Chris Wilder has been named LMA Manager of the Year, beating Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Norwich City’s Daniel Farke to the honour after leading Sheffield United to the Premier League.
Which got us thinking: if Wilder is seen to have performed better than any other head coach in football this season, how would he have fared at the top of the pyramid? We took to Football Manager 2019 to find out if Wilder would be a success in charge of Manchester City, and if Guardiola – often criticised for only managing rich, high-flying clubs – could emulate Wilder’s achievement in the second tier.
We simulated the 2018-19 season after swapping the two men in the data editor. Here’s how they got on.
City start the season in style, with Wilder managing to continue his predecessor’s work by calmly winning matches in an organised fashion. They win five and draw two of their opening seven matches, which is slightly worse than the real Manchester City, but certainly good enough to cast aside any fears City’s players would react badly to a lower profile manager taking the reins.
The first cracks appear in a 2-0 defeat away at Tottenham, City never recovering from a seventh-minute opener from Dele Alli, and although they recover with a six-game winning streak in all competitions, murmurs of discontent can be heard following a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool – that’s two Big Six away matches and two defeats.
Champions League qualification with five wins from five doesn’t paper over the cracks – and then December is a near disaster.
Just 11 points from seven matches is mid-table form at exactly the wrong time of year, the lowlights including a 2-0 defeat at home in the Manchester derby and a 1-1 draw a Fulham.
By the midway point City are fifth and 11 points behind leaders Chelsea. Wilder just about hangs onto his job.
Manchester City are much stronger in the second half of the season, winning 16, drawing one (against Brighton) and losing two of their remaining 19 games, but in reality that probably wouldn’t have been enough to turn around an 11-point deficit.
But in Football Manager world, somehow, it is. Chelsea win 19 points from their final 14 matches of the season, a bottle-job for the ages, and with Arsenal and Liverpool also floundering, it gives City the momentum to win ugly and get across the line.
Wilder’s side lift the title on the final day with 86 points, one more than runners-up Arsenal.
The defining game in the title run-in was undoubtedly a 1-0 home win over Liverpool in March that extended their lead over Arsenal to four, an 88th-minute penalty scored by January signing Giovanni Simeone sealing the points.
Wilder’s side are out of the Champions League in the second round, falling to Real Madrid, and lose early in the FA Cup and League Cup to Liverpool and Arsenal respectively.
Final position: 1st
The United players have absolutely no interest in Pep’s methods, or perhaps Guardiola simply needs world-class players for his complex tactics to work. Either way, the campaign begins with four straight defeats to put Guardiola under immediate pressure.
This is relieved with a run of 10 points won from the next four, and despite a couple of defeats at the end of September there is some optimism one month later: United are undefeated in October and, after a yo-yo start, Guardiola’s side have 23 points from 15 matches. It could be a lot worse.
Then it got a lot worse. November was a complete disaster, a 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest followed by four defeats – and then two more at the start of December to leave the Blades on 24 points 22 games.
That sixth consecutive loss, 2-1 at home to West Brom, proved to be Guardiola’s last game. He was booted the same day, December 15.
Final position: 15th
By Alex Keble