Every season, I indulge in the same thought experiment… What can I make out of the wreckage of the three relegated teams? Inevitably teams that get relegated tend to shed players and rebuild (Burnley and Norwich being two recent teams to go against that trend).
This year’s relegated Premier League sides are an odd mix. Let’s start with Newcastle United. They had a staggeringly good home record (10th overall) compared to their away form. Over the summer a lot of money was splashed out — Aleksandar Mitrovic (£12m), Georginio Wijnaldum (£14.5m), Chancel Mbemba (£8m) and Florian Thauvin (£12m). Mitrovic was wildly inconsistent and at times very undisciplined. On the surface, it looks like Georginio Wijnaldum had an okay season with 11 goals and 5 assists. However, when one looks a little closer, it’s not quite so rosy. All 11 goals came at home, 7 in the first half of the season including 4 against Norwich.
Then came the January debacle — not bringing in Benitez sooner and some panic buys with mixed results. Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend cost Newcastle £12m each. Townsend added some spark but Shelvey couldn’t make the starting XI under Benitez. Promising central midfielder Henri Saivet was bought for £5m but was rarely used. The most grievous error was dithering on the decision to replace McLaren with Benitez. Had that been done in January, Newcastle would very likely have stayed up.
After a promising start (2W-2L-3D after 7 matchdays), Norwich City tailed off and were never far away from the relegation zone the rest of the season. Their overall performance level was basically the same at home and away. Where it seemed to fall apart for them was during the second half of matches. It’s no surprise that the three relegated teams conceded the most second half goals of all teams in the league. This is where Norwich’s season could have been different. They were a much better first half team (almost 1/2 the number of goals conceded). Their collapse in the second half no doubt cost them several vital points over the course of the season.
What can I say about Aston Villa? It was a rough season for fans of this club. There never seemed to be any sense of fight or cohesion in the team. Without recounting the horrors, we can all agree that this relegation was several seasons in the making. They were the lowest scorers, and the side that conceded the most goals. To say anymore feels cruel, so let’s move along.
First, some notable omissions from the squad:
Micah Richards was praised highly by Tim Sherwood but it was a disastrous season for both of them. Richards did not play well and managed to turn the fans against him with repeated unprofessional conduct off the field. The same can be said of Joleon Lescott.
Sebastien Bassong won’t be on my team. Sorry Seb but you’ve been involved in six demotions over the past decade, including a staggering four relegations (Newcastle, Wolves and now twice with Norwich) from the Premier League since 2009.
Seydou Doumbia. Apparently his fitness levels didn’t warrant him getting a shot in the Newcastle shirt despite his decent goal scoring rate in the past. For this experiment, I’d give him a shot in the side if he were not a loan player. I kept the thought experiment to players whose rights are owned by the relegated sides, so it would be unfair to include him in the team.
Robbie Brady — Had some good outings for Norwich this year and provides solid two-way play. I opted for Redmond’s explosive pace. Brady would make a squad of 23 for certain but I kept this to a starting XI + 7 substitutes.
Here’s my all-star starting XI made up from the relegated teams:
GK – Tim Krul (Newcastle)
CB – Jamal Lascelles (Newcastle)
CB– Timm Klose (Norwich)
CB – Chancel Mbemba (Newcastle)
RB – Steven Whittaker (Norwich)
LB – Martin Olsson (Norwich)
CM – Alexander Tettey (Norwich)
CM– Idrissa Gueye (Aston Villa)
LM – Jordan Ayew (Aston Villa)
RM – Andros Townsend (Newcastle)
FW – Dieumerci Mbokani (Norwich)
As we’ve discussed, preventing goals is historically a major concern for sides fighting against relegation, so I went for a 5-4-1 formation that plays very deep and waits to counter-attack. The trio of Darlow, Lascelles and Mbemba helped Newcastle keep three clean sheets in the five appearances they made together to end the season. It took Benitez a few games to find the right pairing, which only underlines the bad decision to wait so late to change the manager. Even though Darlow looked good, I relegated him to the bench here and chose the experienced Tim Krul as my starting keeper.
In the midfield, it was important to draft in a couple of central midfielders to both provide a bit of cover to the defense as well as have some ability to get the attacks started with a good pass. Both Tettey and Gueye fit that requirement. Gueye was labeled a flop by some, and there’s no hiding that he had some rough outings. However, when we look at some of the stats, there is actually a favorable comparison to Leicester star N’Golo Kanté. I’m not suggesting that Gueye was as good as Kanté but I don’t think he’s as terrible as he’s been made to seem either. From an article on premierleague.com we can see the comparison:
Picking the forwards was really the hardest part of this process. None of the relegated sides really have a lethal goal-scoring threat. If they did, like Sunderland’s Jermain Defoe, then their seasons might have ended better.
Failure to score
Aston Villa 47%
I decided on two wide players with pace to deliver crosses to a tall, physical striker in Mbokani. Alternately, the CF can hold up the ball and play in one of the wide-men when they make an overlapping run on the counter-attack. I had to drill down deep into the numbers to find someone to fill the center forward role. Mbokani’s numbers initially did not look that favorable 7 goals in 29 appearances. However, when you convert his 7 goals into a minutes per goal ratio, it’s one goal for every 226 minutes (compare that with Watford’s Odion Igahlo at 210 minutes or Southampton’s Shane Long at 211 minutes).
GK – Karl Darlow (Newcastle)
As discussed above, he was solid in Newcastle’s last matches of the season and would be familiar with the backup role he’d be asked to play here.
RB – Daryl Janmaat (Newcastle)
He was a solid attacking outlet in the early going but his performances and in particular, his defensive work, were increasingly shoddy as the season heated up. In this particular formation, he’d be useful as a wingback.
LB – Jordan Amavi (Aston Villa)
Amavi’s season ended just months after joining Villa from Nice last summer. The French left-back had shown glimpses of promise before rupturing his cruciate ligament in November.
MF – Nathan Redmond (Norwich)
A bit one-dimensional but his pace can unnerve defenders and he has shown ability to score from long range. His crossing and passing could be better but he does create chances for himself and his teammates.
MF – Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle)
Sissoko can play in a few positions so adds value in that regard. The knock against Sissoko is that he goes missing in less glamorous fixtures. When his motivation is right he certainly has the physical tools to excel in the Premier League. I felt the potential rewards were worth the risk.
FW – Ayoze Pérez (Newcastle)
Another forward with pace to help with counter-attacking. Perez had hot and cold streaks this season and couldn’t seem to secure a regular starting spot for much of the year. I like the trickery and willingness to attack defenders that he showed.
CM – Johnny Howson (Norwich)
Howson offers cover for the central midfield and matches the combative spirit of the two starters I’ve selected. It was a bit of a struggle whether I wanted Howson or Westwood. Westwood is a better passer of the ball based on the stats but Howson offers a bit more on the defensive side.
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