Tactical Insights

Liverpool, Barca and Bayern coach exits set up a busy summer

Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, three of the biggest clubs in the world, have a few things in common. They are perennial contenders to win their domestic leagues, they’ve all won the Champions League over the past decade, and, oh yeah, as of this summer, all three of them need to hire a new coach.

If global football were consolidated into a single pyramid, these three clubs would be at the top — all of the best players and the best managers flow into these powerhouses. As such, these job openings have the potential to leave a ripple that will be felt throughout Europe and the world.

It started in January with Jurgen Klopp’s shocking announcement that he would leave Liverpool at the end of the season, ending one of the most successful tenures in Premier League history. Klopp oversaw a turnaround that led Liverpool to their first league title in 30 years, a Champions League title, and plenty of other trophies — but he said he was “running out of energy” for the job.

A day later, Xavi Hernandez announced he would step down from Barcelona following a loss that saw Barca concede five goals at home for the first time since 1963. Xavi led Barca to a LaLiga title last season, but this campaign has been rocky. “I don’t want to be a problem for the club — I want to be a solution,” he said.

Last month, Thomas Tuchel made a similar announcement, vowing to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season. For Bayern, a club that spends far more money on players than any other in the Bundesliga (and most clubs in Europe), sitting second behind the Xabi Alonso-led Bayer Leverkusen on the league table was untenable.

With that, three of the most prestigious manager jobs in the world will soon be open and, as a result, the biggest moves of the summer transfer window might revolve around managers, not players.

As these three clubs comb through candidates and start making job offers, there will be crossover and jostling for pole position — the best candidates will be under consideration by all three. Then, as coaches leave their current jobs to fill the vacancies at Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern, they will leave more vacancies behind, setting off a chain reaction felt throughout the offseason.

And yet, the reality is that not every coach is a good fit for every job. These clubs in three different leagues have their own unique challenges and their own particular requirements. Sure, they can all hire a big-name coach, but they need to hire the right coach to fit their needs. The style of play and identity at Liverpool aren’t the same as at Barca, which differ from Bayern.

So, that leaves us with some big questions to answer. Who are Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern seriously considering as candidates? Who should these clubs hire based on their individual needs? What sort of ripple effect will impact clubs throughout Europe as a result? And what about Pep Guardiola — he’s hinted he’ll leave Manchester City sooner rather than later, so how could he fit into all of this?

With reporting and analysis from Mark Ogden, Ryan O’Hanlon, James Olley, Julien Laurens and Rob Dawson, here’s everything we know so far.

Behind the scenes of the coach searches at Liverpool, Barca and Bayern

The search is on, and there are some names that have already been attached to all three openings.

Two names — Xabi Alonso and Roberto De Zerbi — are a common thread. Bayern’s honorary president, Uli Hoeness, said last week that his club, Liverpool and Real Madrid, who only recently gave coach Carlo Ancelotti a new contract, have all been attempting to hire Alonso, who is on course to guide Bayer Leverkusen to their first Bundesliga title this season.

With Alonso having spent five years with Real Madrid during his playing career, he is not considered a realistic contender for the job at rival Barcelona, but Brighton coach De Zerbi is under consideration at Camp Nou and is also on the radars of Liverpool and Bayern.

And just to further connect the dots, multiple sources have told ESPN that Tuchel has been discussed as a candidate at the highest level at Barcelona, who need to replace Xavi.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have been looking for a new coach since November, when Klopp told the club’s owner, Fenway Sports Group, that he would be leaving Anfield in the summer. Klopp revealed his intentions publicly at the end of January.

Liverpool CEO Billy Hogan said publicly that their recruitment process for Klopp’s successor will be “data-led,” opening up the prospect of an unexpected appointment at Anfield. The return to the club of former sporting director Michael Edwards earlier this month underscored Liverpool’s determination to stick to the tried and trusted methods that helped identify Klopp in 2015 (and also a stream of successful players signings since, too).

Alonso, a Champions League winner as a player with Liverpool, is the romantic choice, and the 42-year-old is indeed a serious contender if he is keen to replace Klopp, but De Zerbi and Sporting CP coach Ruben Amorim are also on Liverpool’s radar.



