Top banana week with opportunities for some to play two games whilst Erling sorted out his groin – Southampton on Saturday could be messy for the Saints – so you had to reap 120+ points to do anything in the league.
Top score was James S with a ridiculously greedy 146 points (32 from bench boost, must be a record) followed by Ben (139) and Aleksa (124) with mentions to Hayley (123), Nikita (122) and Tudor (120) joining the star parade. With it being week one of the new month James S, Ben and Aleksa lead the march for April Manager of the Month. Manager of the month for March was Chris (213) holding off Tudor (212) and Ben (208). As we throttle into the final bend before the push of the final ten games, Michael still heads the pack (1906) but lurking over his shoulder are Aleksa (1900) and Scott (1898).
As we go to press, the dismissals of Brendan Rodgers and Graham Potter by Leicester City and Chelsea means this season has set a new record for Premier League sackings: a staggering 12 – the previous high being 10. The number of top-flight managers ordered to hand in their initialled club-issue puffer jackets is amazing. We may well add to this with Steve Cooper at Forest (+1) shortly, but then Frank coming back as caretaker to Frank Lampard’s Chelsea merits a -0.5 so we’re 11.5 an counting. Lamps coming back to where he’s previously failed is an odd one. Anyone else at risk? Here’s the roll call, of ‘Manager of the Month: fired’:
Aug: Scott Parker (Bournemouth)
Sep: Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea)
Oct: Bruno Lage (Wolves), Steven Gerrard (Villa)
Nov: Ralph Hasenhuettl (Southampton)
Jan: Frank Lampard (Everton)
Feb: Jesse Marsch (Leeds), Nathan Jones (Southampton)
Mar: Patrick Vieira (Palace), Antonio Conte (Spurs)
April: Brendan Rodgers (Leicester), Graham Potter (Chelsea)
Chelsea and Southampton lost two managers in the season, which is just downright careless. It cost Chelsea £22m in compensation to Brighton to hire Potter, and then £13m to settle his contract. Oh, he earned £7m in salary whilst in post and it cost £10m to fire Tuchel. That’s £45m on manager costs to sit comfy in eleventh. Chaos reigns at Chelsea. Given the baffling approach to football club ownership that Boehly has demonstrated since taking over at Stamford Bridge, he may find the very best of the best reluctant to take over from Potter and could struggle to land their top targets. On the plus side: Scott Parker, Bruno Lage, Steven Gerrard, Ralph Hasenhüttl, Frank Lampard, Jesse Marsch, Nathan Jones, Patrick Vieira, Antonio Conte and Brendan Rodgers are all available.
Boehly said As we continue our thorough and exhaustive process for a permanent head coach, we want to provide the club and our fans with a clear and stable plan for the remainder of the season. We want to give ourselves every chance of success and Frank has all of the characteristics and qualities we need to drive us to the finish line. Given Lampard’s record of previous albeit not entirely abject failure in charge of the club, followed by a overseeing an Everton side he left swirling around the Premier League plughole, Chelsea’s decision to appoint someone who is demonstrably worse at managing a football club than Potter seems completely bonkers. He is the bang average gaffer who had a win percentage <17% during his 43 games in charge at Everton, where he was never slow in publicly digging out his own players for what looked suspiciously like his own shortcomings.
Boehly’s brave new world of vulgar spending with no overarching strategy is turning out to be rubbish, so poor Potter was let go, with his Steve Jobs roll-neck and that-there-London beard still getting acquainted with its host face. Yet here is Lamps lined up as Chelsea’s steadying hand, on the back of qualifications no more relevant than the fact he once played with distinction for the club. So here is a thing that could have happened. Keep Potter. Keep faith in the much-publicised realignment of Chelsea. And then, in the summer, think again. Reflect on a season’s work in its entirety. And then make a decision.
But no. We have this instead, a return for Lampard in the short-term. And then what? What if he wins all his remaining league games? What if he wins the Champions League? Do Chelsea say goodbye again? Do they skewer a legend twice? Or do they give a man once sacked a second chance? It’s like a warped, sweat-drenched bad dream of a long night on the Football Manager video game. And this is also what it is. It’s madness. Jürgen, who could still join the P45 brigade, gave us his view on the Premier League managerial merry-go-round. I think the elephant in the room is probably, why I am still sitting here in this crazy world? Last man standing. Only because what I’ve done in the past.
