Six of One – Is it becoming easier to survive in the Premier League?
Fans of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Cardiff City and Fulham enjoyed a balmy summer and made the most of celebrating promotion to the Premier League.
Now the euphoria is wearing off, supporters of these clubs will be facing the grim reality that faces every newly promoted Premier League team: the fight for survival. Wolves have started well, while Fulham and Cardiff still look as if they have work to do.
But did 2017/18 prove it’s really not that hard to survive in the Premier League?
Was 2017-18 a gamechanger?
For the first time since 2011-2012, all three promoted clubs (Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield) can look forward to another season in the Premier League.
Interestingly, that feat has only been achieved twice in Premier League history (2001/02 and 2011/12) but one major thing has changed in that time: the establishment of a Big Six, and in effect two clear tiers in the Premier League.
Whilst it’s true that there has always been a divide between the haves and have nots in the Premier League era, that gap has never been starker, with 14 teams in-effect starting a season now knowing they are in a desperate fight to keep their heads above water within that increasingly tight-knit mini-league.
Has the dominance of the Big Six ushered in a new era where the bottom of the Premier League and top of the Championship are now interchangeable? With momentum carrying many promoted teams forward, and ‘established’ sides forgetting what winning feels like, it certainly feels that way.
In the race for 40 points, you don’t want to be the sides standing still. Southampton, Stoke, West Brom, West Ham and Swansea all looked paralysed by fear and complacency at different stages last season, unable to break out of a negative mindset. Perhaps it’s no surprise all five struggled.
The marathon test of endurance that is The Championship is also surely starting to help promoted sides, too. With so many faded Premier League ‘giants’ now battling for those three promotion places in the second tier, the physical and mental edge needed to compete in the higher reaches of that division is now intense. One thing evident from all three promoted sides’ performances at times last season is just how beneficial the competitive Tuesday/Saturday will-to-win is at Championship level in terms of instilling belief and confidence.
Look to Benitez, Hughton and Wagner
That makes the case for Wolves Cardiff City and Fulham’s survival in 2018/19 a whole lot easier to make. Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton demonstrated how pragmatism, targeting specific games and sensible game management can reap rewards. All three sides endured tricky patches during the season but kept calm heads whilst others around them were losing them.
Newcastle and Brighton in particular also kept heavy defeats to a minimum – and the importance of that quality cannot be overstated as all three newly promoted clubs return to this level. Wolves should find the transition easier given their much-publicised financial backing, but even their players will discover that hard graft and discipline are as important as creative flair if they want a second shot at this level.
All three promoted sides in 2017/18 stuck with their managers, backing them to extract the most from comparatively limited resources compared to some of their more established rivals. It’s a decision that’s paid off.
All three show that when it comes to the fine margins in the race for survival, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Cardiff need to hold their nerve
With Wolves’ unique circumstances making them an unusual case study, and Fulham also spending big money, it’s the Bluebirds who most are already tipping for the drop in 2018/19.
Neil Warnock rarely makes Christmas in the Premier League, but perhaps this time around Cardiff would be better off keeping the faith – both with the manager and the hungry core of players that have got them there.
Shrewd management and a little bit of fine-tuning didn’t work out too badly for Brighton, Newcastle, and Huddersfield.
Can Cardiff, Wolves and Fulham follow in their footsteps and rip up the script in 2018/19?
Are you backing the promoted sides to stay up in 2018/19?
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All image sources from PA Images