Why Ogden wouldn’t be surprised if Liverpool hired Roberto De Zerbi

Mark Ogden acknowledges Liverpool fans prefer Xabi Alonso as top choice for manager, but Ogden says Roberto De Zerbi checks all the boxes.

And don’t rule out VfB Stuttgart‘s Sebastian Hoeness as a surprise option for Liverpool following his impressive work at the Bundesliga team. He is also under consideration at Bayern, but Alonso remains the strong front-runner for the job in Munich. While Uli Hoeness — Sebastian Hoeness’ uncle — is no longer a serious power broker at Bayern, he remains a well-connected figure at the club, so his recent comments about Bayern Munich and Liverpool working on hiring Alonso will have been delivered for a reason.

Perhaps Bayern are concerned that Liverpool have the edge on them for Alonso, or maybe they are trying to force Alonso into a decision either way. Bayern aren’t accustomed to finishing second, on or off the pitch, so their bullish position on Alonso may not be as confident as it seems.

Max Eberl’s appointment as Bayern sporting director in February means the former Borussia Monchengladbach and RB Leipzig executive will lead the search for a new coach — but all the focus is on former Bayern midfielder Alonso right now. Where Alonso ends up will clearly have a domino effect on what happens everywhere else.

Barcelona are in a state of flux due to the financial issues at the club and the ongoing wait for a return to Camp Nou following the stadium’s £1.3 billion renovation. Xavi has struggled to blend the club’s old players with emerging youngsters, and a squad rebuild is needed to put the team back on a competitive level with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

But Barcelona remains one of the game’s most historic clubs, and the appeal of managing the team will still attract the best coaches. Barcelona is still Barcelona.

Former coach Pep Guardiola and Liverpool’s Klopp are the dream options within the Barcelona hierarchy, but neither are remotely possible, so there are competing factions attempting to crown different contenders. De Zerbi and Tuchel have been considered, while former Bayern and Germany coach Hansi Flick is another name in discussions.

Mikel Arteta is regarded as the best option within Barcelona, but the Arsenal coach rejected speculation in January linking him with the club where he started his playing career.

In their present state, Barcelona are having to try harder to nail down their preferred candidate, but Arteta remains a favoured option on the basis that, if he is offered the job, he could find it impossible to turn down. — Mark Ogden



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Gab & Juls discuss reports suggesting that Joan Laporta will try to convince Xavi to stay at Barcelona.

The best coaching fits for each club, according to the data

Liverpool logo Liverpool: Thomas Frank

When Klopp announced he’d be leaving Liverpool back in January, I identified … drumroll, please … Brentford‘s Thomas Frank as a potential successor. Thomas Frank? As in, the guy whose team has lost seven of nine league matches since you wrote that article? Yes, that one.

The point is that Liverpool are weird among other top teams because their games feature lots of turnovers and lots of vertical passing. Most managers at top clubs have moved toward a much more measured, almost deliberate style in possession.

Here’s how every team in Europe this season compares by how aggressively they press — passes allowed per defensive action — and how quickly they move the ball upfield in meters per second:

The three highlighted teams are Liverpool, the team coached by Liverpool’s presumptive first option, Alonso, and the team coached by Thomas Frank. In terms of style, Brentford are more like Liverpool than Leverkusen — and even with the terrible few months of results, they’re still outperforming their resources by an even greater degree than Leverkusen are this season. And after all, the main objective of a manager is to make a team’s talent perform at a higher level.

Hiring Frank would be a big risk for Liverpool, but so would hiring Alonso — or just about anyone other than a clone of Klopp.

Barcelona logo Barcelona: Xabi Alonso

The irony in all of this is that Alonso seems like he’d be a way better fit at Barcelona than any of the teams he’s played for — either Liverpool and Bayern Munich, who have openings this summer, or Real Madrid at some point in the future.

If we’re going to define the Barcelona identity, then I think it would just be: using the ball. Using the ball to stay in possession so you don’t have to defend, using the ball rather than pressing or transition opportunities or crosses to create chances at the other end. And, well, Bayer Leverkusen use the ball better than just about anyone else in Europe.

