £89m world record signing Pogba?
Work to do for Mourinho.