Lambert-Villa with room for improvement
In the EPL, we're experiencing the onset of autumn and its traditional accompanying question: Which EPL manager will be the first to feel the boardroom axe descend?
It’s the season where chairmen start shifting uneasily in their boardroom chairs and managers run scared of the occasionally fatal "vote of confidence." So let’s run the rule over where and under whom the sands may start shifting sooner than others.
So, after his buccaneering deeds with Norwich in the lower divisions, the ex-Scottish international led the Canaries to their EPL El Dorado. And, staying true to Lambert's word and beliefs, the Canaries swaggered through their debut Premier season.
Relegation worries were banished early, and with the likes of Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan to the fore, they left an impressive fingerprint on the top flight.
However, in the summer, the vultures came circling. And, just as Aston Villa had previously picked off the boss of a promoted club in Birmingham’s Alex McLeish, so they did again. As Lambert departed East Anglia, the media pundits again exhumed the tiresome cliché of Villa as a “Sleeping Giant.”
But if we’re honest, this is a giant that’s all but overdosed on Mogadon.
Almost all the players who provided their challenging verve under Martin O’Neill had departed. Big-money signing Darren Bent has lost the ability, and at times seemingly the spirit, to pile up regular goals, while Gabby Agbonlahor must frequently shake his head and wonder how he’s so far missed the transfer shuttle bus from the Midlands to greener pastures.
Consequently then, one win and six goals in seven league games with November looming is hardly likely to raise eyebrows, much less hackles, among a resigned Villa following.
Chairman Randy Lerner has all but nailed down the transfer war chest. Lambert must be alert against it being levered open again, this time for payoff and compensation purposes.
But let’s remain at Lambert’s former home patch of Carrow Road for our next at-risk candidate.
Arguably some of last season’s best EPL football was played by promoted sides Norwich and Swansea City. Both came up with managerial and stylistic continuity and both made their home grounds distinctly uncomfortable venues for opposing teams to visit.
Once again, however, summer changes serve to disrupt the flow.
Hughton brought with him a well-merited reputation as not only a person but as a coach ridiculously sacked by Newcastle after a fine job there. He’d also performed with aplomb at Birmingham, but a post-Lambert Norwich was always going to rate highly on any chart of "tough acts to follow."
Despite the impressive loan recruitment of Harry Kane from Spurs, familiar faces such as Andrew Crofts and Daniel Ayala headed in the opposite direction. And with part of the overall tapestry seeing Grant Holt mislaying his goal-scoring mojo, the Canaries still seek a first win of the season at the very time the weather, suspensions and injuries all start to bite.
Yes, there was the eye-catching win over Arsenal, but it’s worth remembering Blackpool’s lone EPL season featured home wins over the likes of both Spurs and Liverpool.
The Carrow Road boardroom are traditionally loyal to managers and slow to wield the axe. One suspects Chris Hughton will need to rely on more than those qualities to avoid a premature conclusion to his life in Canary Country.
And so, to a potential third candidate riding the EPL risk highway.
To some, even suggesting that the playing doyenne of the “Beautiful Game” may meet such a fate would be little short of heresy.
I’ve written here before about how the Dane was inheriting a legacy—not just a team—when he breezed into the Liberty in summer 2012.
This was a legacy that had been passed almost seamlessly from its architect Roberto Martinez through Paulo Sousa and Brendan Rodgers—a legacy that had been yearly fine-tuned rather than overhauled and that had led to an ascending parabola of success. Laudrup, though, set to work immediately on major and forensic squad surgery—nine incomers and roughly half as many leaving.
And the outcome?
After the well-chronicled “flattering to deceive” victories over QPR and West Ham, just one point came from the subsequent 12 matches. And it's sobering to note Swansea have yet to lock horns home or away with either Manchester Club, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs or even Newcastle.
And there was the talk of player dissent.
A newspaper article claimed player dissatisfaction with tactics, methods and fitness, with the chairman involved and aware. Later that day, Huw Jenkins did a complete volte-face and denied all knowledge.
However, the rumour mill had been primed and was ready to start turning, which is never ideal for team morale. And with a clinical look at Laudrup’s previous managerial record at Brondby, Getafe and Spartak Moscow, many would suggest it spells "adequate" rather than "inspiring."
Swansea City have no recent practice in sacking managers; they generally leave in the summer for pastures new. Could 2012-13 offer a hint of a change in that department?