As we head into the final week of the top-flight campaign, we’ve created a five-man shortlist of Premier League Manager of the Season contenders…
Pep Guardiola (Man City)
Let’s be honest, the Premier League Manager of the Season accolade is usually awarded to the boss who wins the league. It’s happened in 23 of the 27 editions since the inaugural prize was handed out back in 1994.
Pep Guardiola has claimed the individual managerial award both times he bagged the title, and he looks well positioned to increase his tally to three after City were crowned champions for the third time under his watch.
No doubt wounded by the gargantuan 18 point gap last season, the Man City manager initially stuttered out of the blocks this term, with his side down in 11th in November. However, he’s since waved his managerial wand and successfully regained the Premier League trophy, and is now a single victory away from winning the league, League Cup, and Champions League treble.
Guardiola’s tinkering may be the scourge of Fantasy Football managers worldwide but his unpredictable yet devastatingly effective team selections have also bamboozled Premier League managers, while his frequent rotation has crucially kept his galaxy of stars both fresh and motivated in all competitions.
The partnership of new boy Ruben Dias and a rejuvenated John Stones has been fundamental to City’s league dominance, as was Ilkay Gundogan’s remarkable mid-season purple patch.
While no longer a guaranteed starter Fernandinho’s leadership has been immense, Guardiola’s handling of Phil Foden has been spot on, and let’s not forget Joao Cancelo’s integral role as a full-back/playmaker.
But while City have a stunning array of individual players, it’s as a collective in which they’ve thrived. The way they pass and move in a whirlwind of Sky Blue movement is simply mesmerising.
Furthermore, Guardiola’s team have arguably been at their best without a recognised striker on the pitch; the employment of a false nine system has spread out the goals, which can come from anyone at any time.
Guardiola, who described his ninth league title as a manager as the hardest title success yet, continues to evolve and enhance his reputation as one of the greatest managers ever through his tactical masterstrokes, a relentless desire to win, and his ever-increasing trophy collection.
Last 10 Winners: Premier League Manager of the Season
2020: Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
2019: Pep Guardiola (Man City)
2018: Pep Guardiola (Man City)
2017: Antonio Conte (Chelsea)
2016: Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City)
2015: Jose Mourinho (Chelsea)
2014: Tony Pulis (Crystal Palace)
2013: Sir Alex Ferguson (Man Utd)
2012: Alan Pardew (Newcastle)
2011: Sir Alex Ferguson (Man Utd)
Pep Guardiola is well positioned to win the managerial gong for a third time
Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City)
Despite agonisingly missing out on the title in 2014, the then Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was crowned LMA Manager of the Year that season. Fast-forward seven years and he’s now got a decent crack of winning the Premier League managerial gong with current side Leicester City.
After all, how many managers can claim to have conjured up a 5-2 victory against Pep Guardiola?
In his second full season at Leicester, Rodgers has once again hijacked the traditional ‘top-six’ with his Foxes side all set to secure back-to-back top-five finishes, although this time it’s hoped that they can claim a Champions League spot.
They will deserve it too, as they’ve been brilliant at times this season. There’s the aforementioned five-star performance at the Etihad, which you can add to victories at Old Trafford, the Emirates, and the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, while they’ve recorded wins at home to Liverpool and Chelsea.
Who is your Premier League Manager of the Season, and why? 👔🤔
— The Sack Race (@thesackrace) May 17, 2021
We already know that Rodgers is an elite coach. This season he’s overseen the brilliant breakthrough of James Justin, Harvey Barnes also thrived until he too was injured, while his patient approach to the talented Kelechi Iheanacho has resulted in an abundance of goals in recent months. Rodgers has recruited brilliantly too in the form of Timothy Castagne and Wesley Fofana.
There have been bumps in the road – they’ve lost eight times at home and were recently thumped by Newcastle – and like many teams they’ve suffered multiple injuries, but the progress of this team is as clear as daylight.
And while we know this is strictly a Premier League award, you simply can’t ignore the fact that Rodgers memorably won Leicester their first ever FA Cup trophy and took them into the latter stages of the Europa League.
Brendan Rodgers is enjoying an excellent campaign
David Moyes (West Ham)
David Moyes has already been named Manager of the Year at the London Football Awards, and few would begrudge the resurrected Scot from claiming the Premier League equivalent after he transformed West Ham from relegation strugglers into top-four challengers.
It’s been a quite brilliant turnaround for a club that finished 16th last season, when they just about avoided the dreaded drop. While they are now likely to just miss out on their spirited push for a Champions League spot, they could still claim what would be only a second top-six Premier League finish in their history.
While West Ham’s fellow top-four rivals boast supremely talented squads and bigger budgets, Moyes has more than proved his credentials as a coach and excellent man-manager.
