After a handful of games of the new Premier League season, some managers are already feeling the heat after their teams made a poor start to the new campaign. No chairman enters a season expecting to have to change their manager after just a few weeks but the spectre of relegation and the financial impact it brings has a tendency to focus minds. Here are five of the top contenders to win Premier League’s sack race for the 2021 season.
Steve Bruce (Newcastle United)
Bruce has been in an unenviable position since becoming Newcastle manager two years ago. Whoever replaced Rafael Benitez was always going to find it tough to win supporters over and, despite leading the club to 12th in the table last term, Bruce was given little credit for it by fans.
But the reason Bruce might be dismissed has more to do with his fractured relationship with owner Mike Ashley than results or performances on the pitch, which have been poor of late. Ashley likes his managers to be quietly compliant and Bruce’s understandable complaints about a lack of backing in the transfer window earned him a stinging rebuke in a strong statement.
Background noise rumbling away about a potential sale of the club is also bad news for Bruce. It is widely anticipated that Ashley’s (eventual) successor will want to appoint their own manager.
Nevertheless, Bruce reportedly has three years left on his contract and, although the Geordie looks increasingly miserable in charge of his hometown club, it would be expensive to make him the first casualty of the 2021 sack race.
Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
Unlike Bruce, Arteta mostly got what he wanted in the transfer market. Arsenal’s net spend of more than £100 million has revamped a squad that missed out on European football last term.
But a narrow home win over Norwich at the weekend does not suggest a corner has been turned after the Gunners opened the new season with three successive defeats. Saturday’s trip to Burnley is likely to be uncomfortable for Arteta and a bad result there would pile on the pressure.
Arsenal are now all-in with Arteta, which could buy him more time to get it right, while the fact unpopular owner Stan Kroenke is relatively hands-off is another factor that is in his favour too.
Yet the heavy spending on newcomers like Ben White, Aaron Ramsdale and Martin Odegaard has increased the expectations on Arteta’s shoulders. The rookie will be expected to lead Arsenal back into Europe, but performances so far this season indicate that is a long way off.
Xisco Munez (Watford)
Watford have long had a reputation for showing a startling lack of patience with their managers, with four different men having been in charge the last time they were in the Premier League. Therefore it would be no surprise if Xisco Munez was an early casualty in the 2021 Premier League sack race.
Javi Gracia did not last long despite having taken the Hornets to the FA Cup final, with the second stint at Vicarage Road of Quique Sanchez Flores then short-lived. Nigel Pearson did not see the season out – though his side recorded an eye-catching win over Liverpool – leaving Hayden Mullins in the dugout when Watford’s relegation to the Championship was confirmed.
Munez appears to be a likable character but Watford have shown little in the opening weeks of the campaign to suggest they have anything more than a slim chance of survival. Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, are likely to pull the trigger on the Spaniard sooner rather than later.
Bruno Lage (Wolves)
Saturday’s 2-0 win at Watford got new Wolves boss Lage off the mark after they failed to even score a goal in their first three league matches after Nuno Espirito Santo left Molineux. While the Midlands outfit will not often face opponents as obliging as Watford – whose defender Francisco Sierralta gave Wolves the lead with an own goal – their upcoming fixtures are soft.
Home games against Brentford and Newcastle United are joined by similarly winnable trips to Southampton, Aston Villa and Leeds United before the end of next month. There will be no excuses if Wolves’ lack of goals continues, though Raul Jimenez’s slow start is understandable given the Mexico striker is still making his way back from a fractured skull.
Daniel Farke (Norwich City)
Norwich’s faith in Farke when they were relegated last time was rewarded as he easily led them back to the Premier League at the first attempt. He then signed a four-year contract extension in the summer, indicating that the Canaries certainly intend to stand by the German again this time.
But four defeats from four matches so far is not the start Norwich were hoping for. It is fair to say the fixture computer did them few favours by dishing up Liverpool (H), Manchester City (A), Leicester City (H) and Arsenal (A) first up but Farke’s side have shown very little resistance.
Losing Emiliano Buendia was always going to hinder Norwich’s creativity yet 10 goals conceded already shows they have issues at both ends. Watford and Brighton visit Carrow Road soon and, if Norwich do not get results in those games, Farke could be increasingly uncomfortable in terms of the 2021 sack race.
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