FM18 simulates the 2017-18 PL season with all the new managers in charge
Football fans often finish a season thinking ‘what if’ – and now Football Manager 18 can help us imagine how differently things might have turned out if Premier League clubs had made their managerial changes before the season rather than during it.
Remarkably, with Arsenal confirming Unai Emery as Arsene Wenger’s replacement and Chelsea expected to soon dispense of Antonio Conte, exactly half of the 20 Premier League clubs will have changed managers since the start of the 2017-18 season.
Everton and Swansea, meanwhile, will soon join West Ham, Stoke City and West Brom in appointing their second new permanent manager within the space of the 12 months.
Each club will be hoping it is a case of third time lucky in their search for the perfect figurehead, but for Swansea, Stoke and West Brom it is too late to keep them in the Premier League.
But what if it wasn’t? We headed to the alternative reality that is Football Manager 18 and implemented all of the manager changes from the start of the season, including Emery at Arsenal and the soon-to-be-appointed Graham Potter at Swansea, but Sam Allardyce retains his position at Everton with no new man confirmed at the time of writing.
Some of them made sense – like giving Hodgson a little more breathing room to work with than zero points out of twenty-one or trying to pre-empt Southampton’s slide – but many of them didn’t. Which category will Emery’s Arsenal tenure fall into?
FM18, as always, has the ultimate answers…
Three games in, we’ve got three managers with perfect records.
One is José Mourinho at Manchester United, but he is the outlier: Potter at Swansea and Claude Puel at Leicester have also both won three out of three.
Potter has already masterminded an away win over Arsenal (just like in reality) as well as victories over Burnley and Darren Moore’s West Brom.
They aren’t the only overachievers: Watford, already led by Javi Gracia, have picked up seven points already, happily holding onto fourth place at such an early juncture of the season. Emery’s Arsenal side, meanwhile, are in 17th.
It doesn’t get much better for them by November as they are still only 12th, already 14 points behind the Red Devils at the top of the table.
Watford, Swansea and Leicester are still outperforming expectations.
By the time the festive season rolls around, we’ve got our first two managerial casualties.
Allardyce is out after he seemed to take his job description too seriously by laser-focusing onto 17th place, but perhaps an even bigger underachiever was Manuel Pellegrini, who is also sacked before the turn of the year having collecting only 19 points in 21 games to leave West Ham in the relegation zone.
West Brom and Crystal Palace complete the bottom three, their managers’ positions looking less and less secure by the day as the time of panicking chairmen gets ever closer.
Shockingly, Swansea’s flying start came crashing down to such an extent that they are level on points with Everton, but Potter’s early strong performances seem to have given him some breathing space.
So much so that the pundits actually consider Mark Hughes the third-most likely candidate for sacking despite keeping Southampton in a consistent mid-table position – they don’t know what they’re avoiding in an alternate timeline.
In the meantime, things seem to be stabilising further up the table, with the traditional Big Six almost back in their usual positions. Only Watford, still clinging onto sixth, muddy the waters, but it’s only their slightly superior goal difference keeping them ahead of a resurgent Arsenal.
Awful in the autumn, surprisingly strong in the winter, so far, Emery seems like the polar opposite of the man he has replaced, but the end result is still the same.
The top of the table looks even more familiar by March, but perhaps the most exciting development is that there is an actual title race going on, something which seemed extremely unlikely considering United’s nine-point lead at the turn of the year.
Their noisy neighbours have almost completely caught up to them, sitting only three points behind with 10 games to go, nine wins clear of Tottenham in third. Not bad for a side that was languishing in 11th place mid-November.
Elsewhere, Allardyce has been predictably replaced by Marco Silva, while West Ham make a fairly odd appointment in the form of ex-Swansea boss Francesco Guidolin.
Moore’s time is also up at West Brom as the club goes for a safe pair of hands to save their season. No, not Alan Pardew, but Guus Hiddink.
Roy Hodgson’s tenure in charge of Crystal Palace ends in February, with Garry Monk the replacement, while Swansea are only out of the relegation zone thanks to their goal difference so sack Potter and appoint Tony Pulis.
While all this is going on, Burnley sneak up to fifth place on the back of some impressive wins against the top sides as everyone else slowly drifts towards a fairly realistic position on the table.
Perhaps the biggest aberration so far is the identity of the highest goalscorers: Chicharito tops the charts with 14 goals for the now-13th Hammers, with Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson in hot pursuit.
The final straight
The final fixtures are certainly more exciting than they were in real life, with only two points between the Manchester sides at the summit, the same amount separating third and fifth, and zero between Arsenal and Burnley fighting for the last Europa League spot – with Watford only three behind them in eighth.
At the bottom, West Brom and Crystal Palace are long gone, but only a single point separates 13th-placed Huddersfield from Brighton in the relegation zone – 14 teams still have something to fight for with two games remaining.
The season ends with a bang: Liverpool and Tottenham secure the final two Champions League spots ahead of Chelsea, while Manchester United win the title by a point from City.
The Red Devils’ FA Cup triumph, meanwhile, means the extra Europa League slot trickles down the table, allowing both Arsenal and Burnley to celebrate something in sixth and seventh place. Truth and fiction are remarkably similar in this case.
At the other end, Brighton join Palace and West Brom in the Championship, ending Chris Hughton’s tenure and meaning a much more satisfying season for Swansea and Stoke.
The sting in the tale? Emery got fired for a sixth-placed finish. His replacement? Rafa Benítez. His replacement? PSV’s Philip Cocu.
Perhaps all of this actually makes sense – after all, if there’s anyone who feels at home in an environment with constant upheaval, it’s José Mourinho.
By Luci Kelemen