WLB Season Preview 2019/20 | Premier League: Sack Race

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THE Sack Race is always an intriguing ante-post market. Here James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) assesses the runners and riders in the Premier League and picks out his favourite pre-season punts.

WLB Season Preview 2019/20 | Premier League: Sack Race

Like me, you’ll all be glad the English domestic season is back underway after a summer of international football and expensive holidays! This is of course headlined by the Premier League, and everyone is quickly putting together their ante-post selections to see if they can land a handy profit come May.

One market where you won’t need to wait so long to be paid out is quite likely in the form of the one I am covering; the Sack Race. Which Premier League manager will be the first to bite the bullet? Quite often it is a case of results ultimately dictating this. On rare occasions it is through other internal reasons within the club, such as perhaps an impending takeover or a fallout.

Roberto Di Matteo was actually sacked by Chelsea in November 2012 despite them sitting third in the Premier League table, and having won the Champions League and FA Cup only a few months prior. It was ultimately their poor defence of the Champions League which saw him go, so perhaps taking into account clubs who are also playing in Europe is something for you to consider.

To try and gather some history on this particular market, I’ve looked back across the 10 most recent Premier League campaigns to see if there is anything we can conclude from those.

Poor starts prove costly

Over the past 10 seasons in the Premier League, the first manager to be sacked has unsurprisingly come from a team struggling for form. Considering the season starts in August, it is seen clubs are only willing to wait three or four month’s maximum before being tempted into a change.

In those 10 years, only two bosses has been sacked when his team are positioned rock bottom of the standings. The most recent actually came last season when Fulham dismissed Slavisa Jokanovic in November. He would be replaced by Claudio Ranieri, who himself would be removed from his duties in February and then replaced by caretaker Scott Parker.

The second boss who was bottom that lost his job was Paolo di Canio at Sunderland in 2013, but the Black Cats only waited until late September before they terminated his deal. Gus Poyet would then replace him and miraculously keep them in the division.

In the 10 seasons we’re focusing on, six times a manager to be sacked first was positioned inside the relegation zone. We’ve already mentioned di Matteo losing his gig when positioned third, but Chris Hughton can call himself unlucky to lose his job at Newcastle in December 2010 after winning the Championship title at St James’ Park the season before.

Clubs now feel as though a quick decision is needed to transform their season and there is some evidence to suggest that is fair. Whilst those six clubs sacked their manager first when being in the relegation zone, only two of those went on to go down, with Fulham last season being the latest, and Portsmouth back in 2010 when they got rid of Paul Hart and replaced him with Avram Grant.

Always promoted clubs?

Something I wanted to look further into was to determine if the promoted clubs were quite quickly to yield the axe to their managers in the top-flight. Getting to the Premier League is pretty damn hard in the first place, but remaining there is another. There is a perception that some coaches are good at getting clubs into the big league, such as Neil Warnock for example, but can’t necessarily keep them up.

There are bound to be many other examples. Those such clubs could then look towards say a Big Sam Allardyce-type to save their season.

Let’s see what the numbers say. Over the last 10 years in the Premier League, there has only been two corresponding campaigns when the three promoted clubs decided to keep their managers for the entire season. The only changes last season was again from Fulham, who impressed under Jokanovic to gain promotion but flat-lined badly against stronger opposition, with poor recruitment also highlighted as a problem area.

In four of the 10 seasons, two promoted clubs would change manager in their next season in the big league. In the 2016/17 season, Steve Bruce resigned at Hull in pre-season following a disagreement with the club owners, but his replacement Mike Phelan would lose his job in January anyway. Middlesbrough would be promoted the year before, but Aitor Karanka would be replaced in March.

It therefore is not necessarily almost the promoted clubs to pull the trigger first. They’re keen to give the man who had such a fine campaign the year before a degree of grace, but that isn’t always the case. Therefore, we couldn’t strongly rule out Daniel Farke, Chris Wilder and Dean Smith, even if right now it would look extremely unlikely.

The contenders

Interestingly, it is two of the big clubs who Betfair and Paddy Power initially selected as joint-favourites to be the first to lose their jobs. Another interesting factor is that Frank Lampard is one of those, and he has literally just be appointed to the gig at Stamford Bridge. Many believe it is a risk for him to be thrown into such a job after only one year in the dugout, in the league below at Derby, so it is understandable on that basis.

Chelsea do arguably have quite a tough start to the Premier League season, when facing Man Utd first, tough assignments with Liverpool and away to Wolves in September, plus going to the Etihad in November. This combined with the lack of transfer activity they’ll have, and no Eden Hazard.

A case can be made but Lampard is also a club legend, and Roman Abramovich will want to give him every possible chance to succeed. Chelsea also tend to give manager’s 40 games at the very, very least before dismissing them. That is the figure Andre Villas-Boas reached, with Rafa Benitez slightly more and Guus Hiddink slightly less, but they were only temporary appointments to the role. Lampard will get a season, at the very, very, very least. His price is starting to drift, and rightly so.

