Each Premier League manager's to-do list during international break

Arteta needs to help strikers spark, Solskjaer craves consistency and Mourinho must devise masterplan for acid test ahead… As Premier League bosses now take stock during international break, here’s what’s on each one’s to-do list

  • International fortnight will offer Premier League managers a chance to reflect
  • It comes amid a madcap season that has already seen plenty of surprises
  • Some top-flight bosses will have more to dwell on than others this week
  • Mikel Arteta at Arsenal and Man United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have troubles
  • Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp will be more pleased, but still have issues
  • Brighton’s Graham Potter and perhaps even Pep Guardiola will be concerned 

International break means it’s time for a rare breather during this Premier League season like no other. Even eight rounds in, there’s an element of chaos and unpredictability about unfolding events.

The leadership of the division changing hands numerous times over the course of one weekend, crazy goal-fests, contentious VAR decisions and more penalties than ever.

While some managers will complain about their players jetting off to far-flung corners of the world during this international fortnight, actually it gives them an opportunity to reflect and plan.

This madcap Premier League season now takes a breather for the international fortnight after Aston Villa’s win at Arsenal on Sunday night (pictured)

It’s been a season of extraordinary events, such as Tottenham’s 6-1 win at Manchester United

We also saw Aston Villa’s sensational 7-2 thrashing of reigning champions Liverpool 

In this most relentless of seasons, with a fixture coming every three or four days for quite a few Premier League clubs, time to think is at a premium.

But what will each of the 20 top-flight managers be prioritising during this rare period of downtime? We take a look at each manager’s to-do list for the next few days.

ARSENAL – MIKEL ARTETA

How is it going?

Arsenal’s Premier League season has yet to fully ignite and any hope of kicking on under Arteta after an encouraging finish to last season is fading. Four wins and four defeats is as inconsistent as you can get with the Gunners fluctuating between the high of winning at Old Trafford one weekend to a miserable 3-0 home loss to Aston Villa the next.

What’s the priority?

Arteta needs to quickly find a way to get his attack firing. Arsenal have managed just nine league goals so far with only Wolves, Fulham, West Brom, Burnley and Sheffield United scoring fewer. And four of them occupy positions 17-20 in the table. They haven’t scored a goal from open play since October 4. They have improved significantly in defence – despite Sunday’s result – but won’t progress if they don’t rediscover that connection between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Willian and others in attack.

Mikel Arteta will spend the coming days puzzling over how to restore the spark to his forwards

ASTON VILLA – DEAN SMITH

How is it going?

Pretty brilliantly. Any chance of a repeat of last season, when Villa only secured their safety on the final day, appears very unlikely. Instead they appear to be on course for a top-half finish. The 7-2 thrashing of Liverpool is naturally the highlight, but away wins at Leicester and Arsenal are also notable. That win at the Emirates was also an emphatic response to back-to-back defeats by Leeds United and Southampton.

What’s the priority?

Finding ways of keeping it going. Villa’s next three games are against Brighton, West Ham and Newcastle and nine points should be the target. After that, it’s Wolves, Burnley, West Brom and Crystal Palace, so they could be in a great position at Christmas. The losses to Leeds and Southampton saw them concede seven goals, however, and that remains a lingering concern. They have kept four clean sheets this season but Dean Smith will look to Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa to keep the off-days to an absolute minimum.

Jack Grealish (left) and Ollie Watkins celebrate after Villa’s 3-0 win at Arsenal on Sunday night

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION – GRAHAM POTTER

How is it going?

The signs point to another season of struggle, unfortunately, with just the one win from eight matches so far to leave them just above the relegation zone in 16th. You can foresee them still being there come May. The early optimism of a 3-0 win up at Newcastle quickly fell into a slump of narrow losses against the big teams and disappointing draws that should have been wins.

What’s the priority?

Taking their chances. Friday’s goalless draw with Burnley saw the Seagulls create 19 shots – the most by any side without managing to score in the Premier League this season. There needs to be a clinical edge. It was the same story in the match at Crystal Palace last month – 20 shots but it took until the 90th minute to score. Brighton like to control possession but there’s no point in passing for passing’s sake. Getting top scorer Neal Maupay – dropped the other week over attitude problems – into the right frame of mind is key.

Neal Maupay has caused a headache but Graham Potter and Brighton need him firing again

BURNLEY – SEAN DYCHE

How is it going?

