Early expectations prove unrealistic for even biggest managers
“Expectations can be a really big problem. It’s like a backpack with 20 kilos more,” Jurgen Klopp said in 2015.
Few are as familiar with that weight. The German gaffer’s arrival at Liverpool eight matches into the 2015-16 campaign led to heightened ambitions a quarter-century after the Reds’ last league conquest, but those prospects were swiftly dampened.
Success does not come quickly, nor does it come easily.
At Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri and Arsenal’s Unai Emery experienced their first London derby, and with it, some of the pressure of managing two of England’s biggest sides. While Emery’s recovery project after 22 years of Arsene Wenger is a tougher ask than Sarri’s, both are attempting to initiate game plans that differ from those of their predecessors.
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Like Sarri and Emery, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Mauricio Pochettino, and Klopp took high-profile jobs with some degree of lofty expectations for their performance, and the quartet experienced growing pains while instituting their respective football ideologies.
Here’s a glance at how the four gaffers got on in their first years in charge:
Manchester City finished third in Pep Guardiola’s maiden campaign at the Etihad after initially storming to the apex of the division with victories in the club’s first six league affairs, outscoring opponents 18-5 over that stretch. Even with the derby win at Old Trafford, however, the average final position of City’s first six adversaries was 12.5; it was more a forgiving welcome than a baptism by fire.
Paired with a straightforward 6-0 aggregate result over Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League qualifying round, and City started the Catalan tactician’s reign in dominant attacking form. An underwhelming October and challenging run-in to the congested holiday slate was City’s undoing, with league defeats to Chelsea, Leicester City, and Liverpool in December the catalyst for the club’s slide to third.
The mercurial Portuguese gaffer arrived at Manchester United tasked with improving on Louis van Gaal’s fifth-placed finish in 2015-16, and the Red Devils started the campaign with a win in the Community Shield over Leicester and three wins on the trot in the league. Mourinho and Co. then tasted defeat against City and at Watford before destroying the Foxes 4-1 in the sixth Premier League match of the season.
United lost just five league matches in 2016-17, joint-second fewest with eventual winner Chelsea, but their season was defined by a failure to see out results, with Mourinho leading the club to a league-high 15 draws. A fortuitous slate in Europe and the League Cup led the former Real Madrid manager to pivot priorities, opting for strong squads and winning both competitions.
It’s a bit unfair to draw sweeping conclusions from Klopp’s first season at Liverpool after he took over for Brendan Rodgers in October. Prior to Klopp’s arrival, Liverpool paired two defeats with three stalemates in its first eight matches. The former Borussia Dortmund boss followed suit with draws in his first two matches at Spurs and home to Southampton.
A squad rife with holes compared to Klopp’s current roster, Liverpool did not have the pieces to play the manager’s high-energy Gegenpress in 2015-16. Still, under Klopp, Liverpool reached the finals of the Europa League and League Cup, bowing out to Sevilla and Manchester City, respectively. An eighth-placed finish in the league saw the Reds miss out on Europe for Klopp’s first full term in charge.
If the previous three managers arrived at their respective clubs with high expectations, forecasts for Mauricio Pochettino’s appointment were relatively tempered. Spurs entered the season under the Argentine in a six-year trophy drought and without a top-three league finish since 1989-90. Matters started brightly for Tottenham with derby victories over West Ham and QPR to begin the season, though things quickly went pear-shaped.
Spurs lost five of their next nine league fixtures, but in a similar vein to Klopp’s adopted first team at Anfield, Pochettino was short on both options and players fitting the profile he required. Younes Kaboul, Vlad Chiriches, and Federico Fazio made 41 combined league appearances at center-half, while Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason were two of the most-played midfielders. Spurs finished fifth in the league, six points adrift of rivals Arsenal, and lost the League Cup final to Chelsea.
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