New EPL bosses: The early report card

The Premier League is a very unforgiving competition and a stern examiner of new managers’ credentials. Nine top flight clubs entrusted their fortunes for the campaign to new managers. Six are debutants testing themselves in the league for the first time, whilst three are returnees rejoining the roaster after spells away from the Premier League.

The season is in its embryonic stages and it will be a while before the jury returns, but patterns are already emerging, reputations are being enhanced and answers to some pre-season questions answered.

Below we look at how the new managers have fared so far.

The debutants

Antonio Conte – Chelsea

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After a wretched 2015/16 campaign Chelsea decided to hitch their wagons to Antonio Conte’s star. The Italian is overseeing something of a quiet revolution at the Stamford Bridge. By their previous budget-busting standards, Chelsea have had quiet time in the transfer market, despite their deadline-day activity. Whether it is the manager’s choice or a shift in club policy remains the subject of speculation. N’Golo Kante and Michy Batshuayi were the only notable additions to the squad early on, with Conte opting to retain and breathe new life into the squad he inherited. Defensive reinforcements in David Luiz and Marcus Alonso arrived before the close of the window.

So far the Italian has been vindicated. Eden Hazard, who endured a rotten campaign last term, is looking the part again and back to his mesmeric best. Of the new recruits Kante has made an instant impact as the latter-day Claude Makelele.

The Blues have a 100 per cent record after three matches. The first two wins, against London rivals West Ham and Watford, were too close for comfort but deserved wins nonetheless on the balance of play.

Conte will be satisfied with his Premier League sojourn so far and the Blues faithful have cause for cautious optimism about the season ahead.

Pep Guardiola – Manchester City

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A common thread in the Pep Guardiola narrative after his appointment as Manchester City boss was a warning the Spaniard would soon discover that the Premier League was unlike any other he had worked in before. In England, all and sundry predicted, the man whose revolutionary coaching methods transformed Barcelona’s fortunes and latterly FC Bayern München’s would finally be found out.

Well, after five wins in five matches in all competitions Guardiola is perfectly at home in the Premier League. The 45-year-old has the City machine purring already – perhaps a little shaky at the back, but irresistible going forward. Man City are already looking every inch Guardiola’s team with emphasis on ball retention, short passing, positional fluidity and quick ball retrieval after conceding possession. The players have taken to tiki-taka like ducks to water. It’s like watching Barcelona in the Premier League.

Man City merit their position at the top of the table in what is already shaping into a three-horse race with Chelsea and Manchester United.

Mike Phelan – Hull City

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The exigency of Hull City’s troubled season saw Mike Phelan installed as the caretaker boss for the start of the season following Steve Bruce’s departure. Phelan has embraced the challenge and coaxed top-drawer performances out of the smallest squad in the division. The 53-year-old masterminded wins in the opening two games of the campaign against champions Leicester City and away at Swansea. The Tigers then gave a credible account of themselves before losing to Manchester United right at the death in their third match of the campaign.

It has been the most convincing audition by a caretaker boss in recent times and Phelan will have every right to feel aggrieved if he is not offered the manager’s job on a full-time basis.

Aitor Karanka/Claude Puel/Walter Mazzari

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It’s going to be a long testing season for the trio. Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka will be the happiest of the three after an unbeaten start to the season. Preserving their top flight status and avoiding an instant return to the Championship is Boro’s priority. With a return of five points from a possible nine so far Middlesbrough have done their cause no harm.

Frenchman Claude Puel has his work cut out for him at Southampton after losing key players, among them star duo Sadio Mane and Granziano Pelle. The Saints are unlikely to reach the dizzy heights they achieved under Ronald Koeman last season. Two draws and a defeat is not the worst possible start to the campaign, but it could have been better.

Meanwhile, at Vicarage Road, Walter Mazzarri already finds himself under early pressure after taking just one point from a possible nine. There is no reason to panic just yet, but the Italian will want to break his duck and get the Hornets up and running sooner rather than later.

The Returnees

Jose Mourinho – Manchester United

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It is a claim Jose Mourinho dismissed, naturally, but the story goes that the Portuguese was distraught upon discovering that he had been overlooked for the job after Manchester United plumbed for David Moyes as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor. The snub is said to have come as a huge shock to the Special One.

Spanish journalist Diego Torres wrote in his book Prepare to Lose – the Mourinho Era: “Mourinho wouldn’t stop calling them (his representatives at Gestifute). His ‘interlocutors’ had heard him sob loudly and they were spreading the word. The most feared man in the company was crushed.”

Three years later the 53-year-old landed the job he had coveted for a long time. There is no doubt that there is a part of Mourinho that wants to achieve instant success and force the Old Trafford power brokers to reflect ruefully on their decision not to appoint him three years earlier.

With four wins out of four competitive matches Jose has the best starting record of any Manchester United manager. When he arrived at Old Trafford he promised a return to the club’s old traditions and philosophy. So far he has been true to his word. A 100 perfect record in all competitions has already lifted the gloom that enveloped Old Trafford for three seasons. Jose is looking smugly comfortable in Fergie’s chair and United are poised to challenge for honours again.

David Moyes – Sunderland

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For David Moyes the Sunderland job represents an opportunity to repair his shredded reputation after a disastrous spell at Manchester United that was followed by an abortive stint at Real Sociedad. The Scot’s alarmist admission that Sunderland were in a relegation battle after just two matches into season was both an attempt to manage expectations and an appeal for a war chest after inheriting a squad low on quality and further decimated by pre-season departures.

The Black Cats’ season prospects and their manager’s fortunes will hinge on the quality of the squad Moyes has at his disposal when the transfer window closes. Sunderland’s season starts in earnest after the international break. Moyes’ extensive knowledge of the Premier League will stand Sunderland in good stead for the campaign ahead.

Sean Dyche – Burnley

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Burnley can’t have too many complaints about their return of one win out of three matches so far this season. The Claret’s target this season is simple – to avoid an instant return to the Championship. Manager Sean Dyche is keenly aware of this and his strategy will be geared towards achieving this goal.

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