Not good at all and it was all entirely predictable. Dyche was afforded next to no transfer budget over the summer with Burnley left scrimping around to strengthen their squad. It’s little wonder they remain winless from seven games and second bottom of the table. None of the defeats have been humiliating but this could easily be the year their five-year stay in the top flight comes to an end unless something drastically changes.

What’s the priority?

They’re not shipping goals at an alarming rate but a failure to score in four consecutive games points to obvious problems with creating – and taking – chances. They had just one shot on target at Brighton and there wasn’t a single one in the home loss to Chelsea. Strikers Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes just aren’t getting the service and just three goals scored this season tells you everything you need to know.

There’s plenty for Sean Dyche to mull over with Burnley down in the relegation places

CHELSEA – FRANK LAMPARD

How is it going?

Getting better all the time. As Chelsea’s summer signings settle into the side, the results and free-scoring performances are starting to arrive. Chelsea have scored 14 goals in their last four games in the Premier League and Champions League. It will delight Lampard that summer arrivals Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Thiago Silva are all forging an understanding with those already at the club. The top four is a definite possibility and there’s no reason why they can’t aim higher than that.

What’s the priority?

Keeping everyone happy and keeping the legs fresh. The new signings have meant less opportunities for Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and others so Lampard will have to perform a juggling act. Mind you, the fixtures come thick and fast, so rotation is important. Chelsea are much more watertight in defence this season and less vulnerable from set-pieces, so that needs to continue. The team has a solid core with N’Golo Kante back to his best, while Ziyech and Reece James already have a good understanding on the right side. Now it’s time to deliver in the most important games, like Tottenham at the end of the month.

Frank Lampard’s Chelsea have impressed lately but the manager needs to keep the form going

CRYSTAL PALACE – ROY HODGSON

How is it going?

Palace have blown hot and cold this season. Highs have included that 3-1 win at Old Trafford and Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of Leeds, but they’ve also taken a beating at Chelsea and drew with Brighton when they should have won. But if you offered Roy Hodgson their current eighth place at the end of the season, he’d snap your hand off.

What’s the priority?

To ensure Palace are as ruthless and as quick out of the blocks as they were against Leeds on Saturday each and every week. It was a marked improvement from their 2-0 loss at Wolves the previous week when they took ages to get going and paid the price. We saw the best of Eberechi Eze against Leeds and he needs to be encouraged to try all the audacious things in his game. In tandem with Wilfried Zaha, Hodgson has created an unpredictability about Palace that unsettles opponents – they’re also far more clinical this season – and the task now is to continue this.

Eberechi Eze (right) celebrates with Andros Townsend after scoring for Palace against Leeds 

EVERTON – CARLO ANCELOTTI

How is it going?

It all started off so well with four straight wins allowing Evertonians to dream of a return to the glory days. Then things returned to normal with three straight defeats by Southampton, Newcastle and Manchester United and Ancelotti’s side have slipped from top position to seventh. It will be fascinating to see which Everton emerges after the international break.

What’s the priority?

As well as a return to the winning ways of September, Ancelotti needs a plan B for when some of his key players are missing. The influence of Richarlison is shown by the fact they haven’t won a league game in his absence since 2018 and they struggled desperately for creativity when James Rodriguez was absent at Newcastle. It’ll take a whole squad, rather than a team, to deliver a good season for Everton and there is a lack of depth there. Some areas could be addressed in January but in the meantime Ancelotti needs to reduce the reliance on his star players. There is also a weakness down the right side, exploited by Southampton and United, because Rodriguez neglects defensive duties.

Everton look so much better with Colombian star James Rodriguez (right) in their team

FULHAM – SCOTT PARKER

How is it going?

Few anticipated Fulham to be much higher than their current 17th position at this stage. As a newly-promoted side, they’re expected to be involved in a relegation scrap and that appears to be their fate. Just one victory so far and a couple of chastening defeats by Arsenal and Aston Villa early on. The defence has tightened up a lot from the first few games but they need to scrap for every point. It doesn’t help when Ademola Lookman fails with Panenka penalties in the 97th minute, as at West Ham on Saturday night.

What’s the priority?

Parker needs to ensure his defence genuinely has improved because they’re set to take a battering in their next few games against Everton, Leicester, Manchester City and Liverpool. They are better at withstanding pressure, as was the case at West Ham. Having acclimatised to the Premier League once again, Fulham need to ensure they have a ruthless side to take the limited number of chances they do create. No doubt Lookman was given a dressing down because that lost point could well prove the difference between staying up and going straight back down.

