As the Premier League prepares for its festive fixture list, fans of Premier League clubs are by now aware that we are around the halfway mark in the season, and their 2017/18 stories are well on the way to being written. The question for nineteen of them — let’s assume Manchester City will remain in first place — is whether it’s the kind of story that follows a standard path, or one with a twist in the tale.
Behind Man City, there are three Champions’ League spots to be secured and five teams who will consider the season a failure if they don’t secure one of them. Europa League spots will be a mild consolation for another few who manage to string together a convincing second half to the season.
The rest of the table, though, is congested, and club chairmen will be acutely aware that if they want to escape the pull of relegation, a change in the dugout may be a necessity sooner rather than later. So which managers will be blocking up the chimney this festive season out of fear that Santa may be bringing them a P45?
Mark Hughes (Stoke)
No one expects much from Stoke; they’re the kind of team you can forget are around. Neither very good nor really bad, they’re the kind of team often backed for a draw on Bet and Skill’s accumulator tips and not much else. The problem with their season so far is that Hughes has moved them away from the usual expected mediocrity we have become accustomed to… but not in the direction they’d have hoped.
This season, Stoke have looked and felt aimless in a way that doesn’t feel like it will end with the usual comfortable twelfth place and “celebratory” trip to La Manga. Hughes may well have just a few games to turn things around, especially now that former manager, and expert in grinding out results, Tony Pulis isn’t busy.
Paul Clement (Swansea)
If you’re bottom of the table in December, then it has to be considered a sign that your bus driver will have some new, less glamorous destinations to type into his sat-nav next August. Swansea’s time at the top table seems to be rapidly running out, and although the club say Clement will have the chance to recruit new players in January, a couple of defeats before the year is out may change that analysis. The club avoided relegation late on last season, but right now that’s looking like a stay of execution more than anything else.
Mauricio Pellegrino (Southampton)
Many plaudits have been handed to former Saints boss Claude Puel on the basis of his first couple of months at Leicester. Among them would surely have to be a note on his restraint in not lighting a celebratory cigar during the second half of his new club’s 4-1 trouncing of his old one, who sacked him off the back of an eighth-place finish and a League Cup final appearance. The reason, supposedly, was the boring football his Southampton side played.
Under Pellegrino, the Saints are no more exciting than they were under Puel, but at least they’re now just three points of the relegation spots as well. So that’s progress of a sort but, given how demanding the owners seem to be, will Pellegrino even see out the season?
Of course, two wins for any of these clubs over Christmas and such dire predictions will blow away like a dusting of Christmas snow. For the time being, at least.