“Slowness to change usually means fear of the new.” – Philip Crosby
For three returning Premier League sides, fear of the old inspired managerial changes prior to the 2019-2020 season. Brighton Hove & Albion, Chelsea, and Newcastle all turned to new leadership after finishes of 17th, 3rd, and 13th respectively.
After dismissing Chris Hughton at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season, Brighton appointed former Swansea City manager Graham Potter. Meanwhile, Chelsea hired club legend Frank Lampard to take the reins after Mauricio Sarri returned to Italy to lead Juventus. Newcastle selected Steve Bruce to take over after Rafa Benitez departed to join Chinese side Dalian Professional.
The three sides were in vastly different situations going into the season and opted for change with vastly different goals in mind.
With three-quarters of the soon-to-resume season now completed, it’s a good time to evaluate the performances of each manager in their debut seasons and where they go from here.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Graham Potter
After once again hanging on by a thread to salvage their Premier League status, Brighton decided to move on from the sound but overly cautious Chris Hughton. Under Hughton, the Seagulls averaged just 0.91 goals per game, relying on 36-year-old Glenn Murray to lead the line.
In fairness, the side sacrificed attacking firepower for defensive stability, finishing middle of the table in goals conceded. However, after finishes of 15th and 17th in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 respectively, the club worried about the sustainability of their conservative approach and determined that a change was needed.
To replace Hughton, the club turned to Swansea City boss Graham Potter, a manager known for his possession-based playing style. Brighton fans hoped that the progressive, if not unconventional, style of the Englishman would ignite the side’s attack.
Part of the problem for Potter was that he was inheriting a side full of solid, but not dynamic players. Consequently, Potter purchased Neal Maupay from Championship club Brentford, Leandro Trossard from Genk, and Aaron Mooy from relegated Huddersfield Town. To his credit, all three have played vital roles in the side, with Maupay leading the team with 8 goals.
The side’s attacking fortunes have improved, but not by much. The team is averaging 1.10 goals per game this season, not a considerable jump from that during Hughton’s tenure. After Maupay, whose 8 goals aren’t an astounding tally by any means, no player has scored over 3 goals.
The southern side’s position has been steady if not spectacular throughout the season. The team sat in a solid 13th place by Christmas with 20 points in 18 matches. However, the club preceded to pick up only 9 points in the following 11 matches, leaving them now just 2 points above the relegation zone.
Overall, the neutral viewer really couldn’t distinguish the current Brighton side from those of past seasons. They still rely on their strong spine of central defenders and consistent midfield engines to will the side to results. The club again find themselves in the heart of a survival scrap, which isn’t unchartered territory for them.
Ultimately, Potter’s fate will probably rely on the club’s survival. If they do avoid the drop, Potter will likely be given another year to work with the team. If they don’t, he more than likely will be searching for employment in a league other than the Premier League.
Chelsea: Frank Lampard
Despite a successful 3rd place finish in his lone season in west London, Mauricio Sarri left Chelsea to join Juventus. They turned to club legend Frank Lampard to carry his enthusiasm as a former Blues player into the dressing room.
Lampard was poached from Championship side Derby County, who made a run for promotion in the 2018/2019 season. Notable for incorporating young Chelsea loanees Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori along with Liverpool’s Harry Wilson into the team, Lampard allowed his young starlets to develop and shine in the second division.
With the flux of promising young prospects in the Chelsea squad, Blues fans hoped he could continue to integrate academy graduates into the matchday teams without compromising the side’s ability to contend for trophies.
Without a doubt, Lampard has held true to his philosophy of entrusting the youth. Lampard brought Mount and Tomori back with him to Stamford Bridge and each has had strong debut seasons in the top division. Alongside fellow youngsters Reece James, Kurt Zouma, Tammy Abraham, and Billy Gilmour, the youth have been given opportunities that were seldom afforded to them under past management.
Expectations entering the season were relatively low for Blues fans compared to past years. The club had lost the stubborn, but clever Sarri despite their wishes to keep him. Furthermore, Eden Hazard, one of the league’s best players in the past decade, moved on to Real Madrid.
With Lampard’s coaching career just beginning and the club strained by a transfer ban, both the club and the fans were prepared to give Lampard time to rebuild.
To the fans’ delight, it seems that Lampard’s progress has been ahead of the curve. The Blues currently sit in 4th place and their style has generally been very pleasing to the eye.
Defensive issues still need to be ironed out, with Kepa Arrizabalaga underperforming his hefty price tag and the team still conceding too often, especially on set pieces.
Nonetheless, Roman Abramovich couldn’t be happier with the development of Mount and Abraham, the solidity of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho in the middle of the park, and the experience of Cesar Azpilicueta and Olivier Giroud.
Lampard was always going to be given time, especially considering his history with the club. However, the Englishman has needed no special accommodations, as the club’s performances and promise for the future have more than justified his hire.
With the purchase of inventive AFC Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and the likely purchase of RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner, Chelsea fans can feel excited about the future.
Newcastle: Steve Bruce
Newcastle, quite surprisingly, were coming off a stellar 13th place finish in the 2018/2019 season. Although this may not seem overly impressive, when you consider the lack of quality in the Newcastle squad and club owner Mike Ashley’s unwillingness to spend, former manager Rafa Benitez had worked wonders to keep the club in the Premier League, let alone have them finishing near the middle of the pack.
However, Ashley’s stinginess proved too overwhelming in the club’s pursuit to keep Benitez. As his contract expired, the club were unable to provide the former Liverpool manager the wages or assurances that he sought to make him comfortable for the future.
Therefore, he departed for China to receive a much more lucrative payout, a loss that Newcastle felt more than they would have the loss of any player.
The club hired Steve Bruce, quite a familiar face to Premier League fans, to take over for Benitez. Toons fans hoped that Bruce, who was taking charge of his fifth different Premier League club, could use his experience to guide the team to survival.
Promisingly, it finally seemed that Ashley was willing to invest in the club. The club shattered their transfer record by purchasing Brazilian striker Joelinton, alongside the mercurial Allan Saint-Maximin and Dutch international fullback Jetro Willems.
The prospects of survival were already looking hopeful at best before the season. However, if you would have told Newcastle fans that Joelinton would have just one goal at this point, they would have already made plans for a return to the Championship. Remarkably, only Jonjo Shelvey has scored more than 2 goals in the league this season for the Toons (with an impressive 5 goals).
Nonetheless, Bruce and Newcastle just keep finding a way. The club again sit in 13th place, 8 points above the relegation zone, almost guaranteeing that they will again be playing in the top division next season.
Although not the most exciting team to watch, Newcastle’s players have bought into the system and have been rewarded for their commitment.
The results indicate that Bruce would deserve to feel stable in his current position. However, with the increasing possibility of new ownership making massive changes (a la Manchester City in 2008), Bruce may be replaced by a manager with more experience competing for titles.