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New Premier League managers' school report

Monday 5th June 2017
The 2016-17 season was tipped to be perhaps the most fiercely competitive in recent history. Instead, a runaway leader that showed little sign of slipping up emerged: Antonio Conte's Chelsea. An influx of  new Premier League managers had fueled the misguided supposition. Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Ronald Koeman at Everton, and Conte at Chelsea headlined, but there were four others. So, just how did the new bosses measure up? It should be no mystery who sits head of the class.  Here's our full school report.

Remaining Managers | Midseason Managers

Antonio Conte A 

What Conte has managed at Chelsea is remarkable, transforming players suffering from a crippling lack of confidence back into the machine-like winners they were under Jose Mourinho. His tactical shift to 3-4-3 in September, when Chelsea trailed Arsenal 2-0, was the watershed moment. But, the Chelsea storm still would have abated if not for Conte's disciplined and effective coaching.

Schooled in Italian organisational principle, Conte's Chelsea boasted a formidable defence that provided a platform for its potent attack.

The former Juve and Azzurri boss' man-management has also been laudable. When Diego Costa's head was turned by the lucrative Chinese Super League, Conte dealt with it decisively, deflecting pressure and media attention away from the bust-up. After a one-match cooling off period, Costa was spearheading Chelsea's attack once more.

Conte would have been awarded an A+ had he clinched the FA Cup to land a debut double but there can be little criticism for the fashion in which he has taken to the Premier League.

Ronald Koeman B+

As he did at Southampton, Koeman has built something at Everton. The Toffees will certainly be a team to watch next season.

Koeman's squad began the season sluggishly but soon hit its stride, finishing just seven points behind a Manchester United squad boasting enviable talent. The Dutchman pulled it off despite a slew of injuries. Losing Seamus Coleman to a horrific double leg break was the worst. His reunion with former Saints defensive mid Morgan Schneiderlin, bought from United in January, was also curtailed. Similar to Conte, Koeman privately dealt with a public rift between Romelu Lukaku and Ashley Williams which could have derailed the squad.

The challenge must now be to compete aggressively in the Europa League and land domestic silverware even if the board cannot retain Lukaku's services. Everton simply cannot compete with the riches of  teams currently above it but Koeman proved at St Mary's he can work wonders on a budget.

Claude Puel B

As the season grew to a close, Puel's job appeared under threat. To sack him, though, would be folly.

Puel added to Koeman's work before the holidays, then lost key defenders Jose Fonte (to West Ham) and Virgil van Dijk (to injury). Nevertheless, the Frenchman maintained the Saints' status as a top-half Premier League side, achieving a very laudable eighth-placed finish. Add in a brilliant performance in the League Cup final against Manchester United--a match So'ton were very unlucky to lose--and one must consider Puel's first season as manager as a good one.

Next year, the former Lyon boss will need to prove he can bring the best out in youngsters, as Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino did before him, if he is to avoid falling into mediocrity's trap.

Jose Mourinho B-

Mourinho inherited a mess. United's was a squad turned into robots by Louis van Gaal, incapable of fluidity or attacking lust. It was always quite the task for Mourinho to immediately deprogram van Gaal's indoctrination but, as the man himself has said, there can be no excuse. He is managing Man United. The Red Devils were supposed to fight for the league this season.

Had the side turned a few frustrating draws into victories, it may well have kept up with Chelsea, making for an interesting comparison between former and current managers at Stamford Bridge. Rather, lack of ruthlessness, a quality that went missing with Sir Alex Ferguson, has hamstrung Mourinho's first year in charge at Old Trafford.

Without the Europa League, Mourinho would have been graded a C. Clinching the trophy, with its requisite Champions League football, earns the Portuguese a more respectable evaluation. Not that he can hang his hat on the achievement. It will be a very big summer for the Reds. United will need to invest shrewdly, especially at the back, if it is to build a squad capable to challenge for the league and other competitions.
Pep Guardiola C-

Guardiola's first season in English football will be characterised by glimpses of the future rather than immediate excellence. There have been the thrashings and beautiful football we have come to expect from Pep but there has also been woeful defending and lamentable weakness.

No trophy in his debut year will disappoint the Catalan. You can be certain his disappointment will inspire a work ethic that will propel Manchester City back into Premier League football's elite, however. If he did not get it completely right this year, he will next. Guardiola has already begun the process by addressing his goalkeeping issues, bringing in Benfica backstop Ederson on a world-record fee.

Still, securing Champions League football is his only significant achievement in 2016-17. On that basis, Pep has failed to meet expectation. He, too, said it himself. Anywhere else, such mediocrity would not be accepted. One feels next season is a pivotal year not just in the history of Guardiola's career, but also City's.

Walter Mazzarri D

Watford finished 17th in 2016-17, just one place above the drop zone. Indeed, the Hornet's last league win was in mid-April. Mazzarri's squad then lost six consecutive matches, culminating in a humbling 5-0 home defeat to Manchester City. The season began in a similar manner. Subsequent September wins against West Ham and Man United proved to be a false dawn.

The former Inter, Napoli, and Sampdoria manager alienated Watford supporters. A fan forum poll found 78% favoured his sacking. He deserves some credit for preserving Premier League football at Vicarage Road for another campaign. Nevertheless, it is clear Watford can and should expect better.

Mike Phelan F

In fairness to Phelan, Hull was a catastrophe already in motion when he arrived. Steve Bruce had abandoned the side after failing to receive support from the owners. An opening day Premier League win against defending champions Leicester City, followed by another against Swansea and the quick dispatching of Exeter City in the League Cup provided a glimmer of hope, but the light was quickly snuffed out.

Hull was timid under Phelan, meek in its attacking play, vulnerable at the back.There were no bright spots. It might be a bit harsh to brand Phelan a failure given his inherited circumstances but he failed to inspire his players, both psychologically and tactically.

Aitor Karanka F

Unlike the other new Premier League managers in this class, the Basque had been at Middlesbrough for three years before the season began. It was his and the club's first in the top flight during that spell, however.

Emphasising defending, Karanka's Boro was stale and unadventurous. Despite conceding fewer goals than its relegation rivals, Boro cut an imbalanced shape. Survival cannot be achieved on the basis of a stern defence alone. It must be complemented by genuine attacking play but Boro had a woefully lacked ambition to go forward.

Karanka did a marvelous job in overseeing promotion from the Championship but failed so miserably in his bid to retain Premier League status, Steve Agnew could not pick up the pieces when he was sacked.
Michael Jones

Football & political writer with a predictable love of everything retro. English Literature undergraduate at the University of Exeter, looking to pursue a career in sports journalism. For a collection of my work, visit. http://mikejonesmedia.wordpress.com

Follow me on twitter: @jonesmichael_97

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