As the Premier League season enters its final stretch, and with Man City seemingly running away with the league, attention is naturally beginnin to turn to individual awards. The Premier League Manager of the Season award usually goes to the boss of the title winners, meaning Pep Guardiola is probably in line to scoop the prize for the third time in four years. What is for sure though is that Jurgen Klopp will not be retaining the honour, with a series of home losses putting the injury-hit Reds on track for one of the worst title defences in history.
Guardiola is a clear favourite, but here are five of the other top names in the frame for the Premier League manager of the season award?
5 contenders to be Premier League manager of the year this season
David Moyes (West Ham)
Few would have expected the Hammers to be in contention for Champions League qualification with a handful of Premier League games still to go. That it would now be disappointing for West Ham fans were they to miss out on European football is a sign of the incredible body of work that is being put together by David Moyes.
Some credit must go to West Ham’s much-maligned board of directors for bringing Moyes back to London Stadium after they erred in bringing his first spell to a premature end. Second time out, the Scot has been given more control over areas such as recruitment and the club’s renewed faith in the Glaswegian has been rewarded with a series of successful transfers.
Czech duo Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal have been smart signings, while few have made more impact on a pound-for-pound basis than unfashionable centre-back Craig Dawson. The January move to sign Jesse Lingard on loan, rather than pursuing a new striker as a replacement for French flop Sebastien Haller, was also a risk that has paid off handsomely.
Should the Hammers finish strongly and secure a place in the Champions League, it would be a magnificent achievement for Moyes, who also punched above his weight with Everton. He led them to a fourth-place finish back in 2004–05 during an under-appreciated decade at Goodison and is a genuine contender for Premier League manager of the year.
Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds United)
Leeds were tipped to do well on their return to the Premier League after a 16-year absence and they have arguably been the most watchable team in the land, with Bielsa-ball drawing plaudits, as well as some unwarranted criticism.
Though not many Premier League teams have conceded as many as Leeds this season, the large numbers they commit in attack means they often succeed in outscoring the opposition.
Their insistence on throwing a lot of men forward at all times has contributed to the lowest number of draws in the league – just two – but a top-half finish is a genuine possibility if they can avoid the historic tendency of Bielsa’s sides to finish slowly as they run out of steam.
Bielsa is yet to commit to a new contract and it will be interesting to see which suitors line up to try to tempt him away from Elland Road after three successful seasons at the Yorkshire club, unless the Premier League manager of the season contender commits to a new contract.
Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City)
For the second season running Leicester are flying high in the table but this time they need to complete the job and secure Champions League qualification after missing out last time
Rodgers will have been bitterly disappointed at the way the Foxes threw away a top-four finish after the first lockdown but they have bounced back despite not being particularly active during the last two transfer windows
Injuries have disrupted Leicester’s results of late, forcing Rodgers into naming a Liverpool-esque makeshift defence at times, and they still remain a little too reliant on Jamie Vardy in attack.
Leicester are always a lot of fun to watch. Much of that is down to Rodgers, with Harvey Barnes and James Justin turning into two of the league’s most exciting English prospects under him. Indeed, is Rodgers ready for another crack at a big six club?
Dean Smith (Aston Villa)
Last year Villa stayed up by the skin of their teeth and, thanks to the individual brilliance of captain Jack Grealish, their improvement under Smith has continued this season.
Smith spent the lockdown period refining Villa’s defence with his assistant John Terry and they now boast one of the stingiest back lines in the league, with goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez’s arrival from Arsenal undoubtedly one of the best signings of the season.
Transfers were scattershot after Villa’s promotion but recruitment has been far more successful this time with Matty Cash and Ollie Watkins shining after stepping up from the Championship.
Villa’s European challenge has faded but finishing in the top half would put Smith in the mix to be the Premier League manager of the year.
Scott Parker (Fulham)
Fulham were written off by plenty of pundits as certainties to be relegated before a ball had even been kicked, having had even less time to prepare for the campaign than other teams after they earned promotion through the Championship play-offs last August.
When a naive-looking Cottagers side started the campaign with four straight losses, scoring in only one of those games, it looked like their predictions were going to be proved correct.
Slowly but surely, Fulham turned things around with a battalion of loan signings – their XI regularly features a handful of borrowed players – contributing to a more resilient defence.
Goals remained an issue but January signing Josh Maja provided more cutting edge in attack, with his brace at Everton ending a wait of nearly three months for a win in the Premier League.
Fulham have improbably become one of the league’s form teams and, having previously recorded too many draws – including stalemates with fellow strugglers Southampton, Brighton and Crystal Palace – they are picking up more victories including a deserved 1-0 win at Anfield.
Momentum is now on their side in the battle to avoid the drop and, should they manage to climb out of the bottom three, Parker would arguably be a worthy recipient of the award.