Do Norwich, Sheffield United and Aston Villa have what it takes to survive in the Premier League? Adam Smith takes an in-depth look at how newly-promoted sides have fared in the past and the keys to avoiding relegation…
Fifty-six per cent. That’s the percentage of teams who have survived their first season in the Premier League since 1995, when the 38-game season was introduced.
With just 40 out of 71 newly-promoted clubs avoiding an immediate relegation back to the Championship, Norwich, Sheffield United and Aston Villa have a real battle on their hands to maintain Premier League status beyond 2019/20.
But what lessons can they learn from their predecessors?
Ipswich were favourites for relegation at the start of 2000/01 season after winning promotion via the play-offs, but finished in a remarkable fifth place, qualifying for the UEFA Cup and earning 66 points – the same tally Manchester United amassed last season.
Best newly-promoted teams since 1995/96
Ipswich 00/01 Play-offs £4.6m 50 57 5th 66 Sunderland 99/00 Champions £4.1m 57 56 7th 58 Wolves 18/19 Champions £80.1m 47 46 7th 57 Reading 06/07 Champions £8.3m 52 47 8th 55 West Ham 05/06 Play-offs £18.9m 52 69 9th 55
Derby County hold the unfortunate record of having the worst top-flight campaign record since the current points system was introduced. After their promotion in 2007, they collected just 11 points in 2007/08 and won only one game.
Worst newly-promoted teams since 1995/96
Derby 07/08 Play-offs £15.7m 20 89 20th 11 Sunderland 05/06 Champions £4.1m 52 55 20th 15 Watford 99/00 Play-offs £2.8m 35 77 20th 24 Fulham 18/19 Play-offs £100.1m 34 81 19th 26 West Brom 02/03 Runners-up £15.3m 41 49 19th 26
But how did these teams achieve such extreme highs and lows? We uncover the key factors that define a club’s fate after promotion to the top flight…
Sam Allardyce is widely considered to be an expert on the topic, with a track record of keeping teams in the top flight against the odds.
Speaking on Monday Night Football two years ago, Allardyce revealed his very own blueprint to keep clubs up – comprising seven key components for success.
Sam Allardyce survival blueprint
- Clean sheets
- Don’t lose possession in own half
- Play first pass forward
- Win knock-downs & transitions
- Set pieces (defensive & offensive)
- Exploit opposition weaknesses
- Quality in final third
There was a focus on defence, with clean sheets and careful possession in the defending half, as well as direct attacking play, such as playing upfield quickly and capitalising on knock-downs.
So does it work? Looking at last season’s promoted clubs, Wolves excelled beyond all expectations and finished the season as ‘the best of the rest’ in seventh spot.
What are recoveries?
This is where a player recovers the ball in a situation where neither team has possession or where the ball has been played directly to him by an opponent, thus securing possession for their team.
Nuno Espirito Santos’ side topped the league for recoveries and ranked 11th for clean sheets, with a goal difference of just +1 in the final table – while creating an above-average number of clear-cut chances in front of goal.
In contrast, relegated Fulham struggled to retain possession in their own half and keep clean sheets. At the other end of the pitch, the Cottagers failed to carve chances from set-pieces and convert opportunities.
However, Cardiff ranked reasonably in Allardyce’s model, but a failure to chase down loose balls and create chances appears to have cost the Bluebirds’ top-flight status – enabling narrow escapes for Brighton, Southampton and Burnley.
The Allardyce blueprint contains key components for survival – and data proves it works.
Tougher these days?
With the strength of the Big Six and an established chasing group, clubs at the bottom of the table have increasingly struggled to pick up points and typically battled against fellow, or recently promoted sides to stave off relegation.
Two promoted teams were relegated last season – Fulham and Cardiff – with the same number of teams suffering immediate relegation in 2016/17 and 2014/15.
There are exceptions: Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield all survived in 2017/18. But promoted teams have increasingly struggled to stay up since 2014 – a trend that was also apparent between 2004 and 2008.
Clubs have increasingly struggled to survive in recent years, with a 50 per cent survival rate over the past five seasons – compared with 56 per cent over the past 22 campaigns.
Promotion route impact?
Unsurprisingly, Championship title winners have the highest survival rate during the following season, with 67 per cent of second-tier winners avoiding relegation in the Premier League.
But, play-off winners are almost as likely to stay up, with 61 per cent retaining Premier League status.
In contrast, runners-up have a considerably lower success rate of just 42 per cent. That’s bad news for Sheffield United supporters.
Why? The poor performance of runners-up appears too striking to be insignificant. Certainly play-off winners appear to be able to take that winning momentum into the following campaign.
Does spending secure survival?
Fulham splashed more than £100m on transfers during their ill-fated campaign last term, more than any other newly-promoted club in top-flight history – until Villa smashed that record this season.
But large injections of cash have historically appeared to keep clubs up. In total, 21 clubs have recorded a net spend of £20m or more on transfers after winning promotion – only five of those were relegated.