Here’s how they compare to the rest of Europe in how far they pass the ball per pass and what percentage of their final-third passes are crosses:

Yep, that’s them, all the way in the bottom left corner.

Alonso is so clearly an effective coach. There’s no way that Bayer Leverkusen’s players are just naturally playing in such an extreme fashion — he’s managed them into this approach. And it’s obviously working: they haven’t lost a game yet this season.

At the same time, if you’re hiring him, you’re either going to be asking him to overhaul your playing style or you’re going to be asking him to adapt to your players — both of which entail a good deal of uncertainty. However, the potential reward — just look at the Bundesliga table — seems worth it.

If Alonso, who played six seasons at Real Madrid, is not willing to cross the Clasico divide to coach at the Camp Nou, Brighton’s De Zerbi looks like another snug stylistic fit — but Barca should try to convince Alonso.

Bayern Munich logo Bayern Munich: Sebastian Hoeness

In one sense, Bayern Munich have essentially been the same exact team under Julian Nagelsmann and Tuchel. They’re scoring 2.7 non-penalty goals per game and allowing 1.0 non-penalty goals per game under Tuchel — both the same numbers as the Nagelsmann era.

But in another sense, they’ve been the exact opposite. Under Tuchel, they’ve averaged 89.3 possessions per game. Under Nagelsmann, that number was all the way up at 102. Under Tuchel, their opponents have completed 79.3% of their passes. Under Nagelsmann: 74.4%. With Tuchel, it’s total control. With Nagelsmann, it’s complete chaos.

For that reason, if Nagelsmann were to leave Germany, he seems like a close-to-perfect stylistic fit for Liverpool. (Culturally? I’m not so sure.) The much more open playing style also just seems like it’s a better fit for Bayern, a club that’s seemingly always prided itself on being bigger, faster, and stronger than everybody else.

The ideal replacement would be Klopp, but that’s not happening — Klopp has made it clear he wants a break from coaching, not a break from Liverpool. Instead, Stuttgart’s Hoeness seems to fit the bill. Stuttgart are vastly overperforming what they spend on their payroll, their matches feature an above-average number of possessions, and only seven teams in Europe have held their opponents to a lower pass-completion percentage. Plus, the club’s honorary president, Uli, is his uncle. — Ryan O’Hanlon



Is Liverpool a better job for Xabi Alonso over Bayern Munich?

Shaka Hislop debates whether Xabi Alonso is better suited to Liverpool or Bayern Munich.

The other European clubs that could make changes — and cause further ripples

The clouds are darkening over several managers around Europe’s top leagues, with Mauricio Pochettino trying to navigate one of the most mutinous environments at Chelsea. A sizable number of supporters sang “you don’t know what you’re doing” at the Blues’ boss during their 4-2 FA Cup quarterfinal win over Leicester City earlier this month, coming after chants for former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho as they laboured to a draw at Brentford.

Sources have told ESPN that there remains sympathy from within the club towards Pochettino, as internal data suggests performances have not got the results they deserve — but the external pressure is building. Reaching Wembley twice this season — they return to face Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals next month after losing the Carabao Cup final to Liverpool at the end of February — is a notable achievement, but it cannot entirely mask a dismal Premier League campaign given they currently sit in 11th place.

Winning the FA Cup would yield a valuable place in next season’s Europa League, but if fan dissent continues to grow, Chelsea’s owners may feel compelled to make a change. The complication there would be with the club’s Financial Fair Play compliance, which would be tested further by paying off another manager and his staff.

Mourinho’s availability casts a shadow over Newcastle boss Eddie Howe, who has found it difficult to sustain the rate of progress that delivered Champions League football to St James’ Park for the first time in 20 years. They finished bottom of the group and sit 10th in the Premier League, facing a scramble to qualify for any European competition.

Despite Howe’s good work, the club may look to replace him with a manager possessing a higher profile with a track record of competing at the top end of the game, even if there is sympathy for a lengthy and prolonged injury list that has undermined their season.



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Manchester United‘s new part-owners, Ineos, are considering possible replacements for Erik ten Hag and ESPN reported recently that Gareth Southgate is a credible candidate, should his eight-year tenure as England boss come to an end this summer. On Tuesday, ESPN learned that Man United were interested in speaking with Wolves head coach Gary O’Neil.