Ademola Lookman’s abysmal penalty against West Ham wasn’t what Fulham needed 

LEEDS UNITED – MARCELO BIELSA

How is it going?

It’s certainly been a lot of fun having Leeds back in the Premier League and Marcelo Bielsa has stayed true to the principles that earned them promotion – for better or worse. The ding-dong 4-3 scores of the opening two weekends have faded to memory but even Bielsa may be at a loss to explain how they can win 3-0 at Villa and then lose back-to-back games 4-1 to Leicester and Palace. Still, on the evidence of the early season they should have enough to stay up.

What’s the priority?

The ever-meticulous Bielsa will no doubt spend the international period agonising over the holes in his back line that have seen eight conceded in two games. Unless they tighten up, their top-flight return could turn into a real struggle. There seems to be little problem creating chances at the other end – only Liverpool have had more shots than Leeds and it’s fair to say Saturday’s defeat could have been a different outcome but for the ludicrous VAR decision that saw a Patrick Bamford goal chalked off. The other thing is finding other ways of picking up results. Opposition managers know exactly what they’ll get from Bielsa’s Leeds and have figured out ways of countering it.

Marcelo Bielsa made his feelings known as Leeds lost 4-1 to Crystal Palace on Saturday

LEICESTER CITY – BRENDAN RODGERS

How is it going?

Leicester are top of the Premier League, so there can be few complaints. It’s been a hugely encouraging start and there’s absolutely no reason why Brendan Rodgers’ team can’t challenge for the title. Their 5-2 win away at Manchester City was absolutely sensational, showing their rampant streak. High energy, relentless and with Jamie Vardy back to his best, Leicester are also more than happy to win games 1-0 when they have to.

What’s the priority?

Squad management. Leicester faded badly after Christmas last season having looked like the only team that could keep pace with Liverpool. Rodgers won’t want a repeat and it’s especially difficult with the Europa League to contend with as well. Fortunately, Leicester have won their opening three games and so there can be some squad rotation for the rest of the group stage to prioritise Premier League points. Indeed, the whole European adventure should be sacrificed if Leicester are still near the top in late February. The likes of Vardy will want to play every game, but if Rodgers can smartly keep the legs fresh throughout his squad then they should stay the distance this time.

Leicester are flying at the top of the Premier League and Brendan Rodgers will be very pleased

LIVERPOOL – JURGEN KLOPP

How is it going?

Klopp will be satisfied on the whole. Liverpool sit third and are just a point off the summit, so it’s familiar enough. They’ve also been excellent so far in the Champions League. The 7-2 defeat at Villa was naturally embarrassing but actually could have been one of those results to get through the system. Since then, Liverpool haven’t done a lot wrong. The injury to Virgil van Dijk is, of course, a huge blow but they haven’t exactly been leaking goals since.

What’s the priority?

Last season was simply exceptional and there was always going to be a dip in performances by comparison. Klopp’s side are not steamrollering teams this time around but they’re usually getting the job done. Holding on to leads is essential – they have failed to win four of their last seven when scoring first – and teams need to be finished off. Liverpool need to ensure their defence is solid in Van Dijk’s absence (early indications are good) and Klopp may eventually have to make the tough decision over whether to swap Jota in for Roberto Firmino in his long-established forward line. The 4-2-4 system played against Man City on Sunday, featuring Jota and Firmino, was a qualified success and perhaps isn’t a long-term solution.

Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp will be mostly pleased with their opening to the season 

MANCHESTER CITY – PEP GUARDIOLA

How is it going?

Not how Guardiola would want it to be going, that’s for sure. City are 10th and look well short of their best, though they do retain a game in hand. Also, things would look much rosier if Kevin De Bruyne’s penalty had gone in on Sunday. Win that spare game and they’ll be three points off the top. They were taught a lesson in attacking football by Leicester, a result that suggested last season’s glaring defensive problems haven’t fully gone away. Points have also been dropped at Leeds and West Ham. City look far below their best and after a short pre-season, maybe that isn’t surprising, but they have plenty more gears to click through.

What’s the priority?

Guardiola will probably still be bristling at the two points dropped against their principal title rivals but once he reflects on the bigger picture, there are plenty of positives. No one team is running away at the top of the table. City have a greater depth of quality in their squad compared with most, if not all, of the sides around them. This will prove important as legs tire later in the season. Sergio Aguero has barely featured yet and Gabriel Jesus is emerging from his shadow. His central defensive pairing of Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias is settling and looks stronger than the makeshift back line of last season.

