In Focus: Has Guardiola got enough Pep to come out on top again?
With the new season creeping closer by the day, debate is already raging about which teams will challenge for Premier League glory — but what about the men in charge?
To settle the debate, we decided to run the rule over the managers of last season's top six, taking into account what each does well and who has work to do this term.
Who comes out on top? Read on to find out.
Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
In a campaign like no other, Manchester City showed themselves to be best equipped for the job last term as Pep Guardiola led his troops to a third Premier League title in four seasons.
Having lost their crown to Liverpool in 2019-20, City made a slow start and dropped 16 points in their opening 12 matches — but they soon rediscovered their ruthless streak.
A remarkable 15 straight wins between December and March saw Guardiola’s side power clear while their rivals toiled.
The Citizens eventually finished 12 points clear of their closest rivals, who just happened to be neighbours Manchester United.
The tactical awareness of City’s chief was key, with Guardiola’s possession-based approach paying dividends in an energy-sapping schedule that took its toll on many sides.
City’s strength in depth was once again apparent as the eventual champions absorbed injuries to key players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho while also playing large parts of the season without a recognised striker.
Guardiola's men are undoubtedly the team to beat again in 2021-22.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United)
Settling for second has never been the done thing at Old Trafford — but United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have been quietly encouraged by their 2020-21 campaign.
Having seen his men finish sixth in 2018-19 and a distant third in his first full campaign the following season, Solskjaer eked more improvement out of his youthful squad to finish a distant second to City — but five points clear of Liverpool in third.
It was another sign of United’s steady progress under the Norwegian, who has had to face his fair share of critics since taking the reins permanently in March 2019.
While there is still room for improvement, Solskjaer’s side showed plenty of resolve last term by losing only six of their 38 league contests and going the entire campaign unbeaten on the road.
The biggest task facing them is turning more draws into wins — they shared the spoils 11 times in the league last season — but deals for Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane show United mean business.
All that remains to be seen now is whether Solskjaer can take another step forward and actually get his hands on a trophy.
Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
As far as title defences go, Liverpool’s 2020-21 effort was bitterly disappointing.
Boss Jurgen Klopp, who had turned the Reds into a winning machine when ending the club’s 30-year wait for a Premier League title in 2019-20, could only watch as his jaded troops repeatedly failed to hit those same heights.
A gobsmacking 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa early on was a sign of things to come, while a run of three wins and eight defeats in 14 league outings after Christmas left the champions in a humiliating position.
But Klopp did what he does best — rallying his troops to finish with 26 points from a possible 30 as they nicked third on the final day.
A brutal injury to key man Virgil van Dijk last October was a bitter blow for the German but the fact remains he was unable to find a suitable solution as the season unravelled.
Although late momentum should breed confidence ahead of the big kick-off, reinstalling the Reds to top spot in 2021-22 would probably be Klopp’s biggest achievement to date.
Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea)
Despite only taking charge in late January, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has already made a bigger impact in English football than most managers ever do.
Replacing Frank Lampard with the Blues languishing in ninth, the German rejuvenated the Blues by going unbeaten in his first 14 games across all competitions.
As well as securing a top-four spot, he also led Chelsea to two cup finals — narrowly losing the FA Cup to Leicester before edging out City for a famous Champions League triumph.
Promoting a patient style of play, Tuchel put the focus on defence and reaped a remarkable 12 clean sheets from his opening 14 games.
He has shown himself to be an astute tactician capable of handling a changing room full of big personalities — but his brand of football is one that risks criticism from fans if results turn sour.
Tuchel, 47, must now show he is capable of replicating his early achievements with the element of surprise no longer a factor.
Brendan Rodgers (Leicester)
Brendan Rodgers must have been cursing his luck after Leicester suffered final-day heartbreak in the top-four battle for a second successive Premier League campaign.
However, the 2020-21 season will be fondly remembered thanks to the FA Cup win, with Youri Tielemans powering home a memorable strike to down Chelsea at Wembley.
For large parts of last term, Leicester appeared to be good value for a Champions League spot and showed their true ability in eye-catching victories over City, Chelsea, Liverpool and United.
But Rodgers’ side were undone all too frequently by the league’s lesser lights — especially at home, losing half of their league outings at the King Power Stadium.
Rightfully considered among the division' best managers, the former Liverpool boss plays an attractive counter-attacking style but must find a way of reducing the struggle on occasions when his side are allowed to dominate possession.
With new arrivals already in the bag, Rodgers will be confident of driving his team forward again in 2021-22.
David Moyes (West Ham)
Although Guardiola was crowned Premier League Manager of the Season last term, most neutrals would agree David Moyes would have been a worthy winner after his exploits with West Ham.
The Hammers will play in the Europa League group stage for the first time in 2021-22 after seeing off the likes of London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal to finish sixth.
Much credit must go to the gritty Scot, 58, who consistently squeezed maximum effort out of his well-drilled squad while also playing a blinder in the transfer market.
The Czech pair of Vladimir Coufal and Tomas Soucek were both exceptional while the loan addition of Manchester United outcast Jesse Lingard proved a masterstroke — with England star Declan Rice at the heart of everything good in the midfield.
But repeating the trick this time around with an even more congested schedule would take some doing and Moyes has asked for patience from the club’s fans should his side suffer a dip.
With an established way of playing and immense team spirit, expect the East Londoners to ruffle plenty more feathers in the upcoming campaign.
Which boss comes out on top?
There is no doubt all six managers deserve credit for the job they did last term — but some have more cause for concern than others this season.
For Klopp and Solskjaer, a title tilt is the minimum requirement in 2021-22. As for Moyes, he will know only too well that his brilliance in a coronavirus-impacted campaign will soon be forgotten if last season proves a mere flash in the pan.
Tuchel perhaps enters with the strongest hand — especially having won all three of his meetings with Guardiola in the league, FA Cup and Champions League last term — but how will the rigours of a full campaign impact the German?
Rodgers deserves plenty of praise for guiding Leicester to the cusp of the top four twice in a row — but there is no getting away from City’s great Spaniard.
Guardiola and his troops bounced back in style last term after a disappointing league campaign in 2019-2020.
And with the least questions to answer, they look primed to reign supreme again come next May.