If a key aspect of management is the ability to improve both players and the team as a whole then the Scot has excelled.
He’s built a fit, physical, and difficult to beat side who have been devastating at times. There’s also been a mentality shift, which has been integral to their progression.
Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal in particular have been excellent under the Scot, Declan Rice’s status in the game continues to rise rapidly, while the signing of Jesse Lingard was an absolute masterstroke.
West Ham are well-drilled and organised but don’t mistake that for being unadventurous. They’ve been great to watch. They’ve been involved in numerous high-scoring thrillers, and are on course for one of their highest-scoring Premier League seasons ever.
Meanwhile, only two clubs have currently won more games on home soil, an area which previously troubled the Iron. The next challenge will be thriving in front of their fans.
Speaking of the supporters, pride in the side has come streaming back thanks to Moyes. In truth, it’s difficult to think of another manager who has so positively reconstructed his own narrative in recent years.
David Moyes has transformed West Ham into top-four challengers
Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds)
Premier League survival is usually the main goal of most promotion winning managers, but Marcelo Bielsa isn’t like any other manager.
The Leeds boss has significantly built on his side’s Championship title triumph by propelling his side into the top-half of the top-flight, where they will definitely finish if they win either of their two remaining games (or if Aston Villa lose either of theirs).
We’ve heard it so many times already this season, but Leeds really have been sensational to watch: a white blizzard of high-octane football.
Their swashbuckling, attacking, and never tiring style of play has caught the imagination of football fans up-and-down the country.
At the time of writing El Loca’s men have outscored a Chelsea side which spent over £150m on attacking players last summer.
Bielsa snatched four points off his disciple and title-winner Pep Guardiola. The first point was an enthralling 1-1 draw at Elland Road, eclipsed by the incredible 2-1 victory at the Etihad in which the visitors spent the majority of the game with 10 men.
It’s important to note that within their squad Leeds still have many of the same players who had finished in the bottom-half of the Championship prior to the appointment of Bielsa in the summer of 2018: We’re talking the likes of Liam Cooper, Mateusz Klich, Kalvin Phillips, Stuart Dallas, Ezgjan Alioski, and Luke Ayling. He’s also transformed Patrick Bamford into a top-flight sharpshooter, placed his trust in young keeper Illan Meslier, and allowed Raphinha to dazzle.
It’s testimony to Bielsa’s meticulous workrate, playing style, team-spirit, and ability to improve players that he’s taken what was a pretty average crop of players into an exciting team who have smashed into the Premier League top-10 at the first time of asking.
Marcelo Bielsa: A true entertainer
Dean Smith (Aston Villa)
On another day we could have included Thomas Tuchel or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in this shortlist of five.
To his credit Solskjaer has now swatted away most of his critics – and there were a lot – with Man Utd set to finish top of the chasing back.
Meanwhile, Tuchel has motivated and got the best out of a highly-talented group of players who have now realised their potential en route to two cup finals and a potential top-four finish. Both bosses have also impressed on the continent.
However, this specific award concerns performances in the Premier League, and with that said Dean Smith has pipped the duo on this shortlist thanks to Aston Villa’s transformation since last season.
Smith’s probably not going to win the managerial award – view him as a wild card – but he definitely deserves praise.
Granted, he’s had cash to splash since he won promotion with Villa in 2019. But after an extremely testing first campaign back in the big time in which he secured survival on the very last day, the previously under-fire Smith has enjoyed a creditable 2020/21 campaign.
Smith inspired Villa to their best start in 90 years and his troops were challenging for a spot in the top-six, however the injury to star man Jack Grealish proved pretty devastating; Villa are by no means a one-man team but losing their talisman was a hammer blow; imagine if Bruno Fernandes had suffered a similar injury at Man Utd, the same with Mo Salah at Liverpool, or Harry Kane at Spurs.
As a result, Villa’s European hopes faded and it now looks like they will have to settle for 11th, which is still a significant improvement upon last season’s 17th.
In fact, Villa have improved all aspects of their game; they’ve won more matches, accrued more points, enhanced their goal tally, and conceded far less. At their best they have been breathtaking going forward and stubborn at the back.
The 7-2 obliteration of defending champions Liverpool is one of the greatest results in Premier League history.
Keeper Emiliano Martínez has been one of the signings of the season, the aforementioned Grealish has been exceptional, while Villa’s all-English defensive foursome were very effective in the opening-half of the season.
While it’s easy to dwell on Villa’s stuttering conclusion to the campaign, you simply can’t write off how good they were before Christmas. On the whole the club can draw multiple positives.
Football can be fickle at times, but Smith definitely deserves a large slice of credit for Villa’s evolution.
Dean Smith’s Aston Villa are transformed since they escaped the drop last season