Football management can be one of the most unforgiving jobs around. One minute you’re linked with every top job available, the next minute you’re favourite for the axe. It’s a viscious cycle, but one we’ve become accustomed to.
After nine games in the Premier League, there is usually a casualty by now. But in this unpredictable new era of professional football, it’s becoming difficult to analyse just how clubs will operate.
This season has thrown up plenty of surprises – who’d have thought Southampton would be three points off the top of the table, or that Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City would be in mid-table at this point. But what puzzles most is that the managers who are struggling were having their praises sung not long ago.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer led Man United to the top four last season but faces an uncertain future
With so many clubs hit by financial constraints and fitness issues during the pandemic, a loss of form is understandable – but some of last season’s golden boys could soon find themselves out of a job if they cannot put a stop to their early season woes.
Sportsmail takes a look at the leading contenders for the sack in the top flight and assesses their chances of getting the axe.
Slaven Bilic – West Brom 2/1 (all odds courtesy of Betfair)
You have to feel for the former Croatia boss – there always seems to be an axe hanging over his head. Best known for his under-pressure days at West Ham, Bilic has since rebuilt himself at the Hawthorns, winning promotion in his first season.
The Baggies racked up 83 points, scoring 77 points along the way. Bilic revitalised a side that had crashed out in the play-offs the previous year, but with his team now sitting in the bottom three with just three points – the inevitable question marks are now here.
Just one year earlier Bilic had been linked to a handful of Premier League jobs after impressing in his role at West Brom, and it’s hard to imagine any other manager doing too much more with the squad he has.
West Brom boss Slaven Bilic will be praying for more time to prove his worth at the Hawthorns
The Croatian guided his team to promotion to the top flight at the first time of asking last term
The club didn’t make any eye-catching transfers this summer – understandably so given the financial climate – but he’s bolstered key areas with the signings of defender Branislav Ivanovic, midfielder Grady Diangana and forward Karlan Grant.
The problem he has is that, with the exception of Ivanovic, his squad is lacking in top flight experience.
But Bilic won’t need anyone reminding him that he’s in a results business. No wins in nine games is concerning. Although they’ve picked up a result against Chelsea and given a good account of themselves in narrow losses to Spurs and United, the team definitely need a new philosophy to dig themselves out of this hole.
Whether the owners think that can only be done with a new man in charge remains to be seen. Old school managers like Sam Allardyce are out there, with the former England boss regularly boasting of his ‘blueprint’ to fight off relegation.
Chris Wilder – Sheffield United (7-2)
The definition of fall from grace. The Premier League’s golden boy last year, the 53-year-old was a model manager – a shining example for other struggling bosses.
Look at the football they play, look what he’s achieved with his modest resources, look at how he motivates his players. The Blades were so good last year they put up an almighty challenge for a place in Europe.
With his refreshing 3-5-2 system and a resilient defence, Wilder’s men conceded just 39 goals, and while they weren’t prolific in attack, he found a way to get narrow wins with a set-up that was difficult to play against as they finished ninth.
Chris Wilder has been unable to replicate last season’s success with Sheffield United
His side are rooted to the bottom of the table and are lacking in confidence after eight defeats
Don’t worry, there IS life after the sack!
For years now the name on everyone’s lips has been Eddie Howe after his work with Bournemouth.
Taking the club from League Two to the Premier League is something most can only pull off on Football Manager and led him to be linked with nearly every top Premier League job and even the England post.
But as seasons went by, and he continued to keep the Cherries in the division, he remained loyal to his boyhood side. Last season his streak finally came to an end and Bournemouth were relegated after five seasons, with Howe walking away.
While he wasn’t officially sacked, and his reputation took a big hit – but he is now the leading candidate to take over at Celtic (5/6 with Paddy Power) as Neil Lennon faces the sack.
We’ve seen the likes of Brendan Rodgers rebuilding his career in Glasgow – could it be an opportunity for this former golden boy to rise from the ashes?
