With the 2018-19 Premier League season out of the way, The Hard Tackle takes a look at the five best managers from the competition, in our End of Season Awards.
The Premier League boasts of some of the best managers in the game currently, with Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Mauricio Pochettino all starting the 2018-19 season in the English top-flight, while they were joined by the likes of Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri.
In an era when the smallest of the manager’s actions are put under intense scrutiny, naturally there is a lot of pressure involved. It is he who is tasked with shaping the success of the club and putting in a solid base for the team to build upon and grow.
Over the course of the 2018-19 season, six managers were sacked – Mourinho getting the axe from Manchester United in December being the most high-profile among them – while there was another casualty as soon as the campaign ended. At the same time, there were several managers – some very surprising, some not so much, who made a huge mark in the 2018-19 term.
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As part of our End of Season Award series here are the top five managers who shone the brightest in the recently concluded edition of the Premier League. But, before you proceed, make sure that you’ve voted for the best goalkeeper, centre-back, full-back pairing, midfielder, winger and striker of the season.
On to the list of the top five Managers of the 2018-19 Premier League now;
Pep Guardiola [Manchester City]
The first manager to retain the Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson did it a decade ago. The third ever manager to successfully defend the Premier League title after Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, during his first stint with Chelsea. The first ever manager to win a domestic treble in men’s football in England. Need I say more?
Pep Guardiola has taken his title-winning team from the 2017-18 campaign to another level this time out. Pushed to the brink by a relentless Liverpool outfit, Manchester City showed great grit, determination and mental toughness, while maintaining the captivating brand of football that they have become known for under the former Barcelona boss.
98 points amassed, most goals scored by any team in the competition, the second best defence in the league, this City side under Guardiola has etched itself in history as one of the best teams in the Premier League era. A dip in form towards the turn of the year threatened to derail their title campaign, but the way Guardiola marshalled his troops to take back control of the title race is commendable.
There will be quite a few who will argue that Guardiola is a chequebook manager, but the Catalan did not get his intended midfield targets this past summer with both Jorginho and Fred joining direct rivals, while he had to make do without the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Benjamin Mendy for long phases of the season with injuries.
Yet, he got the best out of players like Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling, while extracting the maximum out of someone like Oleksandr Zinchenko, who was considered a fringe player when the season kicked off. There will be disappointment over the Champions League exit, but the work Guardiola has done since taking the reins at Etihad is exemplary to say the least.
Jurgen Klopp [Liverpool]
Ever since Jurgen Klopp took over the reins at Liverpool in 2015, there has been a feeling of something special being built at Anfield. And the three years of patience and hard work almost reaped rewards for the Merseyside giants, only for them to fall behind a slightly superior Manchester City side, which is no shame.
Klopp showed his intent early in the transfer window making important signings, addressing key areas after having guided his team to the Champions League final last time out. And since matchweek one, you knew that they meant business.
Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah and Sadio Mane were dangerous as ever, while Klopp had addressed the defensive issues that had blighted his team in the past by the inspired signing of Virgil van Dijk in January 2018 and the excellent summer acquisitions of goalkeeper Alisson and midfield general Fabinho.
Liverpool pushed Manchester City to the brink and managed to drag the title race till the final day of the season, only to be beaten by just a solitary point. The Reds finished the season with the best defensive record in the competition and with the second-highest number of goals scored, while losing only once throughout the campaign – that fateful defeat to Manchester City, which ultimately cost them the title.
Add to that, Klopp has once again led the Reds to a Champions League final. The scintillating heavy metal brand of football, the team spirit and the camaraderie within the squad, the development of talented young players like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson is a true testament of the work that Klopp has put in at Liverpool and under him this side will only continue to grow.
Nuno Espirito Santo [Wolves]
Wolves were the best team outside the top six of the Premier League this season and for them to have achieved such success in their first season after promotion from the second tier, a lot of the credit has to go to manager Nuno Espirito Santo.
Since taking over the Midlands’ club two years ago, Nuno has turned them into a force to be reckoned with. Having led them to the 2017-18 EFL Championship triumph, the Portuguese tactician built upon his excellent work in the Premier League, leading his side to a seventh place finish an FA Cup semi-final appearance, along with a spot in next season’s UEFA Europa League.
