It is hardly unusual to see a Watford manager leading the sack race and, sure enough, Claudio Ranieri is currently the joint-favourite in the betting to be the next Premier League boss to lose his job. When you assess his record since taking charge at Vicarage Road in October, that is not a surprise.
Watford have had two emphatic and memorable wins under the Italian. They staged a sensational comeback at Goodison Park in his second game at the helm, beating Everton 5-2 after being 2-1 down as late as the 78th minute. A month later Watford brought about the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United manager thanks to a thumping 4-1 victory over the Red Devils.
Aside from those two triumphs, Ranieri’s spell in charge has been miserable. Ten of his 12 matches in the dugout have ended in defeat, including a 4-1 thrashing by an understrength Leicester City side in the FA Cup third round on Saturday. Watford have been 17th in the Premier League since the start of December. They are just two points clear of the bottom three, into which they will fall if they are beaten by Newcastle United on Saturday.
Claudio Ranieri always looked like a puzzling appointment after Watford dismissed Xisco Munoz, following a 1-0 loss to Leeds United in the club’s seventh league game of the campaign. The Hornets were 15th after that defeat but Xisco must have known he was vulnerable given Watford’s propensity for trigger pulling.
Perhaps the powers that be at Vicarage Road felt Ranieri would be a capable firefighter. But his last such job in England did not go well. Fulham handed the veteran Italian the reins in November 2018. Ranieri collected just 12 points from a possible 48 during a three-and-a-half month stint at Craven Cottage and was sacked after a run of seven defeats in eight games. Fulham were relegated at the beginning of April.
Ranieri did a decent job at Sampdoria in his next permanent role. He took over when the club sat bottom of Serie A but was able to steer them to safety, before securing a ninth-place finish last term.
Watford presumably opted for Claudio Ranieri because of his experience. Xisco had never managed in the Premier League before; Ranieri had already spent six years in the division with three different clubs. But experience can be overrated.
This season is Thomas Frank’s first in England’s top flight and he is getting on all right. Marcelo Bielsa led Leeds to a ninth-place finish in 2020/21, his debut campaign in the Premier League. Watford might have been better off choosing a younger, hungrier manager with something to prove.
One of the main problems under Xisco was a lack of balance between defence and attack. Watford failed to keep a clean sheet in any of his seven games in the dugout. Ranieri was tasked with improving the team’s organisation without the ball, but there have been few signs of that to date. Remarkably, they are still yet to keep a clean sheet this season. Only Newcastle, Norwich City and Leeds have conceded more goals than Watford. The Hornets rank 20th for expected goals against, which shows they are giving up better chances than any other team in the league.
Watford have scored in six of their last seven encounters. Emmanuel Dennis has been one of the signings of the season and Josh King has also impressed. With Ismaila Sarr still to come back, Watford have plenty of attacking firepower. Outscoring opponents is their best chance of avoiding relegation.
Whether or not Claudio Ranieri will be the man leading the Watford fight beyond January will probably be determined by the outcome of their next three matches. A trip to Newcastle awaits this weekend before a midweek clash with Burnley and a home game against Norwich. Now is the time for Ranieri to prove he is the right man for the job after all.
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