Premier League 2023-24 review: managers of the season

<span>Unai Emery set high expectations at <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Aston Villa;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Aston Villa</a> last season – and exceeded them in this campaign.</span><span>Photograph: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images</span>

Unai Emery (Aston Villa)

It’s fair to say expectations were high at Villa Park for the man who had taken over in the autumn of 2022 with the club mired in a relegation battle and guided them to seventh last season. It’s also fair to say he has exceeded them. Emery has steered Villa to their best league finish since 1996 and next season they will compete for the European Cup for the first time since they qualified as winners in 1982-83. They have excelled despite the Sunday-Thursday treadmill brought by Europa Conference League football – a challenge that yielded a first European semi-final since 1982 – and squad depth that did not allow for much rotation (10 players end the season having made 45 appearances or more). And there’s no sense his squad is about to be broken up. Indeed there’s every chance they can kick on. The challenge might be holding on to a manager who is back among the hottest properties in Europe.

Andoni Iraola (Bournemouth)

When the 2022-23 version of this list was published on 29 May last year, Bournemouth’s Gary O’Neil deservedly featured alongside Pep Guardiola and Roberto De Zerbi. When he was sacked three weeks later and replaced by Iraola it felt like Bournemouth were being a touch greedy, grasping for something above their station when steady survival should have been the aim. A year on, Iraola has rewarded Bournemouth’s ambition (and O’Neil hasn’t done too badly either). The former Rayo Vallecano manager has steered them to their record Premier League points tally, eclipsing Eddie Howe’s high-water mark with the club, and that after a slow start that left them with six points (and one win) after 11 games in early November. Since then, though, only the top four and Chelsea have taken more points. Next season could be exciting. Bournemouth are clearly in no mood to stand still.

Rob Edwards (Luton)

If there is one thing that Burnley and Sheffield United have shown this season it is that the gap between the Championship and the Premier League is getting ever tougher to bridge, even for sides with recent time in the top flight. Luton were the third of the promoted trio – hamstrung, like all playoff winners, by a compressed summer (Burnley’s promotion was confirmed on 7 April, Luton’s over seven weeks later) – and had finished 11 points behind the Blades and 21 behind Vincent Kompany’s champions.

Even so, Luton came closest to bucking the trend, Edwards moulding a style of play that at least gave his team a chance of picking up points. In doing so he delivered some of the most entertaining games of the season, the 4-4 with Newcastle and the 4-3 with Arsenal among them. Caveats apply: they have amassed a paltry points total that would have left them relegated in nine of the last 10 seasons. Likewise, without the points deduction for Nottingham Forest they would have been down a couple of weeks before the end of the season. But Edwards gave Luton fans the chance to dream.

Sean Dyche (Everton)

After Everton stayed up by the skin of their teeth at the expense of Leicester on the final day of the 2022-23 season – a second successive dramatic escape – Dyche prescribed “a massive amount of change” at the club. There’s been some, most of it bad. Over the summer financial constraints left his squad weakened by outgoings, in November they were hit by a points deduction, in April another and over it all hovered the shadow of 777 Partners’ potential takeover. Yet Everton stayed up with plenty to spare, enjoying their best season since Carlo Ancelotti was in charge. Indeed without the off-field shenanigans they would have finished in mid-table, despite a hotchpotch of a squad from an assortment of managerial eras.

Though it looked unlikely during the winless run between mid-December and early April, Dyche has now lasted longer than Ronald Koeman, Frank Lampard, Sam Allardyce or Marco Silva – a list of recent appointments that says much about the chaotic trajectory at Goodison Park – and even managed to torpedo Liverpool’s title bid in April for good measure. Whether he is the right man to get them challenging at the other end of the table remains in question, but that’s not where the club is right now. Everton are in crisis and Dyche has proven more than a match for it.

Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)

Four Premier League titles in a row and six in seven years. Only Sir Alex Ferguson now stands ahead of Guardiola in the English football pantheon. Since mid-December City’s league record reads P22 W18 D4 L0, with a relentless nine wins on the bounce down the final straight to keep Arsenal at bay. Indeed it says much for the job that Mikel Arteta has done with the Gunners that they went into the final 45 minutes of the season needing just a two goal swing to take the title to north London. Whether 115 asterisks (or worse) are heading City’s way at some point in the future remains to be seen. But on the pitch Guardiola’s side were again a winning machine – the rest of the Premier League are waiting for the day City put on a Klopp-style farewell party of their own.