While a lot has been made of Nuno and Wolves’ connection with super agent Jorge Mendes, the manager deserves immense credit for getting his signings spot on – the likes of Joao Moutinho, Jonny Castro, Leander Dendoncker and most notably Raul Jimenez have flourished boundlessly in their debut seasons in a league that can be often so unforgiving to foreign players.
The fast-paced, counter-attacking football on display was a delight for the fans, while Wolves, under Nuno, showed that they can compete with any team on their day, notching up wins against the likes of Manchester United (twice), Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham over the course of the season.
Nuno has displayed great tactical nous and man-management skills in his debut season in the Premier League, establishing himself as one of the finest coaches in England at the moment. Having led Wolves to their best-ever finish in the league and their highest-ever points tally, he is a deserved candidate on our list of top five managers of the season.
Mauricio Pochettino [Tottenham Hotspur]
Since Mauricio Pochettino took over the reins at Tottenham in 2014, the club’s progress and evolution has been nothing short of remarkable. The Argentine has turned the Lilywhites into a title contender and a regular fixture in the top four of the Premier League and has continued to build strongly season after season.
The 2018-19 season presented Pochettino with great challenges. The manager did not have the liberty of making any new signings in the summer transfer window or in January owing to a lack of funds emanating from Spurs’ protracted move to their new £1 billion stadium. The move in itself was another major obstacle, with constant delays and distractions, while injuries were not kind on the Argentine as well.
Yet, at the end of the season, Tottenham have managed to finish fourth in the Premier League, while also making it to the final of the UEFA Champions League for the first-time ever in the history of the club. And it is all down to Pochettino’s managerial acumen that Spurs have managed to scale such heights year after year.
The former Southampton boss had to make do without star striker Harry Kane for a major portion of the season, but he managed to deal with his absence by turning Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura into deadly attacking forces. Moussa Sissoko, who was a persona non-grata at the start of the season, has grown into the beating heart of the Spurs’ midfield.
Pochettino has displayed great tactical nous throughout the season, changing systems and personnel according to demands and has been able to extract the best out of the players at hand, while not cribbing at the lack of investment from the club unlike some managers (looking at you Jose) and has continued to bring through young players.
Easily one of the most sought-after managers in Europe, his stock will only rise if he masterminds a win against Liverpool in Madrid this weekend.
Javi Gracia [Watford]
Due credit needs to be given to the excellent job done by Rafael Benitez at Newcastle United. Despite the instability surrounding the club, the Spaniard managed to keep them in the Premier League once again, while Ralph Hassenhuttl and Chris Hughton also deserve mentions for ensuring safety for Southampton and Brighton respectively from difficult situations.
Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery also did solid jobs at Chelsea and Arsenal respectively, despite going through a fair share of ups and downs in their first season in England. However, it is Javi Gracia of Watford who makes the cut for the final spot on our list for the top five managers of the 2018-19 season.
Having taken over at Watford in January last year, Gracia helped the club stave off relegation in 2017-18 leading them to a 14th place finish. In his first full season as the manager, the Hornets have certainly punched well above their weights and exceeded expectations, finishing just outside the top half of the table, while also making it to the final of the FA Cup for the first time in 35 years.
Gracia, during his stint at Watford, has managed to instil a sense of discipline and direction at the club that until recently seemed to be chopping and changing players and managers at the drop of a hat.
The Hornets spent just a little over €30 million on transfers, with the incoming players such as Gerard Deulofeu, Adam Masina, Ben Foster enjoying impressive campaigns, while Gracia managed to get the best out of the players he had retained with the likes of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Roberto Pereyra excelling.
Gracia led Watford to their highest ever points tally and their best ever finish in the in the Premier League, while displaying tactical flexibility and adaptability to change things up with different situations. A run of poor results towards the end of the season saw them slip out of the top ten, but that should not take away the magnitude and quality of work that has gone into this team.
Who do you think was the Best Manager of the 2018-19 Premier League? Let us know your choice in the poll below.