So how has that all come crashing down so spectacularly this season?
No wins, no confidence and a concerning number of losses – eight to be precise. Just one draw against fellow strugglers Fulham and a worrying goal output of just four strikes, the joint lowest in the division.
With 15 goals conceded, United have nearly let in half the amount of last season’s total already.
Solid goalkeeper went back to Man United, highly-rated Aaron Ramsdale came in but has struggled. They also loaned Ethan Ampadu from Chelsea off the back of his impressive loan spell at Leipzig.
To address their goalscoring woes, they brought in Rhian Brewster from Liverpool for £23.5million. He has failed to break his duck yet.
It is a peculiar situation, especially given they are not getting battered week in, week out. It’s 1-0s, 2-1s, tight affairs.
Something is amiss. But given the job Wilder has done in taking the club from League One to the promised land, he will likely get more patience than most.
But only two other clubs have previously picked up one point from nine games (Manchester City 95-96, Sheffield Wednesday 99-00). They both went down.
If Wilder can address their attacking issues and inspire some confidence they could soon bounce their way back up the table.
A massive game is coming next against West Brom – lose that and morale will be on the floor, and it might leave him with an uncertain future.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United (9-4)
The Norwegian should write a book on how to keep your job – it’s difficult to keep track of how many times he’s seen destined for the chop only to secure a vital result in his next game.
But speculation will not go away until Manchester United start to produce some consistency and look like they are in control of their performances. One minute they’re being thumped 6-1 at home to Tottenham, the next they are taking a very talented Leipzig side to the cleaners.
Back-to-back losses to Arsenal and Istanbul Basaksehir left him nailed on to be sacked but then masterminds a 3-1 win at Everton, a game that looked perilous on paper. Old Trafford officials insist he has the backing of the board, but how long can that continue?
Solskjaer has faced huge question marks over his job security after a poor start to the season
We know United are a well run club that prides itself on its commercial success, but being in the Champions League is a must. To Solskjaer’s credit, he pulled that off last season when it looked nigh-on impossible.
But this season his team are still struggling to find fluidity and flair. With the team he has at his disposal, it’s puzzling. Most managers would kill to have an attack of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood. It beckons the question of whether his tactics are getting the best out of them.
So while results have improved, the displays have not inspired confidence. The 1-0 win over struggling West Brom, for example, easily could have gone another way on a different day.
Former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino (right) has been earmarked as a replacement
The Baggies caused them a lot of problems and were unfortunate to have a penalty overturned by VAR. United themselves won it on a spot kick that had to be retaken – Solskjaer can’t depend on sneaking through games like that forever.
Former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino is available and would be an overwhelming contender to take over the reigns should the club ever decide to dispose of Solskjaer. He would bring fresh ideas and play an exciting high-press.
Solskjaer was hailed for his early impact after initially being appointed in 2018, but the feeling has staled. He must be tired of hearing reports that he could be set to lose his job, but they will only disappear once he get his side ticking.
Scott Parker – Fulham (9-2)
There’s nothing fans love more in a manger than a young English former professional who makes a quick impact – Frank Lampard made that impression at Derby County and is now flying at Chelsea.
In his first full season at Craven Cottage, Parker did what he couldn’t do and win promotion to the Premier League, but Fulham’s dreadful performances have led to some bookies offering to pay out on them going down already.
For some, the Whites are nailed on for a return to the Championship, and it’s hard to argue with that prediction when analysing the team’s defending. They have let in 18 goals already and look to have awful luck at the other end given two disastrous back-to-back penalty misses.
Scott Parker was seen as a young exciting boss after leading Fulham to promotion but his team are already been tipped to return to the Championship
Ademola Lookman’s fluffed panenka and Ivan Cavaleiro’s horrendous skied effort – after slipping and kicking his foot – summed up Fulham’s lack of finesse this season, but is it Parker’s fault? He might be a relative newbie in management, but anyone who has played with the former midfielder – a captain at West Ham and Tottenham – will assure you he has no problems with motivating others.
