As Dean Smith would no doubt testify, being a Premier League manager is a precarious business. The now former Aston Villa manager headed into the international break this time last year having racked up five victories from seven matches, including the famous 7-2 thrashing of then-champions Liverpool. Yet 12 months on and having only just guided his boyhood club to their highest finish for a decade, Smith was abruptly shown the door on Sunday afternoon following an awful start to the new campaign and a record that shows Villa have secured only 11 league wins from 35 matches in 2021.
A few hours earlier, just as Eddie Howe was taking his seat to watch Newcastle’s draw against Brighton prior to his confirmation as Steve Bruce’s replacement on Monday, it had been Daniel Farke’s turn to face the music despite leading Norwich to their long-awaited first victory of the campaign to move briefly off the bottom of the table. After a short hiatus the Premier League’s sacking season seems to be back in full swing. Smith’s departure from Villa after a run of five successive defeats meant the number of managers who left their posts last season has already been surpassed, with Xisco Munoz and Nuno Espírito Santo, from Watford and Spurs respectively, the others to have succumbed.
Of the Premier League’s current bottom five only Burnley’s Sean Dyche remains in situ from the start of the season.By contrast last season it took until 16 December for the first manager to lose his job when Slaven Bilic was fired by West Brom after they had earned a 1-1 draw at the eventual champions, Manchester City, with Frank Lampard, Chris Wilder and José Mourinho the only other casualties by the time it ended in May. The absence of supporters at matches making their antipathy known – as no doubt played a significant role in Nuno being replaced by Antonio Conte at Spurs after just 10 matches – due to Covid-19 restrictions for the majority of the season can perhaps explain why clubs were less eager to wield the axe last season. Normal service now appears to have been resumed.
At this rate with less than a third of the season gone, we could even be on course to beat the Premier League high of 15 managerial changes (including caretakers) during a season that occurred in 2017-18. Yet while Frank de Boer infamously set a record that year after being dismissed by Crystal Palace having lost all four league matches and scoring no goals, it will take something extraordinary to surpass a record season in which almost half of the division make a mid-season change.
Unsurprisingly after his team’s meek surrender in the Manchester derby on Saturday, Ole Gunnar Solskjær is the odds-on hot favourite to be next, followed by Everton’s Rafael Benítez – for obvious reasons now that a promising start has faded – and Claudio Ranieri of Watford in the hottest of hot seats. But aside from those three, it is debatable which other clubs may be tempted to take drastic action barring a disastrous loss of form.