Gabriel Jesus is starting to look like a top-class striker as City move beyond Sergio Aguero

MANCHESTER UNITED – OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER

How is it going?

Not good. A pretty dire start to the season sees United way down in 14th place and Solskjaer under serious pressure, even if some clouds did blow away after Saturday’s 3-1 win at Everton. United have been wildly inconsistent, fluctuating between notable Champions League wins over Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig to being thrashed 6-1 at home by Tottenham and abandoning the concept of defending during their defeat by Istanbul Basaksehir. You never know which United is going to turn up at the moment and that’s why they’re 14th.

What’s the priority?

It looked for a short while as though Solskjaer might not make it to the international break with Mauricio Pochettino waiting in the wings to replace him. But the win at Everton has offered some grace. Nonetheless, there will be much to mull over during this fortnight. The main priority is how to return to the consistency of results post-restart in the summer that saw United finish in the top four. Easier said than done, of course. He also needs to address the anomaly that sees United brilliant on the road but woeful at Old Trafford. The defensive lapses in Istanbul will also offer food for thought about leadership within the team. Time for a heart-to-heart with Harry Maguire and a few other senior players, perhaps.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer urgently needs to ensure consistency from his Manchester United side

NEWCASTLE UNITED – STEVE BRUCE

How is it going?

Up and down but not too bad. Some weeks you feel Newcastle are taking steps in the right direction – they opened the season by winning at West Ham, they drew at Tottenham and they beat Everton. On other occasions, it’s the same old, same old, a 3-0 home loss to Brighton, for instance. They ended this latest set of fixtures with a 2-0 loss at Southampton, who briefly went top of the table, so there’s not as much shame in that as there might have been in other seasons.

What’s the priority?

Bruce needs to make sure his players take greater care when on the ball. They tried to over-play too often at St Mary’s and usually ended up being bundled off the ball, often in problematic areas. As Bruce said after the game, they need to look after the ball more. It helps explain why Newcastle have gone seven games without a clean sheet, their longest run since December 2017. Yet they looked solid defensively in the games against Wolves and Everton so it probably boils down to cutting out individual lapses in judgement and concentration.

Several Newcastle players are powerless to stop Stuart Armstrong scoring for Southampton

SHEFFIELD UNITED – CHRIS WILDER

How is it going?

Alas, there will be no repeat of Sheffield United’s heroics last season. It’s been thoroughly miserable so far with no wins, just one point and seven defeats from eight. They’re rock bottom and deservedly so. Mind you, their last four defeats – against Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea – were all games you’d expect them to lose. Losing at home to Leeds or only collecting a point at home to Fulham are more worrying.

What’s the priority?

The Blades’ lack of a cutting edge in attack has been well documented. Just the four league goals so far, which will be a disappointment. Rhian Brewster, their £23million summer signing, has struggled to make an impression so far. The aggressive manner of United’s football last season, which rattled plenty of opponents, seems to have dissipated. They took the lead at Chelsea on Saturday but then dropped off rather than pressing home their advantage. That was the first game in which they conceded more than two goals, so they’re usually hanging in there, but equally they haven’t score more than once either. One mitigating factor has been injuries to key man John Fleck and Jack O’Connell.

Sheffield United went in front against Chelsea but ended up conceding four times to lose

SOUTHAMPTON – RALPH HASENHUTTL

How is it going?

Very impressively. It’s been a year since Southampton lost 9-0 at home to Leicester and Ralph Hasenhuttl’s days in the job appeared numbered. On Friday night, they beat Newcastle 2-0 to briefly go top of the Premier League. It’s been a remarkable transformation and nobody fancies playing the Saints at the moment. After losing their first two league matches, they have responded with five wins from six – the other result being a 3-3 draw at Chelsea – and the optimism is flowing.

What’s the priority?

Making sure their attack isn’t blunted by the injury to Danny Ings, who’ll miss the next month at least. Che Adams and Stuart Armstrong stepped up to provide the goals against Newcastle, while Theo Walcott also looked really sharp. There needs to be consistency at the back too. While Saints have kept four clean sheets, they have conceded five against Tottenham plus three against both Chelsea and Aston Villa so far. But with their next four games being against a struggling Wolves, vulnerable Manchester United and relegation candidates Brighton and Sheffield United, they should still be right up there at Christmas.

