The Misters: 20-16

Words By Blair Newman Illustration by Philippe Fenner
August 27, 2018
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20. ANDRE BREITENREITER (HANNOVER)

Win percentage: 3 Position change: 5 Position to value: 5 Knockout points: 1

Points: 14

Breitenreiter took charge of Hannover at the business end of the 2016/17 campaign, steering them to promotion. It was an impressive start to life back where his playing career had begun in the early 1990s, but few expected much of his side in 2017/18. What many thought would happen was that his Hannover would go straight back down. What actually happened was that, after 10 games, his Hannover were in the Bundesliga top four, with wins over Schalke and Borussia Dortmund.

While the positive early start and a challenge for Champions League qualification couldn’t be sustained over a full season, Breitenreiter did manage to ensure safety for the club without any real relegation scares. Despite a five-match losing streak between February and March, a comfortable final position of 13th was earned.

19. HEIKO HERRLICH (LEVERKUSEN)

Win percentage: 4.5 Position change: 7 Position to value: -1 Knockout points: 4

Points: 14.5

The end of the Roger Schmidt era at Leverkusen coincided with the club’s worst league showing in 14 years. But Herrlich, who took charge prior to the 2017/18 season, took no time at all returning the club to the top end of the Bundesliga. After a tricky start that saw him fail to win any of his opening three league games, the 46-year-old guided his side on a 12-match unbeaten run that helped them into the top four.

Ultimately, Champions League qualification wasn’t achieved, with Leverkusen missing out on goal difference. However, results were positive, a fifth-place league finish being combined with a run to the German Cup semi-finals. The quality of football was hugely improved in the process, with youngsters Kai Havertz and Leon Bailey starring. Herrlich instituted a style that suited his talent, switching between systems and focusing on breaking at speed. Indeed, no Bundesliga team scored more than his Leverkusen’s eight goals on the counter-attack.

18. SIMONE INZAGHI (LAZIO)

Win percentage: 5.5 Position change: 0 Position to value: 1 Knockout points: 8

Points: 14.5

Most in Italy predicted a drop-off in form for Lazio in 2017/18. Simone Inzaghi had worked wonders in his debut season as manager, but the summer sales of explosive forward Keita Balde Diao and experienced midfield commander Lucas Biglia were expected to be too much to overcome. But Inzaghi is full of surprises, and his latest trick was inspiring Lazio to their best points tally since they won the title in 2000.

His 3-5-1-1 system was as effective as it was unique. Within the shape Lazio were generally hard to break down and counter-attacked with precision. And Inzaghi’s tactics went hand in hand with good coaching; Sergej Milinkovic-Savic continued to progress, while Luis Alberto went from fringe squad member to arguably Serie A’s finest playmaker. Runs to the Europa League quarters and Coppa Italia semis, as well as a Super Cup win over Juventus, went some way to making up for their narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification.

17. EUSEBIO DI FRANCESCO (ROMA)

Win percentage: 6 Position change: -1 Position to value: 1 Knockout points: 9

Points: 15

Last season was one of change for Roma. In came a new director of football in Monchi, as well as a host of new players. Out went Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rudiger, Leandro Paredes, and, in January, Emerson Palmieri. In addition, Luciano Spalletti left for Inter Milan, and Di Francesco was appointed his successor. Di Francesco was seen as one of the brightest coaching prospects in Serie A thanks to his work with Sassuolo, and he enjoyed an exciting debut campaign in the Roma dugout.

A third-place finish and 77 points was impressive considering the scale of change that had taken place. What was even more impressive was their run to the Champions League semi-finals, a feat that involved winning a group containing Chelsea and Atletico Madrid before dispatching Shakhtar Donetsk and Barcelona. Di Francesco, extracting the maximum from his squad, simultaneously maintained entertainment levels and fostered a more resolute side – under his watch Roma managed their second-best defensive record since the Fabio Capello years.

16. NIKO KOVAC (FRANKFURT)

Win percentage: 4 Position change: 3 Position to value: 3 Knockout points: 6

Points: 16

Only five Bundesliga teams had a better defensive record than Frankfurt last season. Furthermore, only three teams averaged more interceptions, and two teams more fouls. These statistics offer some evidence of the aggressive defensive style that underpinned the team’s success, as they reached eighth place in the league and, rather amazingly, won the German Cup. Kovac was the mastermind behind the success.

The Croatian was appointed Frankfurt head coach in 2016. He immediately led them to survival, before pushing them up the table to 11th in his first full campaign at the helm. Last season, therefore, was the culmination of years of hard work, as opposed to a stunning one-off. Kovac’s tactical clarity – he stuck by his back three throughout the majority of the season – was integral to the team’s improved fortunes. For that, he was made Bayern Munich manager.

Topics
Andre Breitenreiter Eusebio Di Francesco Heiko Herrlich Niko Kovac Simone Inzaghi
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