Ten Hag is fighting to prove his worth, and a winnable FA Cup semifinal against Coventry City plus the probability of fifth place in the Premier League being good enough for Champions League qualification gives him two lifelines to cling to. But United’s inconsistency in performances coupled with steady transfer market profligacy have left him vulnerable to the new ownership, who are intent on restoring the club to former glories. In order to achieve that, they may want to stamp their authority by making a change regardless of what Ten Hag delivers in the next two months.

Massimiliano Allegri has a year left on his Juventus contract, but speculation persists that he could leave the club. Juventus are currently 17 points behind runaway Serie A leaders Inter Milan, though Juve remain on course for Champions League qualification and have a two-legged Coppa Italia semifinal against Lazio to come next month. Allegri continues to divide opinion in Turin and any end-of-season downturn could seal his fate.

Edin Terzic is walking a similar tightrope at Borussia Dortmund, given they are 20 points adrift of Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen. If one side is traditionally expected to take advantage of a rare flawed Bayern Munich campaign, it would be Dortmund but they are clinging on to a Champions League qualification spot at present. However, they have reached the quarter-finals of this season’s competition, where they will face Atletico Madrid, and so a positive end to the campaign is within Terzic’s reach. — James Olley

Which managers are on everyone’s wish list this summer?

This summer will be a very busy one for many managers: the ones who are hoping to get back on a bench, the ones who will be heavily wooed, the ones who have already announced that they are leaving at the end of the season, and the ones who will hope a bigger club will come for them.

Many clubs and sporting directors in Europe are receiving applications from managers or from their agents every day already and, more than ever before, the manager market this summer will be a massive game of musical chairs.

The most coveted names

Imagine having not yet finished your first full season as a first-team manager and already being wanted by Liverpool and Bayern Munich. This is Xabi Alonso‘s situation. The Leverkusen coach is having a wonderful campaign with attacking football and tactical excellence. His 3-4-2-1 formation sometimes yields mixed results, but his team’s football has been superb as his players execute with a genuine sense of purpose and confidence.

It’s a similar picture for Thiago Motta, 41, at Bologna, who will surely leave for bigger and better things after a brilliant season in which his team are on course for a top-four Serie A finish. Ruben Amorim, even younger at 39, has been linked with many jobs since taking Sporting CP to a league title in 2021, with his 3-4-3 formation and a very intense style. Roberto De Zerbi, 44, is perhaps a more established choice and his passing, attacking approach has been great to see at Sassuolo, Shakhtar Donetsk and Brighton.

Finally, Thomas Tuchel, 50, is leaving Bayern Munich in June after an underwhelming time, but his stock is still high after his great run at Chelsea, which included a Champions League title, and his stint at Paris Saint-Germain, which included two Ligue 1 titles and a Champions League final. Tactically, he is one of the best out there.

The next wave of candidates

Is this summer the right one for Zinedine Zidane to take on a new challenge? The 51-year-old wants the France job, but if it doesn’t become available, some clubs will come for him again, attracted by his amazing man-management skills that helped Real Madrid win two LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns during his tenure.

Julian Nagelsmann, 36, will also be free after the Euros with Germany. A brilliant tactician and one of the youngest coaches to emerge in the world game, his underwhelming spell at Bayern hasn’t hurt his reputation.

Like Tuchel did at Bayern, Xavi is also on the market after announcing he will leave Barcelona. At 44, he showed great resilience in adversity there and developed young players well, but the manager of the season in LaLiga is without a doubt Míchel, 48, at Girona. His ideas about pace, verticality, intensity and direct play have been implemented perfectly by his team, who were one of LaLiga’s best sides over much of the season prior to a late swoon that’s dropped them out of the title race.

The same can be said for Franck Haise, 52, at Lens. His high-press approach and 3-4-3 formation that gives his players freedom to find space have made him really attractive to big clubs. Finally, Julen Lopetegui, 57, has a lot of top-level experience and his ability to build teams makes him a good option.

A fading star and the old guard

Graham Potter, 48, should be considered a viable option for a top club, but the reputation of the former Brighton manager was seriously damaged by his awful time at Chelsea. He still has a nice brand of football and good man-management skills to offer, but in what kind of environment?

