Arsenal and Chelsea: Sarri and Emery joining a stellar Premier League cast
This season in the Premier League promises to be a spectacle as the Top Six bring a wealth of managerial talent into the division.
Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
In the heady days after Leicester City rolled over us like a dream in the 2015/16 season, one of the pervasive narratives that was being peddled across the footballing fraternities of England was that the Premier League deserved to be watched because it offered a smorgasbord of the world’s best coaches.
Prompted by the incarnation of Pep Guardiola who, in answer to the often-asked query, had finally set foot upon England’s green and pleasant land, many pundits were asking whether or not the managerial menagerie of the Premier League was now unquestionably the best league in the world.
With the recently-deposed Special One re-instated to the league at Manchester United along with the [insert cliche here]-playing German Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, an eclectic mix of managers that already included Mauricio Pochettino and Arsene Wenger was set to become even better.
And yet in the course of the next nine months, any pregnancy of potential remained unfulfilled. Klopp and Guardiola grimly hung on to a Champions League spot. Mourinho only qualified for the Champions League through a fortuitous run in the Europa League. And it was a Chelsea team who had looked anything other than convincing in their first six games who eventually cantered to the league title without really being seriously challenged by anyone.
Falling into the same trap?
Fast forward two seasons and the more cynical amongst you could suggest that the same trap it being fallen into: the headiness of a recently-concluded World Cup; a new influx of exciting players and managers; the void of pre-season opening out for the production of the discourse upon which the global media feast.
Most notably, though, something has occurred this summer that has not happened since before New Labour promised us things could only get better: we are going into a new season of the Premier League without Arsene Wenger casting a desultory eye over the running of Arsenal Football Club.
Now however highly in the esteem Wenger is held, it is hard to swing to the last half decade as anything less than the decline and fall of a once great manager. Even with the peppering of FA Cups that have accompanied him through the years of his dotage, the Frenchman has been left behind in the ever-regenerating world that modern football has become.
The chance to see anyone, let alone one of Europe’s premier managers (his time at Paris Saint-Germain notwithstanding), replace him gives the fast-approaching season something of an edge on those more recent.
Into the melting pot
Any intrigue about the upcoming Premier League, though, goes beyond the merely dramatic and encompasses the tactical as well.
In English football, we are about to witness a gathering of some of the finest minds in world football deploying a number of different approaches to the game with a level of financial clout behind them that should produce a real spectacle in the coming months.
After Pep Guardiola ‘completed’ the Premier League last year, you might have expected commentators to be somewhat less sanguine about the prospect of a re-run of a Manchester City title-winning season.
But there are reasons for buoyancy: Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have been on an upward trajectory ever since his arrival in England and, with the sort of signings that the German has been adding to his squad in recent weeks, a closely-fought Premier League race shouldn’t be out of the question.
Added to this, Tottenham continue to impress under Mauricio Pochettino and, even without anything in the way of a marquee signing in North London, Spurs will be a tough prospect to overcome for any opponent.
As for Mourinho: while the football may have been turgid for neutrals and frustrating for the Manchester United fan base, the sinister reality that the Portuguese remains one of the finest tactical minds in the world will mean his inclusion in the mix of Top Six managers a positive one. Will this be the season, we wonder, in which Mourinho finally ‘gets’ Manchester United?
New boys on the block
This leaves one final ingredient: the two new boys on the block.
Maurizio Sarri, on the one hand, is an exciting prospect. Described by Pep Guardiola as ‘one of the coaches I admire the most’, Sarri encourages his teams to play an exciting brand of football which marries together lung-busting pressing with intricate passing combinations designed to move the ball down the field with devastating speed.
This is not the ambulatory pragmatism of Antonio Conte – a seeking to make do with what you have – and indicates an attempt by the ownership at Chelsea to begin inculcating a ‘style’ at Stamford Bridge: an idealism, a playing of the game in the way it ‘should’ be played.
If there is any replacement of Conte in the Premier League, it is across the city in the Emirates Stadium. Unai Emery, although by no means a direct correlate to his Italian counterpart, is as close a pragmatist you can get before becoming Jose Mourinho.
Criticised for an over-reliance on a system which has a tendency to stifle creativity, Emery is more likely to build a patchwork blanket of a team at Arsenal, blending together the available materials into something approaching a coherent whole.
This should not, though, mean that he should be underestimated. Next season Arsenal will marry together elements of the Positional Play favoured by Pochettino and Guardiola with a high pressing game that you might expect to see from Sarri with the result that the Gunners could be a surprise prospect come August.
The Year of the Manager?
This, then, could be the Year of the Manager: a number of the world’s best pitting their wits against formidable opponents.
With Guardiola bedded in, Klopp looking ominous, Pochettino in his prime, Mourinho at the crossroads and now two new exceptional managers to join them, the Premier League might not know what is about it hit it.
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