Premier League managers are beginning to resemble the cast list of the Living Dead. Take, for example, Chelsea’s zombified performance at Manchester City on Sunday.
It did little to improve Antonio Conte’s job prospects, should he actually care about lingering at Stamford Bridge.
Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger stays defiant but his team’s latest embarrassment, this time in losing 2-1 at Brighton, suggested his players see little future in him. The same might be said of Everton and Sam Allardyce’s prospects after a second-half capitulation that handed Burnley a first victory in almost three months.
At the very bottom of the league, hopeless and hapless West Brom do not seem likely to sack Alan Pardew soon, despite a single victory in 15 matches and that serious outbreak of indiscipline on a mid-season break in Barcelona he had organised.
Why does Pardew survive despite defeat after defeat? The simple reason is that West Brom can’t find anybody else to replace him, an admission that they have all but accepted their fate. Presumably, life in the Championship is now being planned for.
And then there’s Mauricio Pellegrino, whose Southampton team were only kept out of the bottom three by Manchester United’s Monday night comeback at Crystal Palace. Even if Saints stay up, the Argentinian is surely for a summer high jump.
After all, the very same club sacked Claude Puel last June for the crime of finishing eighth, though admittedly with 17 points fewer than predecessor Ronald Koeman had amassed the previous year.
That equals a quarter of the Premier League’s managers who are now marking time until they are handed their cards. And that doesn’t take into account trigger-happy Watford, though Javi Gracia has at least presided over an improvement, Rafa Benitez’s running battles with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley and Paul Lambert’s position at Stoke almost certainly relying on whether they can recover from their current second-bottom status.
At West Ham, David Moyes, having looked a safe pair of hands on the way to recovering the damages to his reputation suffered at Sunderland, only has a contract until June and the Hammers are wobbling badly.
At least, though, that quartet have something left to fight for. Conte, Wenger, Allardyce, Pardew and Pellegrino are not much more dead men walking, forced to talk the talk for nine more Premier League matches, delivering empty platitudes while they must surely know their fate.
At the top of the league, City’s utter dominance has reduced Conte, last season so calm, cool and collected as his own team breezed to the title, to a shrinking, whispering shadow of himself.
Last season, Conte the control freak was all-powerful at Chelsea, and yet Sunday saw Eden Hazard feel able to criticise his manager’s tactics. “‘We could have played on for three hours, but I wouldn’t touch a ball,” said Hazard, someone his club are far more keen to keep than a manager whose team are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth.
Wenger, hopes of catching Spurs extinguished by a 13-point gap, appeared to be playing it for laughs at Brighton. “When you have just the trousers on it’s easy to take them trousers off as well,” he said. “When you’re completely naked you have to find a shirt and try to put it on again.”
It was the type of comedy gold that Neil and Rob Gibbons, the twin brothers currently writing the new Alan Parridge TV series, would probably kill for. And with questions on his future likely to pelt down until the moment we are given the word that the time has come, it is probably only going to get worse for Wenger. His sad loss to the English game is surely now inevitable.
A revived AC Milan visit London on Thursday, and with Rino Gattuso snarling on the sidelines, they look more than capable of cutting a final cord to respectability in the Europa League. That would leave it all over bar the shouting on Arsenal Fan TV.
The relegation battle is set to be the main source of entertainment for the remaining weeks of this Premier League season. For those at the bottom, if a group of 10 teams with realistic fears of relegation can be termed that, chickens are coming home to roost.
An old-boy Brit club of Pardew, Allardyce, Moyes and Lambert no longer looks so kite-marked in guaranteeing safety, and Pardew is only at West Brom because Tony Pulis, the group’s previous grandmaster, had badly lost his mojo in the Midlands.
Too many clubs began the season with nothing more than the objective of safety and the collection of another £100m-plus from TV revenue in mind.
Those limited horizons and Manchester City’s utter dominance have detonated a zombie apocalypse for Premier League managers.