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Barclays Premier League

Blunt Black Cats in trouble

Sunderland
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 By Nick Miller

The Premier League sack race

The ESPN FC crew discuss Jose Mourinho's statements as he questioned Romelu Lukaku's mentality and motivation, leading to his permanent move to Everton.

In the first of a monthly series, we look at which Premier League managers are walking the tightrope and which are resting easy in the knowledge they have some job security.

The front-runner

It's a rum old time for West Ham's Sam Allardyce (odds to be the next Premier League manager to go: 1/2) at the moment. After Davids Gold and Sullivan mulled over sacking him at the end of last season, they kept him, but only if he promised to play better football. They have since seemed to undermine him at every possible opportunity, and if there isn't some fine, free-flowing football at Upton Park at the start of the season, Big Sam could be on his bike. If he makes it to the start of the season, that is.

Axe swinging

Despite recruiting Roy Keane to be his assistant manager/guard dog, Paul Lambert's (9/1) summer transfer business has been less than inspiring, and doesn't exactly make you think they will greatly improve on last season, when Lambert was lucky to survive. Indeed, the only thing keeping him in place might be Aston Villa's uncertain ownership situation. It's fair to say that Alan Pardew (11/1) is not a particularly popular man among Newcastle fans. The second half of last season was utterly desperate, and while Newcastle have made additions, almost all of them have been to replace departed players, so their squad hasn't greatly improved. If the start of this season is as bad as the end of last, Pardew's position will be perilous, despite his good relationship with owner Mike Ashley.

One of the true "Erm, what?" moments of the summer came when West Brom appointed Alan Irvine (7/1), a man sacked by Sheffield Wednesday in League One three years ago. To say it was a baffling call is an understatement, and although the Baggies have made a few potentially-shrewd signings, the chances of Irvine making it to the new year, particularly when chairman Jeremy Peace has shown he isn't shy of pulling the trigger in the past, are slim. One might think that after masterminding Sunderland's great escape last season, Gus Poyet's (22/1) position is relatively safe, but there have been murmurings of discontent from the Stadium of Light. Poyet described their transfer situation as "desperate" last week, and as we know from the way his time at Brighton ended, the Uruguayan does not tend to hold back when arguing with his employers. This could end badly.

Safe... for now

A rookie manager who was perhaps surprisingly given the full-time gig after taking over as caretaker from Michael Laudrup, Swansea boss Garry Monk (12/1) did a reasonable job last season but it wasn't especially earth-shattering, finishing 12th above a series of dreadful teams. The additions of Bafetimbi Gomis and Gylfi Sigurdsson have strengthened their attack, but the idea of Lukasz Fabianski replacing Michel Vorm is ... not great. Monk will presumably be on a fairly team-friendly contract, so don't expect chairman Huw Jenkins to be shy if their season starts badly. This season has the potential to be a car crash for Southampton and Ronald Koeman (14/1). Selling two or three of their star players was to be expected after last season, but the five that have gone so far (with, at the time of writing, another couple to potentially follow) represents the heart and several other vital organs of their team. If Koeman's army of Eredivisie replacements don't shape up, his tenure on the south coast could be pretty brief.

In truth, there's probably more chance of Harry Redknapp (10/1) walking than being sacked by QPR, but after just scraping into the Premier League via a late, late goal in the playoffs, and spending a lot of money on Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker, it doesn't take a great leap to imagine patience being short at Loftus Road. Redknapp's contract runs out next summer, so even though his wages are not inconsiderable, sacking him won't be prohibitively expensive.

It's always difficult to tell how managers new to the Premier League will fare. While Sean Dyche (28/1) may well have built up enough goodwill following Burnley's improbable promotion last season, one does fear for them in the big bad Premier League, particularly given their summer business so far. Signing two strikers in Marvin Sordell and Lukas Jutkiewicz who were barely adequate in the Championship last season seems an odd move, and with tough challenges ahead, Dyche's side could struggle badly. Likewise Leicester's Nigel Pearson (20/1), who performed the impressive feat of getting Leicester promoted in a year when they didn't spend much money. However, splashing upwards of 7 million pounds on Leonardo Ulloa is quite a gamble, particularly if that's their only striking addition, as is signing the 35-year-old Matt Upson for their defence. Pearson might be a favourite of fans and owners now, but the club haven't been shy in acting quickly in previous years.