Ralph Hasenhuttl has overseen a remarkable transformation at Southampton over 12 months

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR – JOSE MOURINHO

How is it going?

Jose Mourinho will be highly pleased. Spurs are just a point off the top of the Premier League, are being talked about as title contenders and have the knack of grinding out wins by the single goal. They’re still in the Carabao Cup and, despite a dismal performance the other week in Antwerp, should cruise through their Europa League group. Mourinho was hired to end the club’s long and agonising wait for a trophy. There’s no reason why that couldn’t happen.

What’s the priority?

There’s plenty of conversation about Spurs’ frightening forward options with Gareth Bale joining Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura. Mourinho is going to need all of them amid an intense fixture schedule, so ensuring they all get plenty of game time and remain happy is important. Results such as the 6-1 victory at Old Trafford will appeal to Mourinho’s pride but he will be equally satisfied by the more scruffy wins over Burnley, Brighton and West Brom in recent weeks. As a three-time Premier League winner, Mourinho will understand how important such results are. Now comes the acid test of Spurs’ title credentials, however, with Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal their next three league games after the internationals. Many believe Mourinho’s tactical genius is diminished. Now is his chance to prove otherwise.

Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham are up the top of the table – but tough assignments await them

WEST BROMWICH ALBION – SLAVEN BILIC

How is it going?

Not great. It was always going to be a tough ask for Bilic to keep West Brom in the top flight and so it’s proved, with no wins, three draws and five losses from eight games so far. There’s no doubt Bilic is under pressure but he also had to fight hard to get the summer signings he wanted. There have been unforeseen setbacks as well, such as Branislav Ivanovic and Matheus Pereira testing positive for Covid-19 this week. Equally they failed to hang on to a three-goal lead against Chelsea, couldn’t break down Burnley and conceded late against Spurs.

What’s the priority?

There’s plenty to consider and Bilic is under pressure but one thing he doesn’t lack is determination to battle on and put things right. The Baggies need to start taking their chances in the games they should be getting something from, like the recent draws with Burnley and Brighton. They head to Old Trafford next and can make life difficult for a United side who often struggle to break down massed defences. After that, home games with Sheffield United and Crystal Palace simply need to yield that first win. They have the potential to surprise opponents, as Chelsea discovered, now it’s a case of replicating that each week.

An animated Slaven Bilic tried to get his point across as West Brom lost to Tottenham

WEST HAM UNITED – DAVID MOYES

How is it going?

Far better than most predicted in pre-season. Not many thought West Ham would be as high as 12th at this point and wins over Wolves, Leicester and Fulham have suggested it need not be another season of struggle on the field and fan resentment of the ownership off it. They have also held Man City to a draw and came back spectacularly from three goals down to draw at Tottenham. They were slightly fortunate to beat Fulham but Moyes will go into the break feeling upbeat.

What is the priority?

Moyes needs to decide whether Sebastien Haller is a lost cause or whether something different can be tried to get the £45million French striker firing. There’s already talk West Ham will move for a new striker in January and it’s little wonder when Haller only seems capable of scoring against League One opposition in the Carabao Cup. He hasn’t stepped up in the injury absence of Michail Antonio. If a new striker is needed, targets need to be identified sharpish.

David Moyes hurled his jacket in frustration after West Ham conceded a late penalty Saturday

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS – NUNO ESPIRITO SANTO

How is it going?

Reasonably well. Wolves are ninth and well in touch with the top six but they have often lacked the spark of the last couple of years. The 4-0 defeat at West Ham was the low point, but Nuno’s side have picked up some decent results of late with Fulham, Leeds and Crystal Palace all beaten.

What is the priority?

But for some better finishing, the saves of Kasper Schmeichel and VAR decisions, Wolves might have gone into this break with something from their trip to table-toppers Leicester. Finishing chances has been the glaring issue all season and Nuno will be agonising over it this week and next. Just eight goals scored so far suggests they’re missing Diogo Jota (16 goals and six assists last season in all competitions) after his move to Liverpool. Raul Jimenez has four goals but isn’t putting the chances away like last season and nobody else has scored more than once. Perhaps opponents have become accustomed to Wolves’ way of doing things, though Nuno did promise an evolution to a more possession-based style this season. That remains a work in progress.

Wolves need to get Raul Jimenez firing once again if they’re to push for the European places




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