Premier League sackings ranked
Twelve managers have been pushed. How many deserved it?
No one ever said a Premier League manager was a secure job. But no one ever said it would be this unstable, with a majority of bosses getting sacked in the same season. This is my attempt to figure out who did the worst and who was hard done by, ranking the sackings by least to most deserved. Let’s get into it.
Stats are from FBRef.
12. Patrick Vieira
“It is with enormous regret that this difficult decision has been made”, Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish explained of his decision to sack Patrick Vieira. “Ultimately, results in recent months have placed us in a precarious league position and we felt a change is necessary to give us the best chance of retaining Premier League status.”
When Parish and his associates made the call on the 17th March, Palace were 12th in the table, but still just three points off relegation. That’s the weird thing about this season in which half the league is in a scrap to avoid the drop. FiveThirtyEight gave them a 10% chance of going down on the 17th. Exactly one win under Roy Hodgson and that number is down to 3%. That’s all it took. One win against another bottom-half side.
Palace were obviously worse this season than last, but that also speaks to how good they were in 21/22, recording their first-ever positive goal difference in the Premier League (the previous campaign saw their goal difference at -25). Even now, an xG difference per game -0.43 is way down from Vieira’s first year, but better than Hodgson’s last two. Palace are now almost certainly safe, but if that was all it took, surely Vieira could’ve managed it. Instead, the club have given themselves a hard decision to find a new boss in the summer. Stupid.
11. Thomas Tuchel
Hindsight is 20/20, so let’s be clear that there was a case for sacking Thomas Tuchel at the time. Results and performances had dropped off significantly across 2022. Chelsea ended the calendar year 2021 in second place, a lofty eight points off the top but still very strong. They would end that season a distant third, 18 points behind second-placed Liverpool and 19 behind title winners Man City. They actually played pretty consistently across the season by expected goals, but that hid a truth that an xG overperformance partly drove Tuchel’s good run in 2021. Coming into this season with a changing squad and new owners, making Chelsea title winners again was always going to take a few years. Reports suggested Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital found Tuchel difficult to work with and, after a poor start to the season, decided the rebuild would be better with someone more aligned with their vision.
It didn’t exactly pan out, though, did it?
This squad never made sense. Chelsea spent big in the summer but ignored the most obvious issue in midfield. They went big again in January, but little of this really improved the team in the short term. That’s forgivable if it’s a long-term project, but Tuchel could’ve been a big positive there. Tuchel is difficult, but his ideas about football are strong, and it’s something Chelsea could’ve built around. Instead, they decided to ditch him, and they really have no foundations at all to work from.
10. Ralph Hasenhüttl
It’s fair to say Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Southampton were always up and down, even if they ended up around the same spot in the table each year. Would history have repeated itself? We’ll never know.
But let’s put some numbers on it. Here’s Southampton’s xG difference per game each season Hasenhüttl was in charge (only partial seasons in 18/19 and 22/23, because he only managed partial seasons those years):
So I wouldn’t say it was a deterioration as much as hitting a level. For that reason, I would’ve been far more confident of staying up under Hasenhüttl than gambling when they did. I think this one has to be considered a mistake.
9. Jesse Marsch
Ok, now we’re getting a little controversial. Jesse Marsch really did divide opinion between stats nerds and Leeds fans. I think both views have merits. I do think Marsch’s aggressive use of the Red Bull style wasn’t a perfect fit for the Premier League. That counter-attacking style didn’t have an answer in games where Leeds had the majority of the ball, leading to the side winning just one of their ten matches this season when they had more than 50% possession. “We like playing against opponents that want the ball”, Marsch explained, “because we’re fast, we have athleticism, we like to press, we like to play with intensity”. He frames it as a positive. I think it’s a problem in a league where some teams will be happy to just sit and let you have the ball.
On the other hand, the numbers were absolutely fine! James Yorke at StatsBomb wrote a really good article on this. I’m not convinced Marsch was the answer in the long run, but I’d have kept him unless I had a clear succession plan. Leeds clearly did not have that.
8. Steven Gerrard
You know, I initially had Steven Gerrard doing much worse here until I started writing the article.
Villa were looking pretty good last season, getting to ninth place in the “Gerrard era table” from mid-November onwards. It was Dean Smith’s results that kept them in the bottom half. They were playing effective football in a compact system led by assistant Michael Beale, who departed in the summer. After that, things took a turn for the worse, losing four of the first five games this season and never regaining trust in the squad, leading to a disheartened atmosphere and inevitable departure.
At least, that’s what I thought. Villa scored just seven times from 11.3 xG under Gerrard this season, while conceding a touch over expected (13 goals from 11.8 xG). They played Bournemouth and West Ham basically level while losing both games. They arguably dominated Chelsea while losing anyway. They only got a point from a strong performance against Leeds. I don’t know what to make of all this. The dressing room atmosphere was clearly poor under Gerrard, which suggested things might have got worse from there. But I don’t think they were as bad as the results.
“In this period on goal difference, Aston Villa are tied for 5th best, on xG difference, Aston Villa are just 12th best. Looking at the individual matches it is very much looking like a story of a team that is riding high on luck.
This Aston Villa team is doing a lot of similar things that we saw eventually turn against Emery at Arsenal, where they are inviting pressure and having teams pretty significantly outshot in many of their matches, where the margin for error should the team not go ahead made it very hard to earn points, and to invite potential wins to turn into draws and losses.
In this run of matches with the score tied, Aston Villa have gone ahead 15 times, they have scored those goals from 9 expected goals. On the conceding side, they have gone behind just 5 times for 8.5 expected goals.
In close matches they are getting pretty much all the breaks going their direction, in matches that are “close” within 1 expected goal for or against, they have picked up 20 points, in these matches they have a goal difference of just +2.3 and +0.2 per match.
Yeah, I don’t know. Long term, they’re better off with Emery. But I don’t think they’re better off by as much as popular perception.
7. Scott Parker
Did you remember that Scott Parker was a Premier League manager this season? Because I’m struggling to have an opinion on him. Parker managed four games this season: a 2-0 win over Aston Villa, followed by a 4-0 defeat against Man City, a 3-0 loss to Arsenal, and then the infamous 9-0 against Liverpool. It seems like his comments after that match lost him the job, but it’s a hell of a tough run. I don’t think Parker is particularly suited to being a Premier League manager, but he probably felt hard done by here.
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