Pep v Jürg’s respectful rivalry was there again in City’s easy 4-1 victory v Liverpool, and following Lord Ferg and Baron Wenger’s canonisation earlier this week, the regrettable phrase ‘Future Hall of Famer’ will soon become Premier League pundit parlance and these two managers will eventually join those forebears within what is presumably a commemorative house of wax just down the corridor from the VAR room at Stockley Park. Did they share a cheeky 1989 Château Pétrus at the Etihad, or sneak out for a cheeky vape before deciding to share an exec box next time the Foo Fighters hit Europe? Their great rivalry is on the wane, as Liverpool, like Chelsea, are just mid-table these days. Pep the obsessive introvert, Jürg the wild and crazy guy? It’s a bit more complicated than that, but Jürg’s men play City, Chelsea and Arsenal in a spell of eight days that will decide their season end point.
I don’t know why it matters so much to me, but life events should be significant enough without football fixtures clamping onto them like limpets. But I have a link of magic stones connecting the big events in my life to Burnley fixtures. On the day I proposed to my wife in Scarborough, Burnley were, purely by coincidence, playing Scarborough that afternoon (1987, we lost 0-1, Division Four). We both have tender memories of sitting on a bench looking out to sea that day eating fish and chips, fighting off the occasional hungry seagull. I also remember looking over her shoulder as we hugged, double checking the time on the town hall clock – just over an hour to get to the ground.
Our first kiss in Yorkshire happened as Burnley were losing 0-2 away to Doncaster Rovers, August 1984 – it was a relegation season from Division Three. We almost split up on Boxing Day of that year (we lost 0-4 away at York and she put her foot down, no trip to York, spend the day with her mum and dad). There are also anniversaries of weddings (moved to a Friday to accommodate a home fixture on the Saturday, 1-0 victory v Scunthorpe), births and deaths in the family with a claret hue. Then there’s the story of the League Cup win on penalties at Chelsea in 2008 when Katie managed to spend £20 on KFC, having been despatched to the counter for the £9.99 order. No, we didn’t need the ice cream special, the extra 2l bottles of coke and extra curry sauce and gravy.
Still, 15 years on, remembering these and other landmarks with a Burnley match attached to them makes me feel treasured about younger versions of myself. I know through being inextricably linked to the football club gives me a clear chronology to my life. I have dusty football memories, and away wins that are etched within like an ancient cave painting. Past fixture lists with results, screw your eyes closed, drift away and you can just smell the Bovril and that Sam Vokes tap in at Huddersfield. 12 March 2016. 3-1 at half-time.
I’ve drifted down the fantasy league in recent weeks so spent the last few days sat in the garden shed with my flask, staring at the sprouting leeks, considering my future. I’m giving myself to the end of the season. Not in the shed, but to work things out with my coloured pens and multi-coloured post-it notes system. I’ve worked out that an anagram of Martin Ødegaard is Rita Armageddøn so far. Who to bring into your squad? Erling? Or will Pep think City don’t need him this week at Southampton and he’ll spend 90 minutes on the bench checking his WhatsApp messages? City strung together 66 passes before Grealish’s shot in the 82nd minute versus Liverpool last Saturday, the longest sequence of passes leading to a goal in the Premier League, so maybe time to bring Jack back in – and what a run and tackle he did on Salah.
Isak (£6.7m) and Wilson (£6.9m) have both been in the goals for Newcastle but, with Wilson starting in the win at West Ham on Wednesday, it’s a bit more of a risk in picking the one who’s going to get the most minutes. Toney’s one yellow card away from a two-game suspension so I’ve steered clear of him, but if you’ve got £7.5m burning a hole in your pocket then Watkins has to be your man. He’s scored eight goals in his last ten games and is a strong captaincy candidate this week with Villa at home to Forest. Sir Marcus of Trafford is in contention for the armband as well with United at home to Everton in the first game of the weekend.
Transfer deadline is Saturday 11am. Good luck!