Mauricio Pochettino knows that his chairman has an itchy trigger finger.

Mauricio Pochettino (25/1) at Tottenham is a funny one. While you would think a young, forward-thinking and recently-appointed manager would be given time at most clubs, Spurs have shown very emphatically that they are not most clubs. All it will take is an iffy run of results, a suggestion that the players aren't keen on Pochettino's methods or chairman Daniel Levy's blood sugar to spike and zing -- you've got yourself another sacking.

Mark Hughes (25/1) did a fine job last season, and the idea of Stoke getting rid early on in the season, particularly given they're not a team with a history of hasty dismissals, is unlikely. However, it could happen if they are languishing in the Premier League's nether regions at a significant moment in the campaign, with the relegation that they have dodged for so long a possibility. It's a similar story with Steve Bruce (25/1) at Hull, and his departure could come about in similar circumstances, but Bruce probably has a little more cachet after not only guiding Hull to safety in their first season back in the Premier League but taking them to an FA Cup final as well.

You just never know with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Bringing Jose Mourinho (33/1) back and allowing him to completely remodel Chelsea's squad (breezily selling Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku because they don't fit with his plan being the obvious example) would seem to be a long-term plan, but Mourinho not only failed to win the league last season but failed to win a trophy of any description. Even with Mourinho, Abramovich will not tolerate such "failure" for a second season, so if the league campaign starts going south and/or they suffer problems in Europe, a second messy divorce could ensue.

Job for life

It's too harsh to say that Manchester City won the league by default last season, but given the competition they probably should have wrapped it up before the final day. Manuel Pellegrini's (33/1) quiet, professorial demeanour is one that can be used as a positive when he's doing well but equally turned around when results drop. In theory it would take a fairly catastrophic season for City to get rid of their man, but they were ruthless with Roberto Mancini, and could be again. This one will probably be quite short. Crystal Palace would be utterly nuts to get rid of Tony Pulis (28/1), barring a complete calamity, at any stage of the season, and since Pulis doesn't really do calamity, that prospect is rather remote. There is, obviously, more chance of Pulis being tempted away than jettisoned.

After the season Liverpool had last term, you'd think that Brendan Rodgers (40/1) is untouchable at Anfield. And he probably is ... unless Luis Suarez leaves such a hole in the Liverpool team that it just collapses, leaving Rodgers wondering what on earth happened, clutching only a P45 and a Suarez T-shirt. He'll probably be OK though. Probably.

It's rather sweet how Manchester United fans seem to have fallen madly in love with Louis van Gaal (50/1) even before he's managed a competitive game. United were so keen on the idea of stability that they stuck with David Moyes for nearly a full season, so given Van Gaal is unlikely to be as appalling as his predecessor, it's difficult to imagine he'll go this season. However, Van Gaal is a combustible character, so there is some potential for carnage at Old Trafford.

It seems that Bill Kenwright, old love that he is, doesn't appoint managers he's not absolutely devoted to. He commented when Moyes was in charge that he wouldn't swap him for anyone else in the world, but when he was eventually forced to do that, he brought in another he was besotted with. And rightly so, as Roberto Martinez (33/1) did an excellent job with a team in some degree of flux, so with some more permanent additions this summer, it's unthinkable that he could leave Merseyside. Unless someone huge wants him, of course.

Rightly or wrongly, it's pretty clear that the person who will decide when Arsene Wenger's (40/1) time at Arsenal is over is Arsene Wenger, with nobody else at the club having either the power or inclination to push him out. And if Wenger does decide to go, it won't be in the middle of the season, so he's going to be there for a little while yet.

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