This year’s sack race open to all

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Usually, by this point in the Premier League season, if a manager hasn’t already been shown the door, we at least have some forlorn figures that we can just about nail on as being ripe for the sack. Last November, Ian Holloway and Paolo Di Canio had already been disposed of, and by the time we waltzed into mid-December, Steve Clarke, Andre Villas-Boas and Martin Jol were also at home in their slippers, unshowered and scanning the classifieds. 10 managers in total lost their jobs last season, and none of the redundancies were of any great surprise when the axe finally fell. This season, the sack race is a lot more difficult to discern, with the pre-season front runners, Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew now each reclining on deck chairs back at the starters blocks, smiling at one another, occasionally clinking their rum-filled coconuts. Pardew’s recent turnaround at Newcastle has been nothing short of incredible, and his team now enter the international break sitting firmly in the top half of the table, after a run of 5 wins on the trot. West Ham are also enjoying the breezy, top-half life, sitting in an astonishing fourth place.

Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew gestures before their English Premier League soccer match against Liverpool at St James' Park in Newcastle

So who amongst the damned pack will be the first to go? An excellent place to start is usually the bottom three, those magnetic relegation spots, where pressure is a few atmospheres greater and time is a priceless commodity. The three promoted sides, Queens Park Rangers, Leicester City and Burnley are the teams filling the drop zone as it stands, but all three have had reason to be optimistic recently. Burnley, bottom of the table, just registered their first win of the season. They were the last team in English football to do so this term, and it was due reward after multiple weeks where their hard work, grit and perseverance had left them just short. Sean Dyche, woefully underfunded and with an Everest-like task ahead of him to keep Burnley up, is well liked at the club. The fans, as well as the club itself, seem to realise the discrepancy in affluence and player quality that Burnley are having to overcome, so the performances so far, filled with energy and effort as they are, have kept vitriol to a minimum.

Leicester started the season full of furious energy, and the goals of Leonardo Ulloa led the Foxes to draws with Everton and Arsenal, and wins over Manchester United and Stoke. Since that famous 5-3 victory over the Red Devils however, Nigel Pearson’s side have only managed to secure 1 point from an available 18, and are now on a losing streak that stretches back 3 matches. Despite this, they stand just one win away from 13th spot. If they can find their early-season form again, and with Sunderland and QPR as their next two opponents, they might well be in mid-table comfort in a few weeks time.

And that brings us to QPR, that centre for chaos, a club that seems to have been embroiled in some brand of madness for the last handful of seasons, whether on-field or off. They’re second-from-bottom and before last weekend’s well deserved draw with champions Manchester City, they had lost their previous 5 matches. Harry Redknapp’s team began the season terribly, losing 4-0 to Tottenham in the second game, and then being turned over by the same score against Manchester United a few weeks later. They reached a horrible nadir in their 2-0 loss to West Ham, but have rallied since then, raising their level of play impressively. Unlucky only to draw against City, they were unfortunate in the extreme to lose via two own-goals to Liverpool, were very competitive against Mourinho’s Chelsea juggernaut, and beat Aston Villa comfortably. Despite all of his flaws (of which there are more than exist on the face of Ray Liotta), Harry Redknapp is a veteran manager and one capable of guiding his team to safety. The spine of the team is solid; Steven Caulker in defence, Joey Barton and Sandro in midfield, and Eduardo Vargas and Charlie Austin up front, all bolstered by the recent excellent form of Bobby Zamora (and the continued exclusion of Rio Ferdinand). If they could somehow eradicate the critical mistakes that have cost them in recent games, then Redknapp should have no reason to fear the next call from Tony Fernandes, who himself seems to have learnt some valuable lessons from QPR’s last time in the top flight.

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So if not the bottom three, then who? TheSackRace.com have a couple of interesting short-odds candidates. Beneath Redknapp, they list Villa’s Paul Lambert (winless in 6) and, unsurprisingly considering their recent form, City manager Manuel Pellegrini as potential sack race victors. City have suffered through a dire spell, and particularly baffling is their continued inability to perform in Europe (they are bottom of their group). Pellegrini came out with an always inadvisable “I don’t know” when asked about his team’s slump, and it isn’t beyond the realms of imagination that he might be feeling a little insecure at the Etihad. Results had better improve, with Chelsea racing away over the horizon, and rumours of Diego Simeone swirling.

Beneath Pellegrini in the stakes are Hull’s Steve Bruce, whose team’s form has deserted them of late, and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino. Pochettino in particular is a most tantalising contestant, a man whose fate as one of the merry-go-round of managers to have entered and exited Tottenham under Daniel Levy isn’t just beckoning, but winking, cooing and sitting provocatively across the bar. He’s currently doing a very passable impression of Andre Villas-Boas circa November 2013 by losing to unfancied opposition, overseeing a band of rag-tag underachievers, and sporting ridiculously voluminous hair. Spurs’ meek shepherding of Stoke City twice towards their goal was disheartening to watch and it seems that, along with the Liverpool contingent, Pochettino is proving that leaving Southampton is the worst thing a person can do in football these days. Emmanuel Adebayor has decided, with the bad mood firmly established at White Hart Lane, that publicly criticising the home supporters might be a helpful thing to do.

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And then of course (of course?), there’s the reigning manager of the year, Brendan Rodgers, and his Liverpool team labouring badly without Daniel Sturridge and, to a far more obvious extent, Luis Suarez. Already talk of a second title tilt has been abandoned, and, with their current form in mind, a top four finish this season seems very unlikely. The new signings have been ineffective, the captain is fading quickly, and Raheem Sterling can’t (and shouldn’t) be relied on to carry them. Bizarre team selections (like picking Dejan Lovren over Kolo Toure to play against Diego Costa and Chelsea) has not helped Rodgers’ cause, and Liverpool’s impending exit from Europe, tails between legs, will only further depress the fans. TheSackRace.com has Rodgers as tenth most likely to be sacked next.

Basically, it’s anyone’s race to win (or is it lose?). Neil Warnock might be the punter’s dark horse, and Gus Poyet is worth a bet as well. Speculating over the future of a man’s livelihood might seem a little cruel, but on the other hand … well, it’s fun. Who do you think will win this season’s sack race and why?

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