Some would say this is a thankless task — picking a starting XI and a bench from the three relegated sides. I examined the three relegated sides to see what could be salvaged and turned into a functional, if not stylish, Premier League team.
Stats, whether you love or hate them, paint a clear picture of why these sides struggled. Some ‘highlights’ include:
• Cardiff scored only 18 goals from open play
• Norwich’s Ricky van Wolfswinkel scored with his first shot on target of the season (on the opening day) but only managed eight more shots on target all season (and no more goals).
• All three relegated sides were in the Top 5 for shots conceded this past season (West Ham and Sunderland being the other two).
You could argue that these three sides had the three worst attacks of all the Premier League sides. I’ve gone for a more defensive shape (5-2-2-1) because in addition to the stats already cited, most of the sides in the bottom half of the table spent the majority of game time in their own half of the pitch so it made sense to me to build from the back.
On their respective sides, there wasn’t enough quality surrounding the players I’ve picked but mixed together they might just do the job. I excluded players on loan from other clubs, such as Lewis Holtby and Darren Bent.
With that entire preamble out of the way, here’s my Relegation FC:
Manager: Felix Magath – Fulham
I had a hard time picking a manager but in the end I chose Felix Magath. I think he might have got Fulham across the line had he come in earlier in the season instead of Rene Meulensteen. My other choice might have been Mackay but Magath is a much more proven commodity.
GK – David Marshall – Cardiff
Marshall was voted by the Cardiff City fans as the star man in their first ever Premier League season and rightfully so. He produced 153 saves this season, tops in the Premier League. Without Marshall, Cardiff would have been relegated long before they actually were.
RB – Sascha Riether – Fulham
Riether was voted Fulham’s Player of the Season in 2012-13 and he did little do diminish that standing in 2013-14. Riether generally has sound positioning, always seems to put in a good shift for his team and is a capable passer and crosser of the ball when he ventures forward.
CB – Steven Caulker – Cardiff
Caulker is comfortable distributing the ball from the back having played at Swansea under Brendan Rodgers. He was Cardiff’s captain despite only being 22 and also contributed five goals this past season. One of many players I selected whose best days should still be ahead of them.
CB – Michael Turner – Norwich
Another serviceable passer of the ball, Turner can be susceptible to being beat by a quick forward and would benefit from the added protection of the additional centre back in this formation. Not the most technically gifted player, Turner brings a lot of hard work and determination to the side. His performance this season was impacted by a long injury lay-off due to a hamstring problem suffered on New Year’s Day.
CB – Brede Hangeland – Fulham
Injured for large parts of the season, the veteran Norwegian still showed flashes of the solidity he can bring to the defense. Flanked by two decent distributors would allow Hangeland even more ability to focus on his positioning and defensive duties.
LB – Martin Olsson – Norwich
Decent speed and technical ability though he has yet to breakthrough on the offensive side of the ball. Olsson would provide solid defensive cover in the wide areas. Playing in a system with 3 centre backs would possibly allow him more comfort in ranging forward to support attacks.
CM – Scott Parker – Fulham
Always an underrated player in my view, Parker provides a calm, collected presence in midfield with the ability to disrupt opponent attacks and accurately distribute forward. As the 2014-15 season gets underway Parker will turn 34 and while he still provides plenty of energy he is best suited to a deeper laying midfield role.
RM – Ashkan Dejagah – Fulham
The Iranian international started the season behind Damien Duff but that was a mistake. Duff was a fine Premier League player but at 35 his best days were behind him. Dejagah scored 5 times and added a pair of assists once he took over for Duff.
LM – Jordan Mutch – Cardiff
Mutch scored some wonderful goals this season and ended up with seven in total to go along with five assists. His passing should improve as his experience grows making him an even more potent attacking force from midfield.
CAM – Robert Snodgrass – Norwich
Signed for a fee in the £1.5 – 2 million ranges in the summer of 2012, Snodgrass proved to be a shrewd buy for Norwich. While not the paciest of wing players, he is skillful and his technical ability from free kicks offers a direct threat.
ST – Gary Hooper – Norwich
While not the most prolific scorer this season, Hooper scored eight goals in 34 matches in all competitions, he does have the most potential of the strikers on the relegated sides. Hooper scored 63 goals in three seasons with Celtic. Hooper has done well in the past when he plays off the shoulder of the last defender and makes runs in behind the defensive line. He has decent strength and can hold up the ball well, which in this formation would give the option of playing longer passes, having Hooper hold and allow the midfield and wing-backs time to join the attack. Hooper has proven himself a good finisher in the past and can pass the ball well.
GK – David Stockdale – Fulham
The youth movement starts here. Stockdale supplanted Martin Stekelenburg for the starting role and there could be no complaints over his play. Like Marshall, a porous defense in front of him forced him into making many spectacular saves just to keep hope alive for his team. He should only get better.
MF – Mats Daehli – Cardiff
In his brief time at Cardiff, Daehli showed good dribbling ability and a willingness to take on defenders. At 19, his best days should still be ahead of him.
RB – Steven Whittaker – Norwich
Whittaker is another solid positional player and probably deserved more starts at Norwich. I rate Whittaker as an all-around option than his teammate Russell Martin and he has plenty of “big game” experience from his time with Rangers. Whittaker also has experience playing in a back five as Rangers used that type of formation in the 2010-11 campaign, particularly during their Champions League matches.
RB/CB – Kévin Théophile-Catherine- Cardiff
Showed flashes of quality early in the season under Malky Mackay. A good crosser of the ball when deployed on the right. Can also be used as a central midfield player in an emergency.
MF – Steve Sidwell – Fulham
Turned in a strong season on a weak club. Reached a career high in goals and ended the season as Fulham’s top scorer with 7. At 31, he can offer added leadership and depth to the central midfield area.
MF – Anthony Pilkington
While Nathan Redmond as the pacier player might be the popular choice, I think he’s very one-dimensional and hasn’t shown good decision making when on the ball. Pilkington struggled with injuries this past year, including a hamstring tear, which limited his contribution. When healthy, Pilkington can add attacking flair and a few goals combined with a willingness to track back and help out on the defensive side.
ST – Frazier Campbell – Cardiff
Similar in many ways to Hooper, Campbell potted nine goals in all competitions. He’s a willing worker and does a good job of pressing opposing defenders when his team is not in possession. While he’s not great at holding up the ball, Campbell offers a pacey option to come off the bench if this team needs to change things up and go with a second forward. At 26, he’s not likely to improve by leaps and bounds but his finishing may become more composed with age.
Hat tip to the wonderful web site whoscored.com for most of the statistical data used in this article.