By Jamie Barton (@jamieonfootball)
The following is a guest article by the aforementioned author – linked above – and is not necessarily representative of opinions held by anyone at Empire of the Kop…
Liverpool have won seven out of ten against Watford under Jurgen Klopp. Twelve from fifteen this century. Mohamed Salah has more goals than appearances against the Hornets. Such is my belief in the power of the so-called ‘new manager bounce’ that despite all of the above, the thought of Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off fills me with utter dread.
News of Claudio Ranieri’s appointment felt like a punch to the gut; like checking Twitter only to find out your entire defence is out for the season (I think I had a dream where that happened). But is there any reason why I feel like this? Does swapping one southern-European middle-aged man for another really make Watford any more likely to ruin my weekend? Well, what better way to find out than to look at the last five times Liverpool stood between a new boss and his dream start?
Nigel Pearson – Liverpool 2:0 Watford, 14th December 2019
It will come as no surprise to anyone that this weekend’s opposition were also the last side to throw a new manager at the Reds. Ah, Watford. It’s only logical that when a team goes through 682 managers each season, a couple of those poor lost souls will end up facing off against us in their first match in charge.
In this instance, it was Nigel Pearson, the Hornets’ third of four managers during a troubled campaign. This was not the Pearson of old, who went about strangling opposition players and calling journalists ostriches. No, this was a changed man – a historian with Buddhist quotes decorating the walls of his office.
As I remembered it, his first game at the helm was Liverpool’s untimely surrender of their unbeaten record at the hands of Dejan Lovren and, to a lesser extent, Ismaïla Sarr. In reality, that would not come for another couple of months. Pearson’s debut was actually a comfortable Liverpool victory, with Mo Salah bagging a goal in each half. Here’s to another couple at the weekend!
Manuel Pellegrini – Liverpool 4:0 West Ham, 12th August 2018
I distinctly remember coming away from this game and proclaiming, with absolute certainty, that Naby Keïta would be player of the season. It’s the kind of tweet that anyone with more than 77 followers would have thrown back in their face in the years to come. And yet, somehow, I still got it more right that day than Manuel Pellegrini, who endured a torrid afternoon on the opening weekend of the 2018/19 season. Two goals from Sadio Mané, sandwiched between tap-ins from Salah and Daniel Sturridge, gave Liverpool the perfect start to what would be a historic campaign.
As for the Hammers, they underwent the opposite of any ‘new manager bounce’, losing their first four league games under the new boss. Luckily for them, their fifth opponent was Everton, who helped them turn their season around and eventually claim their highest league position since the halcyon days of Slaven Bilić.
Unfortunately for Pellegrini, he went on to suffer the managerial version of a substitute being substituted – within a year and a half, he had been replaced by the very man whose mess he was sent in to clean up: David Moyes.
Marco Silva – Watford 3:3 Liverpool, 12th August 2017
I have to admit, researching this article was pretty painstaking. Sifting through every Liverpool fixture for the last seven years in the hope that I would find a manager’s debut felt like Marcelo Bielsa-esque levels of tedious investigation. In my hour of need, however, I could always look to Watford for support. As I scrolled endlessly through the annals of history, that little red deer on a yellow and black background was a beacon of hope, a chance that maybe, finally, another manager had taken charge of their first game against the Redmen.
Lo and behold, a year to the day before Pellegrini’s humiliation, someone had. Step forward, Marco Silva, the first man on this list to have provided any sort of ‘bounce’. Watford led twice in the first half before Salah’s first Liverpool goal looked set to give his new side the points. It was not to be, unfortunately, as Miguel Britos scrambled in an equaliser in stoppage time to get the new boss off to a flyer. Credit to Silva, the Hornets began the season in impressive fashion, winning four and drawing three of their first eight games. This was quickly cut short, as Everton, apparently desperate for their first piece of Silva since 1995, approached him soon after. Watford’s form fell off a cliff, and it became clear that Marco’s head had been turned. Think Love Island but sponsored by Angry Birds instead of I Saw it First.
Craig Shakespeare – Leicester City 3:1 Liverpool, 27th February 2017
I’m going to be honest with you, I didn’t remember a thing about this game. Nothing. Clearly, I had wiped this disappointment from my brain, and frankly, I’m a little annoyed that writing this piece has caused me to relive it. Still, it is only the second-most traumatic 3:1 loss at the King Power in recent memory, so I guess that’s a positive to take.
Liverpool came into this one with only two wins from twelve since the turn of the year and things were not looking good. Luckily for them, they were about to play one of the only two sides in worse form than them – reigning Premier League champions Leicester City.
The Foxes, previously without a league goal to their name in 2017, were three-up before the hour mark. This was the ultimate ‘new manager bounce’. Shakespeare had provided Liverpool fans with a tragedy befitting his name and the Reds were in freefall. Leicester, on the other hand, were revived. The caretaker boss won his first six games at the helm, making sure that his predecessor Ranieri was hastily forgotten. Let’s hope the Reds can have the same effect on Saturday.
Ronald Koeman – Liverpool 2:1 Southampton, 17th August 2014
This was a really long time ago. Brendan Rodgers was the manager. Steven Gerrard played and Raheem Sterling scored for Liverpool in this game. Nathaniel Clyne scored against Liverpool in this game.
In this, his first game in England, Ronald Koeman was unable to demonstrate the sort of managerial prowess that has earned him jobs at European giants like Barcelona, Ajax and Everton. A spirited but ultimately limp loss to a poor Liverpool side was all the ‘bounce’ that the Dutchman was able to muster on this late summer’s afternoon. Four wins and a draw from Southampton’s next five represented a marked improvement. There would be no such improvement from the Reds, whose season pretty much peaked there and then. Don’t worry, we don’t have to talk about 2014/15 if you don’t want to.
Basically, the Reds have coped fairly well when faced by a debutant manager. Saturday will most likely be fine – I write that as much to myself as I do to you. Yes, there is always the chance of another Craig Shakespeare, but that was a very different Liverpool side. If there’s anything the first ten games of this season has taught us, it’s that we are still an excellent team. No amount of new manager bounce, whether real or a myth, can change that. So relax, find your zen. If Nigel Pearson was able to do it, then so can you.