London: Chelsea is days away from playing Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals.Tottenham is engaged in a nip-and-tuck race for a finish in the English Premier League top four.Leicester is in an even tighter fight to avoid dropping out of England’s lucrative top division.
All three clubs have very different objectives heading into the final weeks of the season. Yet, in one respect, they are in the same position.None of them have a permanent manager.
In a crazy eight-day span, three of English soccer’s biggest clubs thought it best to get rid of their widely respected managers without having any real plan to replace them.
No wonder so many say the business of soccer operates in a world of its own.
So, Chelsea heads into its league match against Wolverhampton on Saturday with Frank Lampard as temporary cover for the fired Graham Potter. The same Lampard who wasn’t deemed capable enough to lead a team battling relegation — Everton fired him in January — and who Chelsea itself sacked two years ago.
Tottenham goes into a huge home game against top-four rival Brighton not with serial winner Antonio Conte in the dugout — he was fired on March 26 — but instead with his former assistant, Cristian Stellini, in charge. Stellini is a long-time No. 2 who seemingly has the same pragmatic approach as the man he has replaced.
As for Leicester, which hosts fellow struggler Bournemouth on Saturday, it seems the club’s ownership believes the team is better off under the caretaker charge of unheralded assistant coaches Adam Sadler and Mike Stowell — who have no experience of managing teams at senior level — than under the fired Brendan Rodgers, who has previously been manager at Liverpool and Celtic, two of Britain’s most high-profile clubs.
How bad must things have gotten under the guys who have departed? And can clubs at the top end of this multi-billion-pound industry really be this chaotically run?
Twelve Premier League managers have been fired this season already — an unprecedented number for a single campaign — and it might not end there. West Ham’s David Moyes is under serious pressure for his position after a 5-1 loss to Newcastle on Wednesday left his team out of the relegation zone only on goal difference.
West Ham visits Fulham on Saturday, and another loss might spell the end for Moyes.
Panic is spreading through the league at both ends of the standings, mostly because of stifling financial pressures. Getting in the Champions League can be worth approaching $100 million to teams. Getting relegated, and therefore missing out on the cash from prize money and huge broadcasting deals offered in the Premier League, doesn’t bear thinking about for clubs at
or near the bottom.
The departure of Conte was perhaps the most understandable, given the apparent breakdown in his relationship with the Tottenham players and the board. Keeping Stellini on is confusing, though, and the performance in a 1-1 draw at Everton on Monday didn’t suggest there was going to be a significant change in playing style.
That Brighton is the opponent this weekend is fitting, given the team from the south coast is almost a model of how to run a club. Brighton has also changed managers this season but only because Chelsea enticed Potter away in September.
It might have been a blessing in disguise, though, with Roberto De Zerbi gaining better results and lifting the team up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-placed Tottenham having played two fewer games.
Brighton, an FA Cup semifinalist, has lost just one of its 15 games in all competitions in 2023 and has a genuine shot at the top four given it still has to play third-placed Newcastle and fourth-placed
Not giving Potter until the end of the season at Chelsea, and instead putting Lampard at the helm, is a strange one and adds to the sense of confusion and chaos in the first year of the American ownership.
The game at Wolves will mean more to the relegation-threatened hosts, seeing as Chelsea is languishing in 11th place and surely out of the running for the top four. Expect Lampard to rotate his team, likely keeping his most important players fresh for the first leg against Real Madrid in Spain on Tuesday.
There’s no sign of a permanent replacement for Rodgers being announced at Leicester before the arrival of Bournemouth, so it’s down to Sadler and Stowell again to lead the team to a first win in eight league games.
It’s a massive match, with Leicester in next-to-last place and Bournemouth two points better off in third-to-last place. They are two of nine teams separated by seven points at the bottom of the standings.
It’s a remarkable season in the league in pretty much every way. (AP)