Frank Lampard's suddenly shaky ground exemplifies the rollercoaster season Big Six managers are having

Leander Schaerlaeckens
·4 min read

The report followed the defeat by only a few hours.

After the 3-1 loss to Manchester City, a fourth in six Premier League games that dropped Chelsea to eighth place and 17th in the form table for the last half dozen matchdays, Blues manager Frank Lampard was reportedly in danger of being fired.

Per The Athletic, the club was already exploring alternatives. And statistically, Lampard’s slow march to his professional demise was apparently inevitable.

Premier League managerial jobs are unstable even in the best of times, but this reversal in fortunes felt particularly quick. After all, it was only six matchdays ago that Lampard’s team had won four times in five games, hadn’t lost in nine, and was only two points out of first place. The young manager and club legend was being praised for his performance then. And Lampard still had leftover credit for guiding a young Chelsea through a transitional rebuilding year last season, earning a Champions League berth anyway.

But Lampard was hardly the only Big Six manager to ride a job safety rollercoaster this season.

Frank Lampard is the latest Big Six manager whose fortunes have changed seemingly overnight. (Andy Rain/Pool via AP)
Frank Lampard is the latest Big Six manager whose fortunes have changed seemingly overnight. (Andy Rain/Pool via AP)

Just two weeks ago, Mikel Arteta was either on the verge of being sacked by Arsenal, a loss away, or three losses away, depending on what you read. After all, a run of one win from 10 that included seven losses, had condemned the Gunners to an unimaginable 15th place and its worst start to a campaign in several generations.

But since then, Arteta’s Arsenal has beaten a collapsing Chelsea, 17th-place Brighton and 19th-place West Brom consecutively, which lifted the Gunners to the thin air of 11th place and within six points of the Champions League places. And so the clamor for Arteta’s position has died down. All is well again, never mind that the 13-time English champions still sit in the bottom half of the table.

Less than a month ago, there was speculation that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be fired as Manchester United manager if his side lost to crosstown rivals Manchester City. Because the derby fell just four days after United’s inauspicious Champions League group stage exit to RB Leipzig, casting it into the Europa League. But United tied City 0-0, and the Red Devils still haven’t lost in the league since a Nov. 1 defeat to Arsenal, a run of eight wins in 10 that propelled them from 15th place to a tie on points with defending champions Liverpool.

The concerns about Solskjaer have melted away. Now, the Norwegian who has appeared so close to losing his job on several occasions is the subject of gushing stories about bringing “togetherness” and “morale” back to his talented but mercurial side.

The innate strangeness of this second COVID Premier League season has taken its toll on the league’s beleaguered managers. It remains true, like in any season, that every Big Six head coach is expected to steer his team to a top-three finish. Or at least the top four and the attendant Champions League berths. And that is still as much of a mathematical impossibility as it ever was.

It’s just that, now, with the compressed schedule and the increased injuries and the players lost to positive tests and the truncated offseason and the shortened preseason and the lack of fans and all the rest, results are more unpredictable than ever. And that has conspired to an up-and-down campaign for most of the big teams and their managers, a kind of seesaw of optics, even though the chaos is a constant.

For a little while at the start of the season, even City’s Pep Guardiola didn’t look quite so untouchable, with a mere three wins from their first eight league matches. And after a run of four games without a win, and a dive from first to seventh, the shine briefly wore off Tottenham Hotspur’s Jose Mourinho, one of the season’s best-performing managers. The only manager to escape significant scrutiny is Liverpool’s unimpeachable Jurgen Klopp, whose side has overcome an injury rash to his defenders.

But all of this job insecurity is a function of the pandemic as much as it is the unrelenting volatility at those clubs. Chelsea spent lavishly on upgrading its attacking without similarly addressing its defense. United remains an ensemble cast of stars making the most of a hackneyed script. Tottenham is still thin and prone. City continues to look sated on too many days. Nobody knows where to even begin with Arsenal.

The soccer business isn’t built on nuance, however. It only has regard for results. And those results redound upon the manager. So for as long as conditions in the Premier League remain this unusual and the scores this topsy-turvy, no manager will sleep soundly.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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