Stoppage Time: Grading this season's managerial changes

 

The Sports Network

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There was perhaps more interest and uncertainty heading into the 2013-14 season than any previous campaign in recent memory, and it is likely there will not be another season like it for quite some time.

There is one central force behind such a narrative: The managerial merry-go- round.

The summer of 2013 saw an unprecedented number of the world's top clubs encounter shifts at top, waving goodbye to outward bosses to make room for new regimes.

The retirement of legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in May caught the majority of world football headlines, overshadowing the vast number of top clubs that experienced managerial turnover during the offseason.

United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich all are enduring new management, amongst a host of other clubs, but how have they fared to this point in the season?

Here is an early report card for each new boss:

Carlo Ancelotti - Real Madrid

There is little room for error at the top of the Spanish league given how traditionally tight the race for the La Liga title has become. And following a season in which his PSG side claimed the Ligue 1 title and put up a good fight against Barcelona in Champions League play, Carlo Ancelotti seemed like a logical choice to replace Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu. Ancelotti has the experience to deal with some of the biggest egos in world football, which Madrid has, as well as the tactical fortitude to manage a set of players who can occupy multiple positions on the pitch. While Cristiano Ronaldo has shouldered the majority of the scoring burden with his league-leading 21 goals, the performance of Gareth Bale, who arrived from Tottenham for a world- record fee, has been slightly subdued. But that can be viewed as a positive given that Madrid sits just one point out of first place. Ancelotti has done well to keep Madrid in contention for what would be just its second La Liga title since 2008, but the true barometer of his influence should come in the second half of the season. If he can inspire a more settled Bale to play the role of the catalyst and guide the club to league glory, Ancelotti will be a massive success. (B)

Rafa Benitez - Napoli

Napoli named Rafa Benitez as the replacement to Walter Mazzarri, who quit his post at the Stadio San Paolo to join Inter Milan last summer. Hiring Benitez was a bit of gamble as the Spaniard's only previous coaching stint in Italy lasted just six months in a disappointing run with Inter. There was also little room for improvement after Napoli finished the 2012-13 season second in Italy's top flight, but Benitez accepted the challenge and has performed adequately to date. Napoli sits third in Serie A on 43 points, which is not a terrible position given the club needed to rebuild in the summer following the departure of Edinson Cavani, Serie A's leading scorer from last season. Napoli brought in Jose Callejon, Gonzalo Higuain and Dries Mertens in a bid to replace Cavani's goals in the aggregate, a strategy that has paid dividends - Napoli has scored the second-highest number of goals in Serie A this term. Benitez has been sufficient for Napoli, but he will need to avoid a drop off in future campaigns in order to keep his job. (B)

Laurent Blanc - PSG

Laurent Blanc replaced Carlo Ancelotti as PSG boss after the Italian joined Real Madrid in the summer, and there has not been any sort of slump under the French tactician. The Parisians are facing arguably stiffer competition for the Ligue 1 title this season with the emergence of AS Monaco, but PSG's first-place position, five points ahead of Monaco, indicates that Blanc's men have handled the challenge admirably, even after the club strengthened significantly during the summer transfer window with the addition of Edinson Cavani. With one loss in 21 Ligue 1 matches, PSG looks likely to repeat as champions, a testament to Blanc's recognition to keep a well-oiled machine running. (B+)

Rudi Garcia - Roma

Rudi Garcia ended a five-season spell as Lille manager to join AS Roma and immediately began making changes at the Italian club. He made a host of signings, including Morgan De Sanctis, Gervinho, Kevin Strootman, Maicon and Mehdi Benatia. Defensive stability became Roma's greatest strength at the start of the season as the club conceded just one goal en route to a 10-game winning run. A 4-1-5 record over its next 10 games has put Roma eight points off Juventus' blistering pace, but under Garcia, the Roman club looks set to compete for the Scudetto for years to come. (B+)