As for the old guard, what’s next really? Who will still believe in José Mourinho, 61, after seeing him get sacked from his last five jobs? Which owner wants to deal with Antonio Conte, 54, given his temperamental behavior and constant demands for more resources at every club? Is 59-year-old Hansi Flick, the former Germany head coach, still considered a serious contender for a top job or even an average one? It feels like there is not a market for Jorge Sampaoli, 64, anymore in Europe. For some of them, rebooting away from the spotlight in the lucrative Saudi Pro League might be the best option. For some of them, rebooting away from the spotlight in the lucrative Saudi Pro League might be the best option.

The wild cards

All four of these managers have impressed in patches over the past couple of seasons and could be worth watching during this coaching shuffle.

Vincenzo Italiano, 46, has Fiorentina playing the best attacking football in Serie A.

Will Still, only 31, has been a revelation with Reims in Ligue 1 the past two seasons with intensity, pressing and vertical play. Arne Slot, 45, has a similar style at Feyenoord, yielding great results domestically (second in the Eredivisie) and in Europe (third in their Champions League group) with his team.

Meanwhile, Alexander Blessin, 50, has taken Union St-Gilloise to another level this season with a very aggressive brand of football.

The ones left behind

There’s likely not much interest in this group this summer given some tough recent results. Wayne Rooney, 38, was terrible at Birmingham earlier this season and was sacked after barely two months, having left Major League Soccer late last year. Laurent Blanc, 58, was also let go by Lyon after a very disappointing spell there, though it was even worse for Rudi Garcia, 60, at Napoli (sacked in November) this season.

American coach Jesse Marsch, 50, is still looking for his next opportunity since leaving Leeds in February 2023. — Julien Laurens

What about Pep Guardiola? Is there a chance he decides to leave Man City?

The big unknown in the managerial merry-go-round is Pep Guardiola’s future. Specifically: how does the Manchester City manager envision leaving the Etihad Stadium?

What is certain is that Guardiola, now into his eighth season at the club, is into his endgame. He’s already said he never planned to stay at Man City so long, and it raises the possibility that he could announce his departure quite suddenly. It was telling that after winning the FIFA Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia in December, he walked into his postmatch news conference and said he felt he had “closed a chapter.” For those in the room, it felt like a resignation speech without the resignation.

There’s an argument that if City were to win another treble this season — and they are favourites to do just that — then Guardiola would have nothing left to achieve at club level. Stalwart Bernardo Silva could leave in the summer and star striker Erling Haaland isn’t planning to stick around forever; does Guardiola, now 53, really want to start another cycle during which anything other than complete success might be badged as something of a failure? Probably not.



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Pep Guardiola speaks about Man City’s potential punishment if the 115 financial charges made against them are proved.

The fly in the ointment is City’s legal battle amid accusations of financial wrongdoing made by the Premier League. The case is expected to move forward in September or October and Guardiola has publicly pledged to see the club through whatever punishment — if any — comes their way. He has a contract until 2025 so there’s no need to walk away before the process is complete as long as the timeline for a decision remains the same.

Could Guardiola’s final act as City manager be to somehow guide them to Champions League qualification after being hit with a mammoth points deduction? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

The other thing to consider is what Guardiola has in mind for his future. Jurgen Klopp has suggested he might never manage again, but Guardiola has other ambitions. He wants to manage a national team at a major tournament — preferably a World Cup — and if he decided to leave City this summer, he could take over as a national team boss in August or September and have a two-year build-up to the 2026 World Cup in the United States.

As a proud Catalan, it’s unlikely he would ever take the Spain job, but England, Brazil or the United States are all possibilities. The English Football Association will be looking for a new manager in the summer if Gareth Southgate decides his time is up after the Euros and they would jump at the chance to appoint Guardiola.

For their part, City will leave it up to Guardiola to decide how he wants to finish at the club. Their forward planning in terms of squad development has been phenomenal and bosses — particularly director of football, Txiki Begiristain — will already have a shortlist in mind if Guardiola drops a bombshell at the end of the season. The Man City job would be an attractive proposition for almost any manager in the world. — Rob Dawson

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