There are few complete truths in football. Arsène Wenger being blind to his side committing infringements is one; Arsenal losing to Bayern Munich in the knockout stages of the Champions League is another; and a club declaring its ‘unwavering support’ for the manager always being viewed as the final knife in the back of a failing incumbent is a third.
But, maybe not so in the case of Claudio Ranieri. After the latest defeat at the weekend, bookies had Claudio nailed on to be the next manager to take one for the team, and in response the Club issued a statement offering support of the unwavering kind. What’s in Claudio’s favour is that they’ve been here before - the club stood by Nigel Pearson as Leicester trailed the Premier League for all but the last few games of the 14/15 season, whilst he displayed definite signs of a deep psychosis and his son took part in racist sex tapes whilst on tour. And secondly, of course, Claudio won the League last year, which was always going to help.
Had that not been the case, the chances are Mr Pearson may well have been preparing his CV about now for his third stint in charge at the King Power. Because, with all the changes in fortune in the league since Christmas, there seem to be only two definites at the moment – Chelsea will win the title, and Leicester will be relegated. Everything else seems to be up for grabs.
And Leicester's demise has been pretty emphatic. They’re a point above the relegation zone, their morale and confidence is on par with that of a Scottish Tory candidate and Ranieri has reverted to his reputation as ‘Tinkerman’. Last season the Leicester team were as unchanged in style and line-up as an Earth Wind and Fire reunion; this season Ranieri has already made 52 team changes and numerous fiddlings with the formation in an effort to get back to winning ways - all to no avail.
Which begs the question - what does a manager do when his Plan A isn’t working? The smart money is on coming up with a Plan B, but it doesn’t seem to be that easy – ask Claudio. Or ask Jurgen.
Liverpool cruised through the first half of the season, confident in their Plan A - they pressed hard at the top of the field, had a fast interchangeable front line, had in-form strikers and lots of hugging. They made no real changes to their starting eleven, everyone knew what was expected - and then the wheels came off. Cynics would say that Plan A didn’t pay enough attention to defence. Casual bystanders would say, however, that Plan A didn’t pay enough attention to defence – and you bought a useless goalkeeper.
Whatever the reason, Liverpool are now in the same doo-doo as Leicester - maybe not as deep, but still in danger of smelling of disappointment unless they can come up with a Plan B sharpish.
And you can split the Premier League into those teams where Plan A is working and those where it isn’t – and that’s why new managers can be successful, at least in the short term. Antonio Conte came in at the start of the season and to an extent he got lucky in the same way that Ranieri got lucky last year. He inherited a group of players that perfectly matched the style he wanted to play. He tinkered a bit in the first few games, but then fell back into the style and formation that worked for him at Juventus and hasn’t looked back since.
Paul Clement at Swansea and Marco Silva at Hull have both impressed with their immediate impact. Particularly of note was that both were successful in the transfer market almost as soon as they took over their new clubs - they had a clear idea of how they wanted to play and what type of players were needed. They’re now both reaping the rewards.
A true test of a managers’ mettle therefore is how they respond when Plan A starts to go down the toilet. And this can come at any time – for Swansea and Hull it might still be this season as teams get used to them. For Leicester, Liverpool, and Bournemouth, it already is. They need to fundamentally change the way they’re playing because for one reason or another it just isn’t working anymore.
Arsenal are a Plan A team that are confronted by a need for Plan B at the same point every season and just ignore it, hence their continued failure to reach their potential. Stoke start each season with Plan B before realising that it’s not going to work again and so revert back to Plan A. West Brom under Pulis are a successful Plan A side but they’re just so bloody boring.
Everton are a side where the Plan A is just coming to fruition. Boro - a side where their Plan A isn’t quite good enough but they’re going to stick with it anyway. Watford’s ‘A’ was sussed out, but Walter looks to have come up with a good ‘B’, mainly in the guise of replacing Ighalo with Niang - who immediately looks the business.
There you go Claudio - you should’ve shipped Vardy off to China in January. It's too late now.
Burnley are a classic Plan A team. At home this season, 28 points. Away? 1. If they start losing at home, Plan B is they go down and try again.
The Manchester teams are interesting. United under Mourinho are only just reaching their Plan A level. Jose has known for some time what it was, but maybe not how to achieve it – you basically drop Rooney and then pump the ball up to Zlatan. Now that it’s working, he’s realised it’s too late for this season so he’s bigging up what he’s going to do next.
And at City, Pep is like a man with a tune in his head that he just can’t get out. He still looks totally in shock - he’s got a Plan A, but he’s not sure if the Premier League is the right environment in which to unveil it.
So Claudio, either come up with a cunning Plan B, or one will be made for you. It’ll involve playing next season without Schmeichel, Vardy, Mahrez and a few others and setting another record – albeit an unwanted one this time.