The return of the Premier League this weekend will see three new managers in dugouts across the league. Dean Smith at Norwich, appointed just eight days after losing his job at boyhood club Aston Villa, his replacement Steven Gerrard and Eddie Howe at Newcastle United all face their first games in charge of their new clubs this weekend, with all three clubs looking to reignite their seasons and move up the table. Hence why all three clubs chose to replace their managers. But that doesn’t automatically mean that they will see an upturn in their fortunes straight away. The new manager bounce doesn’t always take effect.
All three of these new managers will need a little bit of time to just be with the players and try to get their ideas across. Which was why these clubs looked to get someone in place during the recent international break. Newcastle had been looking for around about a month for a replacement for Steve Bruce, but with the international break, Eddie Howe has had a few days to work with the players. The same goes for the other new managers as well. They aren’t quite being dropped in at the deep end. But these first few games are going to be akin to pre-season for them. That will be where the players will work out how the manager wants them to play and the manager will work out what system works best with the players at their disposal. Newcastle and Norwich need to get their season up and running, start winning games and stay in the division if they are going to progress, Newcastle especially.
With the takeover of the club by owners who have near-limitless funds available, ambitions will have skyrocketed towards thoughts of potential silverware down the road, but reality must take precedent for the Magpies right now. They are still yet to win a game at all this season. Eddie Howe is known to be a meticulous coach who oversaw Bournemouth’s rise from League Two all the way up to the Premier League. He also plays a style of football that is far more the territory that Newcastle fans want to see their team play. But this is his first job since leaving Bournemouth at the end of 2019/20 season. Whether he is the man to get Newcastle moving and keep them in the league remains to be seen.
This is Steven Gerrard’s first job in the Premier League, off the back of a very successful two-and-a-half-year stint in charge at Rangers in Scotland. Gerrard has overseen the resurrection of Rangers as a proper force in Scottish football. This has coincided with Celtic’s fall from the top of the tree but enormous credit has to go to Gerrard and his team that they were able to win Rangers’ 55th Scottish Premier League title and go the whole season unbeaten as well. It’s a slightly different challenge for Gerrard at Villa, however. Aston Villa had done well to establish themselves as a Premier League side last season, after a relegation battle that had gone down to the last day the season before. Finishing 11th, they had claimed some big scalps along the way, putting another building block in place for a potential return to European action. Unfortunately, their momentum has rather stalled this season and that may be because of the absence of Jack Grealish, who was very much the team’s talisman. Despite investing the £100 million from his sale very well in my opinion, the squad has been left rudderless by his departure to Manchester City, and results have dropped off. Dean Smith deserves a lot of credit for the job he did at Villa and he emerges with his reputation intact, so much so that he has found another job in the Premier League almost immediately. But for Gerrard, some stability needs to be restored to stop the freefall and get back towards where the club finished last season. I think Villa have the players to do it. Gerrard has to be able to get the best out of them.
Dean Smith is looking to break the cycle that Norwich have found themselves in for the last few years. They are a side that is far too good for the Championship, because every time they are in that division, they walk it every time. They crush all before them waltz back into the Premier League. Only to find that they are woefully unprepared for the challenge of staying in the league. Daniel Farke was able to institute a wonderful style of football that could dominate the Championship, but would be easily unpicked by the sides in the top division, where the level quality was just that much higher. In Dean Smith however, they have a manager who is proven at this level, and also has impressive work with Brentford and Walsall on his CV. One big element of Smith’s success over the years has been his ability to integrate younger players into the first team and help develop them into genuine quality players. With the young prospects that Norwich have on the books, this could be a great boon for them to have a manager renowned for developing young players in the dugout. What Smith really needs to do is make Norwich a tougher prospect to play. Chelsea played them recently and absolutely smashed them 7-0. Before that game, I was in no doubt at all that the Blues would win that game, I was utterly convinced they would. I didn’t think it would be by seven goals but I was confident in the extreme that Chelsea would win. Smith has got to make the team tougher to beat. If that means sacrificing some of the possession football that Farke implemented then so be it. They cannot be a walk over anymore. And while it is very admirable that Norwich have looked to live within their means so to speak, the squad needs to be substantially improved, and in this day and age that means spending money. If they want to stay in the division, they need to tweak their mindset. They have to strike a balance between reaching beyond their means and ending up like Derby County, and what they have been doing for some time now.
All three managers have sizable jobs on their hands. It is going to be interesting to watch how they get on.