Pep Guardiola - Bayern Munich

Pep Guardiola became the world's most sought-after manager when he announced his return to the game following a one-year sabbatical. He was rumored to be in line for many managerial positions, but his arrival at Bayern Munich clearly made the most sense. Guardiola has stepped in to inherit a proven team coming off a historic treble-winning campaign, but he even managed to strengthen the squad with the acquisition Thiago Alcantara. Expectations for Guardiola are extremely high, but Bayern has shown no signs of slowing down. Guardiola has the Bavarians playing organized defensively and creatively up front as the team has scored 42 goals and conceded just eight in 16 Bundesliga games. It is not unrealistic to think that Bayern Munich could clinch a treble for the second consecutive season, which would prove to be an unprecedented feat for Guardiola's glowing resume. (A)

Gerardo Martino - Barcelona

Barcelona has developed a penchant in recent years to promote its managers from within. The appointment of Gerardo Martino strayed from this trend, inducing a bit of uncertainty at Camp Nou. But Martino's philosophy early on appears to be quite consistent to those of Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova, his predecessors. Martino, who arrived from Newell's Old Boys in his native Argentina, continued to utilize the high-pressure and free-flowing style of play that helped Barcelona become so successful under Guardiola. Martino has had to contend with injuries to Lionel Messi and Neymar, but the Catalans still lead the chase for the La Liga title as they edge Atletico Madrid for first place on goal difference. (A-)

Walter Mazzarri - Inter Milan

Walter Mazzarri, who joined Inter from Napoli in May, made a bright start to life with the Nerazzurri, dropping just one Serie A match in his first 15 league contests with the club. But Inter has hit a rough patch in recent months, winning just one league match in its last eight. That slide looks all the worse when you consider that Inter has not had to balance Champions League fixtures during the week. Mazzarri's men have slipped to fifth place in the Italian top flight and face an uphill battle in the second half of the season if they hope to qualify for Champions League football, but it's a step in the right direction for a club that finished ninth in the Serie A table last term. (B-)

Jose Mourinho - Chelsea

Jose Mourinho's first stint in charge of Chelsea was one marked by extravagance and domination. He made use of owner Roman Abramovich's deep pockets by going on a spending spree to acquire some of the most talented players on the planet, and the club benefited to the tune of six trophies in Mourinho's three years at the helm. But that formula is not sustainable for long-term success, and the "Special One" has had to adapt. This time around, he's embraced the young players at his disposal as Oscar and Eden Hazard have been the club's most outstanding players this term. Mourinho has positioned Chelsea to be a force for years to come without sacrificing the club's ability to remain competitive in the now. The only knock on Mourinho's Chelsea side this season has been its lack of free-flowing football, but that can be overlooked given the Blues are only two points out of first place. (A-)

David Moyes - Manchester United

Proffering a fair grade to David Moyes' tenure as Manchester United manager is a seemingly impossible task given that the club's results were always going to be juxtaposed against those under Sir Alex Ferguson. That United sit seventh in the Premier League following a summer that saw the champions make minimal additions to the squad is probably more of a testament to Ferguson's ability to elevate marginal talent than a slight against Moyes' capabilities as a manager. The Red Devils have had to contend with lengthy injuries to key players in Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick, so it is difficult to pass judgement on Moyes when the former Everton boss has not had the luxury to pick his strongest possible side on a weekly basis. All things considered, perhaps seventh place is a just position for the injury-riddled Red Devils. (C+)

Manuel Pellegrini - Manchester City

It's hard to envision how Manchester City could have managed to improve an already stacked squad during last summer's transfer window, but the club somehow managed to do just that with Manuel Pellegrini calling the shots. The reinvention began during last year's January transfer window when the club deemed Mario Balotelli surplus goods and continued during the summer when the Citizens cast Carlos Tevez aside to Juventus; both players were constant distractions to City's title defense last term. Pellegrini stepped in to replace Roberto Mancini and immediately put his stamp on the squad by getting the likes of Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and Fernandinho. All three players, especially Negredo, have been quite influential for the Citizens in the first half of the Premier League season. But perhaps the greatest commendation to Pellegrini's impact on City is his ability to make the Etihad an absolute fortress - the Citizens have not dropped points in 11 home Premier League contests this season. The club's road form, however, has left something to be desired. So if Pellegrini can figure out the best way to navigate away matches and improve upon the club's total of 17 points out of a possible 33 away from home, the Citizens could be on their way to a second title in three years. (A-)

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