December, rather than April, is the cruellest month when it comes to the Premier League – for managers. With the transfer window in January looming in January, chairmen start to question whether they want the current manager in post to spend more of their money. If the team is in the bottom few, or simply underachieving, they might just think, now is the time to act.
So let’s look at the bookies on the next manager to go. These are the top five at Ladbrokes. The odds vary across bookies, but the order is largely the same.
4/6 Alan Pardew, Crystal Palace
10/3 Bob Bradley, Swansea
4/1 David Moyes, Sunderland
9/2 Mike Phelan, Hull
14/1 Slaven Bilic, West Ham
Hardly surprising that these are the bottom five in the league.
So Alan Pardew is the red hot favourite. I think he’s a good manager, and he’s done pretty well at Palace. But they ended last season badly, spent a lot of money in the summer and have just lost six games on the trot. They are 17th – one place above the relegation places. Enough to merit the sack? I wouldn’t say so; but Pardew has a bit of a reputation for starting well at clubs and then winding people up a bit. I don’t know whether it’s happening at Palace, but perhaps we shouldn’t forget he was one of the favourites for the England job when Big Sam got it.
But, of course, I want to concentrate on the fifth manager on that list. It’s our man, Slaven Bilic at West Ham. How can this be? He came in last season, replacing the sullied Sam Allardyce. He did really well, the team was excellent and we ended up 7th, having threatened briefly to make the top four. Dimitri Payet lit up our football lives.
And now we are fifth bottom. What’s happened?
Well it’s West Ham. Fantastic opportunity to move onto great things as we move into the Olympic Stadium, cheap rent and all. Time to get serious.
One point above the relegation zone.
Oh blimey, plus ca change, as they say in Essex.
What’s gone wrong?
Well, let’s stay calm – it’s still early days. Two or three wins on the trot and we’d be mid-table. We are in a run of tough games against the top teams: Spurs, Man Utd, Arsenal next weekend. And against the first two – both away – we played pretty well. 2-1 up against Spurs until the last few minutes – lost 3-2. Early goal against Utd – drew 1-1 and held on well. In fact, whenever I’ve seen them on the TV, they’ve looked pretty good in spells. But the defence has lost concentration at crucial moments, far more than last season. Other players have dipped in form, notably the two play makers, Payet and Lanzini. Or maybe you just notice them more because they were both so good last season.
People say the team has struggled to adapt to the new stadium – I daresay that is true. Probably hasn’t helped that fans have been at odds with each other, over things like standing in seating. (It’s all seating – sit!). You hope that will all sort itself out.
The problem is mostly on the pitch. Porous defence, lacklustre midfield, toothless attack. The latter despite the fact that the club spent a lot of money on forwards like Andre Ayew, Sofiane Feghouli, Simone Zaza and Gokhan Tore, none of whom can command a place in the starting eleven, despite all being internationals. (Who can forget Zaza’s penalty miss for Italy in the Euros?). And of course big Andy Carroll is injured – he never manages more than five or six games. Such a shame, as he is awesome when he gets fit.
The rumours have started to circulate about Slav getting the sack before the window, but all the possible replacements mentioned in the stuff I’ve read are completely unrealistic. And why would we would to get rid of Bilic? He’s a fine manager. Transformed us last year. Brought the smile back to people’s faces. And took us to a creditable league placing.
Unless there are bad things going on behind the scenes – and that wouldn’t seem in keeping with Slav – we must stick with him. We have talented players. We need to get more out of the forwards; the defence needs to tighten up – and good signs were shown against Man Utd. And the midfield needs to believe.
I’d say it is getting there. Home to Arsenal will be hard. And it’s one of the two games I don’t want the Gunners to win each season. I expect defeat in this one because they are so good right now and more resilient than in recent seasons, although they haven’t been at their best recently.
And then we’ve got Liverpool away. Oh my God!
We are paying the price for poor results against teams we should have beaten earlier in the season. But should have never washes. You have to do it! We have four crucial matches after the challenge of Arsenal and Liverpool. Burnley, Hull, Swansea, Leicester, taking it to 31 December. If we fail in more than one of them we are in serious trouble.
And Slav will be out.