Maurizio Sarri leads way for Premier League newcomers at Chelsea

Paul Wilson on 12 September 2018

There are no fewer than seven new managers in the Premier League this season, four of them completely new – Maurizio Sarri, Unai Emery, Nuno Espírito Santo and Slavisa Jokanovic – and three others with previous experience but in new club situations. As the domestic programme returns with two from the latter group meeting at Goodison Park, it is already evident that at least one of the fresh faces – if Manuel Pellegrini has ever been thus described – is under pressure.

Before we move into the nitty-gritty of the season, with everyone still in the period of grace that precedes the sack race, here is a quick résumé of how the new intake have fared in the first month.

Sarri at Chelsea is the obvious standout performer, with maximum points after four games. That is the sort of flying start Chelsea used to make when they had title-winning pretensions under José Mourinho, and it reflects a lot of credit on a coach who has never worked outside Italy before and who enjoys only a limited command of English.

Credit is also due to the Chelsea board, who knew they had little room for error when replacing the troublesome yet still popular and successful Antonio Conte, but seem to have done their homework well.

Granted, Chelsea have the sort of quality in their squad that should please most managers and make a good start to the season a minimum requirement, yet so do Manchester United and Manchester City, and in neither case was their opening month without blemish. No one can say Chelsea have not yet played anyone either: they beat Arsenal in Sarri’s second match in charge and then went up to Newcastle to prevail against the fortified lines of a Rafa Benítez defence.

Chelsea are already playing in a noticeably different style under Sarri – a quick, short-passing game that will only become slicker as the season progresses, and for the moment at least a sometimes difficult squad appears happy and harmonious. Full marks to all concerned for now; for a more precise indicator of progress, keep an eye open for the two meetings with Liverpool at the end of the month, first in the Carabao Cup at Anfield, then in the league at Stamford Bridge.

At the other and of the scale, quite literally, we find Pellegrini and his pointless, some have even said gutless, West Ham side. Bottom of the table was not what was expected when the Irons spent £100m in the summer and brought Pellegrini back from China on a three-year deal, and while the wisdom of that appointment can be debated elsewhere – the Chilean turns 65 on Sunday – what is not in question is that West Ham need points on the board as quickly as possible and must produce a fighting performance to satisfy their critics.

It is reasonable to point out that the fixture list has not been especially kind to Pellegrini and his players. They were at Liverpool and Arsenal on their first two away trips, though on the other hand being beaten at home by both Bournemouth and Wolves suggests a deeper malaise. The new manager needs to sort that out pretty quickly, for Chelsea and Manchester United come hard on the heels of Everton and boardroom votes of confidence will count for little if West Ham cannot at least show themselves capable of climbing the table.

Fulham
Fulham players celebrate against Burnley, during a performance that brought encouragement for Slavisa Jokanovic. Photograph: Ian Tuttle/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

Pellegrini is in a more difficult situation than he perhaps realised, with players still getting to know each other and fans remaining unhappy about the loss of identity involved with the change of stadium, though at present he is accused of not knowing his best team.

Marco Silva at Everton is six points better off, with the club already sitting in their default position of seventh in the table, yet anyone who witnessed the tame draw with Huddersfield in the last home game will conform there is room for improvement at Goodison. Everton are unbeaten, which is certainly something, yet they have only one win to show from their first four matches, when Richarlison provided the winner against Southampton in August. The Brazilian’s suspension for his daft red card at Bournemouth has not helped matters but, whether Richarlison is in the side or not, Everton were expecting more this season than draws with Wolves, Bournemouth and Huddersfield.

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Emery at the Emirates has two wins under his belt, one more than Silva, yet Arsenal trail Everton in the league because of losing their first two games. Since they were against Manchester City and Chelsea there seems no particular disgrace in that and, if Arsenal were not at their most convincing when picking up subsequent wins against West Ham and Cardiff, their supporters and ever-voluble critics might just have to get used to it.

Emery seems a good fit for a club just about to take on Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League and one hopes the Arsenal following will become sufficiently excited if the new manager brings his expertise in that competition to bear. There’s no getting away from it, Arsenal have been a cup side for many years now. It seems a little unfair to expect Emery to instantly make giant strides in the league when even managers such as Mourinho, Mauricio Pochettino and Jürgen Klopp have been frustrated in recent seasons.

Of the promoted sides, Nuno’s Wolves have reached mid-table with a win and two draws, though that might be expected of a side that won last season’s Championship by an impressive nine-point margin. Equally impressive is that fact that one of those draws came against Manchester City, the new manager thereby achieving a feat that eluded most of his Premier League counterparts last season. As long as they can hold on to their best players through the January sales Wolves look comfortable in the top flight, which is not something that can be said of Cardiff, runners-up in the Championship last season. Neil Warnock’s side are still without a win and face Chelsea and Manchester City in their next two games, so good luck with that.

Fulham are doing slightly better, having recovered from a poor start to post a most encouraging win against Burnley then pick up a creditable draw at Brighton. Jokanovic looks to have the players to stay out of trouble, even if Fulham’s unity will be tested by a trip to the Etihad on Saturday, while Warnock seems to be doing his usual thing of earning promotion then hitting a wall in the top flight.

It is far too early to talk in terms of relegation or survival, though it is noticeable already that five teams at the bottom have yet to record a win, Cardiff and West Ham among them. Warnock’s best hope might be that Huddersfield, Burnley and Newcastle continue to struggle. Pellegrini cannot even hope for that much. He is not the best manager for a relegation scrap and he will not be allowed the time anyway. He needs to show West Ham are in a false position. All the available evidence suggests that will be no easy task.

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