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Aug 9, 2013

Will the Prem's new managers sink or swim?

Manchester United's new manager David Moyes is tasked with replacing a legend.
Manchester United's new manager David Moyes is tasked with replacing a legend.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Aug. 19 College Football Preview. Subscribe today!

USUALLY, A MANAGERIAL change brings to mind uncertain personnel, club turnover or, worse, the dreaded rebuilding year. But the three new managers in the Premier League this year have just one thing in mind: a league title. We asked some of our experts to weigh in on who will take home the spoils and who will be in trouble before he even starts.

GABRIELE MARCOTTI:

Manchester United hopes to transition into a new era under David Moyes, after more than a quarter century of Sir Alex Ferguson. The new manager is charged with replacing a legend, but at least he can remember the former boss' vote of confidence: Moyes is his hand-picked heir apparent, and he earned his job the old school way, putting in a decade of overachievement at cash-strapped Everton.

Manchester City attempted a 180 degree turn from the Roberto Mancini-Brian Marwood tandem to the tiki-taka duo of Manuel Pellegrini and director of football Txiki Begiristain. Pellegrini, who will have to turn Sheikh Mansour's millions into trophies, is the articulate, erudite former civil engineer who painstakingly scaled the heights of the European game, reaching the summit at Real Madrid at age 55, only to see it all crumble and run through his fingers like dust 12 months later. After performing a not-so-minor miracle at Malaga, this is his second shot at the big time.

And Chelsea, a club that has been doing footballing U-turns since Carlo Ancelotti left in 2011, will try to find some direction by going back to the Special One, Jose Mourinho. His nose is surely bloodied from his experience at Madrid, when the ultimate player's coach was undone, in part, by dissent in the ranks. He says he's now "The Happy One" because he's back at Chelsea, where he is unconditionally adored.  But the fact is that it takes a Special One to retrace his steps and put his legacy on the line in a place where he has already enjoyed tremendous success.


DAVID HIRSHEY:

Unlike Sir Alex Ferguson whom the Old Trafford faithful thought walked on water, Moyes' feet are planted firmly on the ground. He knows he won't win the league by a gazillion points like United did last year -- if he can win it at all. But even a second-place finish in the league doesn't mean he can't add to the club's already bulging trophy cabinet. With or without the EPL's best backup striker, Wayne Rooney, United should at least pick up a FA or League Cup and make a respectable run in Europe.

After only one season at Real Madrid, Pelligrini was fired for perpetrating the crime of finishing three points behind Barcelona after Real had splashed out $400 million on new players. That's chump change by Sheik Mansour standards and City's oligarch owner has already ensured that Pelligrini will have an abundance of attacking riches by adding the Spanish internationals Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo and the Montenegrin hit man Stevan Jovetic to an offensive juggernaut that already boasts David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko. Look for City to devastate EPL defenses in the coming season and run away and hide in much the same way United did last year. Next to Bayern, this might be the deepest and most dangerous squad in Europe.

The Special One's signature Blues teams were always built back to front and revolved around a strong physical presence, exemplified by the Beastmasters, John Terry and Didier Drogba. But the Ivorian battering ram is long gone and Terry is now as relevant to Chelsea's future as Adele. The transplanted heart of Mourinho 2.0 now resides in midfield where a succession of twinkle-toed smurfs like Hazard, Mata, Oscar, and Andre Schurrle will unleash what figures to be searing counter-attack. But all that artistry and invention may not be enough to preserve Mourinho's astonishing streak of only three losses in three seasons (and 27 matches) to United, Arsenal and Tottenham.


IAIN MACINTOSH:

I'm worried for David Moyes. Not because of his ability, he's an excellent manager, but because of the level of expectation. He will have to deal with a dressing room used to the words of a living God, a supporter base used to constant and unrelenting success and a media who can sense blood in the water faster than the hungriest shark. Given time and patience, Moyes will be a success at Old Trafford. Sadly, football doesn't work like that. He either hits the ground running, or he hits the ground like a dropped anvil.

Manuel Pellegrini is another excellent manager and it's going to be fascinating to see him in action in England. As Villarreal and Malaga manager, he worked miracles against the odds. As Real Madrid manager, he failed to win silverware, but not by very much. Don't be fooled by the supporters' affection for his predecessor. The fans loved Roberto Mancini, but many of them also recognized that perhaps it was time for a change. Pellegrini has high expectations too, but should at least be granted one transitional season where only failing to qualify for the Champions League will cost him his job.

Jose Mourinho is back and a thousand journalists cry out with joy. He's a scribbler's dream, but he's also the best manager of his generation. There's work to do at Chelsea where he has inherited an unbalanced squad, but if anyone can restore Chelsea to the top of the table, it's this special, slightly older, slightly greyer one. The only question, as always at this club, is whether owner Roman Abramovich will grant him the time to do his job.


SHAKA HISLOP:

David Moyes did very well at Everton on a limited budget. He was a bit inconsistent, but it had less to do with Moyes and more to do with Everton's budget. They had to get rid of best players to balance the books, but Moyes is still respected for how he managed the books and the club. The true test is how he will handle the job description of Manchester United's manager. He's already finding out how tough that can be with the decision of what to do with Wayne Rooney. It has been an uncertain opening month for Moyes, but he'll have to get used to the pressures of being Man Utd's manager. I think he'll fair well. The strength of the club's name alone they will attract the best talent.

After years of uncertainty in the manager's seat, this year Chelsea knew they needed someone to restore stability because they weren't consistent enough in the Premier League. Mourinho had a strong rapport with fans and he knows what it takes to win, so his transition was seamless. When comparing the new three bosses, Mourinho might be the least risky choice because we already know what he can do with a club of Chelsea's size. Chelsea could be the favorite to walk away with the Premier League crown.


ROGER BENNETT:

David Moyes has accepted the tricky task of replacing a club institution. Few managers achieved more with less than Moyes at Everton.  The 50-year old conjured success at Goodison Park by rehabilitating the careers of young, stuttering talents like Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar, melding them into a squad alongside Filene's Basement finds, and weathered veterans that could punch way above its weight. He has shown he can manage in times of financial famine. He must now prove a quick study and learn to thrive amidst prosperity. His is an ego-packed, global enterprise which must be led to simultaneous success, both domestically and in Europe.

Across town at Manchester City, the professorial Manuel Pellegrini will take over a club whose expectations have grown to similar sizes in recent years. A purveyor of pacey, fluent football, his erudite precision combined with an actual degree in civil engineering contributed to his nickname "The Engineer.' The arrivals of talented Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho, and fleet-footed Spanish winger Jesus Navas should help him tackle the owner's mandate to build a cohesive collective out of a superlative stockpile of individuals. The soothing influence of the experienced coach has already been glimpsed. When asked at his first press conference to comment on the club's stated goal of winning five trophies in the next five years, Pellegrini deadpanned, "Just five?"

The charismatic Jose Mourinho's return from a six-year exile will be this season's most theatrical managerial change. Though his reputation was damaged by bedlam at Real Madrid, the cocky Portuguese coach was the man who instilled a winning culture at Stamford Bridge. Whether he can repeat the feat remains to be seen. The Premier League is a more competitive culture today than in 2004 when Roman Abramovich was the sole oligarch in town. Mourinho's success will depend on his ability to win a battle of leverage with Abramovich. He favors a ruthless approach to football while the Russian craves beauty. The precious talents of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar will have to learn fast if they want to fit into the Mourinho mold.

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