Ole Gunnar Solksjaer at Man Utd is now joint-favourite to lose his job first. The club are very much making a statement this summer with some big-money signings. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Daniel James have joined for big fees, and more could arrive. With a sporting director potentially to be appointed at Old Trafford, it does look as though the hierarchy at the club are also willing to give Solksjaer every chance to prove himself over a full season at least.

The Norwegian started like a house on fire when replacing Jose Mourinho, before things petered out. He’s had roughly 30 games in the role, and David Moyes left just after his 50th. Man Utd start with Chelsea at home and Wolves away, whilst Arsenal and Liverpool come in September and October respectively. Questions will be asked if they start poorly, but more likely from the outside than within.

The other joint-favourite is Steve Bruce, now of Newcastle. Clearly his appointment has upset many people in many quarters, especially on Tyneside and parts of Sheffield! He is a boyhood Magpie and the club his late father also supported. You can understand why he wanted to take on the role, even if he hasn’t necessarily been in the hot-seat at Hillsborough for too long.

Mike Ashley doesn’t seemingly appear to be one to take much note of supporter feedback, so you’d suspect he’d only be willing to part ways with Bruce from now on if things got really, really bad. Results shall ultimately dictate this, as fan unrest apparently will not. He is playing catch-up compared to the rest of the league in terms of preparing for the new campaign and ultimately settling into a new job.

Newcastle start with Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool within their first five league games, whilst Man Utd and Chelsea come in October. Bruce would’ve wanted more favourable fixtures earlier on that this, but riding those run of games is the key for him. Fan boycotts are already scheduled because of how the club is being run, and having another managerial change won’t be what Newcastle want to do too soon.

Steve McClaren was quite a poor Newcastle manger in the end, but he still lasted until March. Bruce is expected to be given some time, especially as he has only been appointed not long before the season is scheduled to start.

Another single-priced option is Graham Potter of Brighton, who too is only just in the job. Chris Hughton would lose his job at the end of last season, which surprised many but some fans felt it was the right call.

Potter impressed at Ostersunds in Sweden before doing a decent job at Swansea, even if missing out on the play-offs. They created some waves in the FA Cup too, with their exciting style of play clearly attracting the Brighton board. They have a hard start to the Premier League and it ultimately depends how soon this group of players can settle into the Potter way of thinking, rather than the Hughton methods they’ve been drilled into for a while now.

Still, Brighton surely wouldn’t get rid of a man they’ve put faith in only a few months ago because of some bad results. Things would need to go south (even further than Brighton) pretty sharpish for them to even consider that.

Is it noteworthy to see that the price on Roy Hodgson is starting to decrease. He is roughly in the same sort of ball park as Potter. The Crystal Palace boss is soon approaching two years in the job. It feels a lot longer than that! This makes him the ninth longest-serving boss currently in the top-flight. He still has a couple more games to go in terms of bypassing Alan Pardew’s time in the Selhurst Park dugout.

This is however roughly approaching the sort of time Palace give manager’s in the job. The former England head coach has had over 80 games with the club. Pardew left on 87 and Dougie Freedman got 90. Those are scattered around lots of fairly short stays in the job such as Frank de Boer, Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis. Even Ian Holloway lasted around 11 months and he got them promoted.

Palace's start to the season is not that daunting on paper, so the drop in his price could possibly mean something occurring behind the scenes. Losing Aaron Wan-Bissaka and possibly Wilfried Zaha could also be another factor. Nevertheless, I’d view others to perhaps be more likely to be removed from his gig. This could very well be his last job in the Premier League and he’ll be eager to make the most of this current opportunity.

The realistic contenders

We’ve said how clubs who start poorly are at an obvious risk to losing their jobs. Norwich almost certainly have the hardest of starts in terms of fixtures; facing Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City within their first five games. A home encounter with Newcastle is also sandwiched in their too, and it is important the Canaries get three points in that one, whilst a trip to West Ham could possibly give them some joy.

Whilst right now it looks almost impossible for Norwich to consider him going, club owners tend to do silly things when under pressure. Their fixtures do get a little kinder in the few months after this however, so Daniel Farke should be fine, for now. 16/1 for him to lose his job first is roughly middle ground in the betting.

Watford had a good season last year all things considered. They were in the top half for the majority, only slipping out towards the end when more emphasis when placed upon their FA Cup run, which was ended by Man City in the final at Wembley.

Javi Gracia therefore we can very much categorise as being a successful Watford manager to date. He is also long-serving in the role compared to most of his predecessors in relation to amount of games in charge. He has over 50 now, and Gianfranco Zola in 2012/13 was the last to reach more. Bear in mind that Quique Sanchez Flores took Watford to a comfortable mid-table spot and the FA Cup semi-finals, he would leave his role after just one season in charge.

I do wonder if Gracia is quickly going to be vulnerable at Vicarage Road. The club hierarchy clearly love to wheel and deal in the dugout, and although Watford’s first few games look appealing, September looks a real challenge for them, whilst October and November are littered with some tricky assignments, too. I think at 16/1 (BetVictor) he has to be considered.

Best Bet

Premier League 2019/20 – Javi Gracia to be the Next Premier League Manager To Leave (16/1 BetVictor)

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