In amongst the absolute chaos of Sergio Aguero’s goal and the unbelievable finish to the Premier League last campaign, there was another factor that was overlooked in review of what was overall a fantastic season. Because of Bolton’s failure to win at Stoke, QPR retained their Premier League status, despite not being given a chance ten games from the finish line. Somehow Mark Hughes managed to steer them out of the relegation zone after playing City, United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Everton in their last ten games of the campaign.
The two sides that accompanied QPR in their promotion to the Premier League last season, Norwich City and Swansea City, also stayed up. To the fortune of their fans own well being, it was a considerably less dramatic finish to the season, as they both finished comfortably in mid-table positions. Resultantly, the three promoted teams last season all managed to secure their Premier League status for a second year.
It begs the question, are promoted teams better prepared for the Premier League now more than ever? It would seem so. There was a time when it was common practice for the three teams coming up to limp back to the Championship, or at least two out of three. In the past three years however, at least two of the promoted sides have stayed in top flight, this year three did. The last time such a feat occurred was in 2002, when Blackburn, Bolton and Fulham all prolonged their stay in the division.
This ultimately provides us with two premises, either the Championship is getting stronger, or the Premier League is getting weaker. I think it is mainly the former.
Overall, The Championship is a league which has grown in wealth due to a plethora of influences. The primary one being the desperation for the clubs who participate in it to reach the promised land of the Premier League. We regularly hear about the financial rewards for the promoted sides, predominantly about how the Championship Final is the “richest game in football.” As a result, copious amounts of money has been thrown at The Championship. Clubs like Leicester City and Nottingham Forest have recently been taken over, whereas some well established Premier League clubs still struggle to find buyers. These Championships sides will look to emulate QPR, a club who spent and invested wisely to get into the Premier League under the tenure of new ownership. The rewards for doing so are unprecedented.
The influence of money within the Premier League itself has also played a key role in the positive development of the Championship. Clubs are now less prone to give younger players the time and patience to make an impression in the first team due to the fact that they can go out and buy established stars from all over the world. Players such as Adel Taarabt, John Ruddy and Scott Sinclair all dropped down to the Championship after failing to break through at Tottenham, Everton and Chelsea respectively. This in turn, has been to the benefit of their new clubs, as they all played key roles in their sides promotion campaigns and have since gone on to impress further in the Premier League and maybe made the sides that have let them go regret their decisions.
Cases like this are becoming more and more frequent as the top clubs spending in the Premier League shows no signs of stopping. Resultantly, the quality within the Premier League has started to filter down to English football’s second tier. Premier League clubs looking to sell their players who are surplus to requirements also prefer to move them on to Championship teams to prevent them from potentially strengthening a direct rival. This has been reinforced further due to the fact there are now teams in the Championship who have the financial clout to match many of the Premier League sides. Jermaine Beckford for example, moved from Everton to Leicester last summer, despite some interest in his signature from other Premier League clubs.
As a result, the sides coming up to the Premier League seemed to have developed a restored confidence in the way in which they play and the success in can bring them at the top level. In campaigns long gone, there seemed to be a stereotypical way in which you should play if you were a promoted side. Now however, each promoted team seems to bring a new philosophy and their own refreshing style of play to the Premier League.
Stoke City, love them or hate them, had a unique style that suited them best and stuck to it. They have remained comfortably in the Premier League since their arrival four seasons ago. Whilst Blackpool ultimately failed to stay in the Premier League, they showed that you can have some success playing an attacking style as a promoted side. They have seemingly paved the way for sides like Swansea City, who last season also had an attacking plan which they lived and breathed by. Despite mild concern in some quarters early on, they coasted to a mid-table finish in their maiden Premier League outing, drawing praise from across the continent for their approach to the game.
It is excellent to see the sides coming up looking to implement their own ideologies and styles against the Premier League big-boys, whereas the plan in the past was centered around stifling their more illustrious opponents.
This of course should fuel confidence for the three sides who will be looking to launch an assault on the Premier League this upcoming campaign. West Ham have a squad of players who have previous experience of the top division, further emphasizing the filtering down of quality to the lower leagues. They have targeted Andy Carroll as their main summer signing and if they can secure such a lucrative signature then you have to fancy their chances of staying up.
Southampton should provide some invigorating new faces to the division, as I am very much looking forward to seeing how the much lauded Adam Lallana and Ricky Lambert fare. Nigel Adkins has set his Saints up to attack teams and score goals since his arrival as manager and you can’t see that changing for the upcoming season. They look to be the promoted side most likely to follow the Swansea model.
Finally, Reading are another side who will look to put their stamp on the Premier League. It gives Brian McDermott his first crack at the big time, a chance which he has more than deserved. He has come close to promotion on a few occasions in the past with the Royals, but they romped to the Championship title last campaign. Reading have fared well against Premier League sides in recent seasons in the cup competitions, which should give their players confidence that they can mix it at the top level.
It looks like another season where the promoted sides aren’t going to go quietly, would you really bet against all three staying up again?
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