The Misters: 10-6

Words By Blair Newman Illustration by Philippe Fenner
August 27, 2018
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10. PABLO MACHIN (GIRONA)

Win percentage: 3.5 Position change: 9 Position to value: 6 Knockout points: 0

Points: 18.5

In a league filled with surprise packages, Girona were among La Liga’s most shocking stories last season. Having won promotion in 2017, they set about their first campaign at the top level with an unerring efficiency. They drew with eventual runners-up Atletico Madrid on the opening day, and put their first winning sequence together between October and November. One of those wins came against Real Madrid, where Machin’s tactics proved key.

In what was a superb pressing display, Girona defeated the European champions 2-1 at home. That was unquestionably the high point of the season, though 13 other wins ensured a wonderful 10th-place finish. With his 3-5-2 system featuring incisive counter-attacking play, Machin made sure Girona held their own against teams of much greater financial might. For this, at the culmination of the season he was awarded the Sevilla job.

9. JOSE MOURINHO (MANCHESTER UNITED)

Win percentage: 6.5 Position change: 4 Position to value: 0 Knockout points: 8

Points: 18.5

Considering he spent much of the season wondering – and failing to grasp – how to get the best out of Paul Pogba, Mourinho’s 2017/18 was pretty positive. His tactics may not have suited ‘the Manchester United way’, but his results were more in line with the club’s history. Early signs of involvement in a title race proved to be a false dawn, but the eventual second place finish was the club’s best since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

Perhaps what counted against Mourinho was a lack of silverware. In his first campaign at Old Trafford a sixth-place league position was glossed over with victories in the Europa League and League Cup. This time around an FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea only added to the sense of feeling good-but-not-quite-good-enough, which is something many fans can’t get used to considering the amount of money spent on the squad.

8. PEP GUARDIOLA (MANCHESTER CITY)

Win percentage: 8.5 Position change: 2 Position to value: 0 Knockout points: 8

Points: 18.5

After one season of settling in and a summer of hefty spending, nothing less than the title would do for Guardiola at Manchester City. That he would achieve, and in some style too. His side broke Premier League record after Premier League record on their way to victory – most goals scored, best goal difference, most wins, most consecutive wins, and most points. At no point did they not look like champions.

This was the football most expected when Guardiola arrived in England: attacking, intense, explosive, and successful. It almost worked in Europe, too – they could well have gone on to win the Champions League had they not been thwarted by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, City’s very own tactical nemesis, in the quarter-finals of the competition.

7. JURGEN KLOPP (LIVERPOOL)

Win percentage: 5.5 Position change: 0 Position to value: 1 Knockout points: 13

Points: 19.5

Domestically, Klopp was unable to improve Liverpool’s position on from 2016/17. They won one less game, picked up one less point, and went out a round earlier in the FA Cup. However, this slight stagnation at home was correctly overshadowed by an exhilarating Champions League run. Along with sealing a second straight top-four finish for the first time in eight years, Liverpool reached the final of Europe’s elite club competition.

Their route to Kiev was anything but simple, involving tough ties with Hoffenheim, Sevilla, Porto, Manchester City and Roma. The quarter-final win over Pep Guardiola’s City was perhaps the high point – not only did it book a semi-final berth, but confirmed Liverpool’s status as City’s toughest opponent. Klopp and his high-octane pressing style may not have brought silverware to Anfield, but last season was yet another step in the right direction.

6. ERNESTO VALVERDE (BARCELONA)

Win percentage: 7.5 Position change: 1 Position to value: 0 Knockout points: 11

Points: 19.5

Barcelona just aren’t Barcelona anymore. The Pep Guardiola era and its after-effects are well and truly gone, replaced by a more cautious, risk-averse style of play. However, while the football has changed, the winning mentality remains. Valverde helped to complete the club’s stylistic alteration after Luis Enrique’s counter-attacking tweaks, and the results obtained in his debut year were excellent.

His side won 28 and drew nine of their La Liga games, their only defeat coming in a chaotic 5-4 loss to Levante in the penultimate round of matches. By the time they lost their unbeaten record, however, the title was already well in the bag. As well as restoring Barcelona to champion status, Valverde won the Spanish Cup; having knocked out rivals Espanyol and Marcelino’s Valencia, Barca hammered Sevilla 5-0 in the final. The only disappointment came in the Champions League, where, having beaten the likes of Juventus and Chelsea, they fell to Roma in the quarter-finals.

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