Tottenham and Everton finally appointed new managers this week, with Nuno Espirito Santo coming in at Spurs and Rafael Benitez joining Everton. But how will the pair do?
It has been a bad few years for Tottenham.
In the few months leading up to the Champions League final in 2019 Spurs were performing like a mid-table team based on underlying numbers, and that hasn’t improved since.
Mauricio Pochettino – who Spurs were rumoured to be interesting in re-hiring – was replaced by Jose Mourinho, which brought about a more negative style of football and the same underlying numbers.
After a good start to the 2020/21 campaign, Spurs were looking to be in a title race, but they capitulated, once again playing like a mid-table team. Mourinho was sacked days before the Carabao Cup final – which was odd given his record in finals.
Daniel Levy has finally appointed his successor after a 72 day wait and a seemingly scattergun approach.
Nuno Espirito Santo is a manager familiar with the Premier League, and one who probably deserves a crack at a ‘big’ job given what he achieved at Wolves.
He inherits a team that finished last season in seventh spot, which earned them qualification for the famed Europa Conference League, but that finish flattered them according to expected goals (xG).
Their performances warranted a tenth-placed finish, averaging 1.56 expected goals for (xGF) and 1.42 expected goals against (xGA) per game – a woeful process given the talent at hand.
If improving the team's xG process is what is required, then they have made a decent appointment, but the fact that it took Levy so long to find a manager is probably a fair indication of just how big a job Nuno has on his hands in North London.
Nuno took Wolves to the Premier League at the first time of asking when he was appointed in 2017, before finishing seventh in each of their first two seasons back in the top-flight.
On both occasions though, their underlying process deserved more, sitting fifth in Infogol’s xG table in both 2018/19 and 2019/20, improving their expected goal difference (xGD) year-on-year.
While Nuno and Wolves were disappointing last season, finishing 13th, that campaign deserves an asterisk next to it thanks to an extended 19/20 season after a deep run in the Europa League, plus severe injuries to key players (Raul Jimenez).
The ex-Porto goalkeeper is known for his preference for a back-five system, which helped Wolves become one of the meanest defences in the Premier League.
In fact, only Manchester City boasted a better xGA per game figure than Wolves in the 2019/20 season, while they ranked fifth on this metric in 2018/19.
Nuno knows how to organise a defence, and that is something Spurs are in desperate need of having looked vulnerable at the back for years now, failing to rank as one of the best five defences in the league since 2017/18 according to xG.
Spurs fans grew tired of Mourinho’s defence-first approach to matches - they shouldn't expect much different from his former goalkeeper.
If Nuno does plan to play in a more expansive manner, it is a method he is yet to prove he can get results with.
Nuno's success or failure already feels like it could be tied up in the future of his star man.
Harry Kane is among the most clinical finishers over the past five seasons across Europe's top five leagues.
In fact, based on xG overperformance, only teammate Heung-min Son and Lionel Messi have been more clinical with their chances than Kane.
With or without Kane, Nuno will need to start well - especially when you look at Tottenham's fixture list.
Spurs start the campaign at home to champions Manchester City before a trip to Molineux to face Nuno’s old side. After Watford (h) and Crystal Palace (a) come back-to-back matches against European champions Chelsea (h) and North London rivals Arsenal (a).
Anything less than 10 points could see pressure mounting on the Portuguese coach.
The problems at Spurs run deep.
In the space of a few months Mourinho went from beating Manchester City and apparently marching to the title, to losing to Dinamo Zagreb and marching to the Job Centre.
Nuno's fate could be the same should Spurs find life tough early on, and if the football is as bad to watch as under Mourinho.
Everton passed on Nuno in the almost comical managerial merry-go-round we have had to endure over the past few weeks, eventually bringing Rafa Benitez to Goodison Park despite his ties to local rivals Liverpool.
Hiring the 61-year-old has been met with toxicity following his history on the Red side of the city, but it might be an upgrade, even if his predecessor has returned to the luxuries involved in coaching Real Madrid.
It wouldn’t surprise me if a fair few Evertonians are just happy to be rid of Carlo Ancelotti, which may sound strange considering they were challenging for European football for the majority of the 2020/21 campaign.
After an excellent start to life under Ancelotti from a data perspective, the Toffees have declined to a bottom-half level team, perfectly displayed by their rolling xG trendlines during the Italian's tenure.
Everton averaged 1.32 xGF and 1.47 xGA per game last season, finishing 12th in Infogol’s expected Premier League table.
That is simply not good enough for a squad of such quality, as Everton are not the “small club” that Rafa claimed they were after a Merseyside derby in 2007.
Moving onto Benitez, his success at Liverpool is well-documented - a proven winner - but the last time we have seen him in a ‘big’ job was at Newcastle, scrapping to keep the Magpies in the Premier League.
Despite posting some worrying underlying numbers, Benitez led Newcastle to 10th and 13th placed finishes in his final two seasons in the North East, a stellar effort considering the squad was frankly not good enough to compete in the top tier.
Style of play might well be similar to what we’ve seen under Ancelotti, with Rafa also favouring a 4-2-3-1 that manifests itself into a defensive 4-3-3, which might be tough for fans to stomach, but it will be interesting to see how Benitez performs given the resource Ancelotti seemingly wasted, a talented group of players that were shackled by an unimaginative approach.
Early results will prove crucial in the acceptance of Benitez at Everton, who start the new season at home to Southampton, and don't play a 'big six' team until gameweek seven - Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Should he be afforded the requisite time, Benitez should do better than Ancelotti. The question is whether he gets that time.