But as promising as Parker looked as a manager, he is at a club that has a bad reputation for dispensing with their head coaches. In 2018-19 owner Shahid Khan sacked two in the same season. Out went Slavisa Jokanovic and in came Claudio Ranieri for a few months before Parker took over as caretaker.
Khan is ambitious and won’t hesitate to pull the trigger. There have already been some tensions between Parker and the board when the owner’s son Tony apologised to Fulham fans on behalf of the team after a 3-0 loss to Aston Villa.
Parker said it was ‘disappointing’ and ‘not helpful’ to the team, who need all the positivity they can get. Their last season in the top flight was marred by an influx of signings and chaos. Is the key to survival now to keep some consistency?
The players have been shambolic at the back and are struggling to find any consistency
Parker clashed with club chief Tony Khan this season in the first sign of tensions at the Cottage
Sean Dyche – Burnley (12-1)
There is a pub in Burnley that offers Dyche free drinks after he guided the club into the Europa League in 2018-19. It’s now also named after him. The Royal Dyche highlights his cult hero status in Lancashire, and most would think the club would be bonkers to get rid of him now.
For a team that’s operating way beyond its means, why fix something that’s not broken? The Claret and Blue are often good at treading water early in the season so the threat of relegation never really looms large. Except this season it looks a real danger to his side.
Lingering just above the drop zone, Dyche’s usually sturdy outfit have just one win and five defeats. Turf Moor no longer appears to be the fortress it once was without that raucous noise behind them. The news that some supporters will be let back into grounds in December will music to Dyche’s ears because they miss that support.
Sean Dyche has cult hero status at Burnley and the board would be very reluctant to sack him
Dale Stephens was the only incoming player of note this season, and his squad looks threadbare. It’s no secret that Burnley is a tightly run ship and resources are few – only strengthening Dyche’s case to be given all the time in the world to keep them in the top flight.
The board have seen him perform miracle after miracle when they looked dead certain for the drop, and unless things turn really sour you can bet on them waiting a while longer for another one.
Steve Bruce – Newcastle United (20-1)
Definitely an outsider for the sack – even if it hasn’t always been that way. Bruce was not a celebrated appointment by any means when he was hired to replace fan-favourite Rafael Benitez last season.
This year, when a Saudi-led takeover looked certain to happen, his position looked doomed with all kinds of Hollywood names linked with the post. When that collapsed, Bruce cracked on with the job at hand, and enjoyed a fairly positive start to the season with new striker Callum Wilson in top form.
Steve Bruce has had to contend with pressure over his position at Newcastle for some time
But poor results of late have started murmurs of fan discontent. #BruceOut started trending after they were brushed aside by Chelsea on the weekend.
Reports have claimed, however, that he retains the support of owner Mike Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley given the limited funds he was handed in the transfer market.
The Magpies are currently 15th and are some way off the bottom three, but with some supporters unsatisfied with Bruce’s defensive style there could be some growing frustration in the coming weeks – especially from those who were excited by names like Mauricio Pochettino while the takeover was being thrashed out.
THE REST OF THE ODDS
Roy Hodgson – Crystal Palace (14-1)
David Moyes – West Ham United (16-1)
Frank Lampard – Chelsea (25-1)
Nuno Santo Espirito – Wolves (25-1)
Graham Potter – Brighton (25-1)
Marcelo Bielsa – Leeds United (33-1)
Ralph Hasenhuttl – Southampton (33-1)
Brendan Rodgers – Leicester City (33-1)
Dean Smith – Aston Villa (40-1)
Pep Guardiola – Manchester City (40-1)
Mikel Arteta – Arsenal (50-1)
Jose Mourinho – Tottenham (55-1)
Carlo Ancelotti – Everton (55-1)
Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool (66-1)