The summer is almost over, and the Premier League season kicks off on Friday, August 5. So, the end of the offseason is also a good opportunity to look at the newly promoted Championship teams.
It’s always fascinating to see whether teams can avoid relegation. Especially given how Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leeds United, Sheffield United, and Brentford have only boosted expectations for newly promoted teams. Thirty clubs have been promoted in the last ten seasons, with 15 avoiding relegation. Six of them have finished in the top ten. The 2016-17 season was an exception, with all three teams (Newcastle, Brighton, and Huddersfield) remaining in the Premier League. In any case, there has been a 50 per cent success rate over the last decade, which should encourage the league’s current crop of new teams.
Fulham is back after winning the Championship by a large majority. At the same time, Bournemouth has joined the battle after two seasons of rebuilding, with the extra spice of being coached by former Fulham boss Scott Parker. Nottingham Forest’s final promotion victory against Huddersfield Town has ended the club’s 23-year absence from the Premier League.
All three are headed by brilliant managers and outstanding forwards (Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke, Fulham’s Aleksander Mitrovic, and Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson). But that’s where the similarities end. In four of the last five seasons, one promoted team has finished in the top half of the Premier League in their debut season. It demonstrated qualitative progression amongst the best teams promoted. Last season, if David Raya was not injured, Brentford would have gone 5 for 5 in top-half finishes.
Let’s look at the freshly promoted clubs and their prospects for the next season.
Notable Additions: Joao Palhinha, Andreas Pereira, Manor Solomon, and Kevin Mbabu.
Notable Departure: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Fabio Carvalho, and Neco Williams.
Notable Players: Aleksandar Mitrovic (43 goals, 7 assists), Joao Palhinha (3 goals), Harry Wilson (10 goals, 9 assists), and Tosin Adarabioyo.
Outside of Norwich City, there is no larger yo-yo club than Fulham. For the third time in five years, Liverpool won the Premier League. If this were baseball, they’d be classified as a Quadruple-A team: they’re too excellent for the Championship. Still, they were not enough to survive in the Premier League. The Cottagers, led by Marco Silva, had skill. Most of their success was due to Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic’s ability to reach the back of the goal.
Coming off a 43-goal season in the Championship, fans hope things click for him in the Premier League, and he scores 20-plus goals to keep Fulham in the top tier. But Mitrovic has only scored 11 Premier League goals in four seasons between Newcastle and Fulham. Despite scoring 106 goals in the Championship, this attack lacks a spark without Fabio Carvalho, who has moved to Liverpool.
Andreas Pereira is signed to try to boost Fulham’s attack in the centre of the pitch, demonstrating the club’s precarious predicament. Pereira has failed to establish himself in Brazil with Flamengo after making his La Liga debut at 20 with Granada. In Brazil, Pereira has seven goals and two assists. He’s only 27, but it’s difficult to envision him being a key element of the Cottagers’ attack.
With new signings, FIFA stalled Manor Solomon’s move from Shakhtar Donetsk. FIFA extended work visa exemptions for Ukrainian players in June. Still, an agreement won’t be finalised until almost August, leading Solomon to lose important preseason time. The signing of the 23-year-old offensive midfielder is anticipated to boost Fulham’s attacking depth. Still, it does not address key concerns about the defence.
Fulham made its yearly right-back signing, Kevin Mbabu, to address defensive concerns from Wolfsburg. Silva needed an experienced defender who could step in swiftly after losing Neco Williams to Nottingham Forest. He instilled that in Mbabu. Mbabu also has relegation zone experience, a pressure cooker that cannot be taught.
Silva’s team was still looking for improvements between the sticks and at centre back. Marek Rodak was a respectable goalkeeper in the Championship. Still, he was replaced by Alphonse Areola when Fulham last played in the Premier League. They expected Bernd Leno to have joined the club by now. In fact, he was upset that the roadblocks had not yet been removed. Fulham offered roughly £10 million for Leno, but Arsenal is looking for £15 million. Both teams were waiting to see who would flash first as time runs short to find a new keeper before the season-opening. Fulham and West Ham were in a similar predicament since they failed to agree on the sale of Issa Diop.
Even with Palhinha on board, Diop and Leno will be crucial to Fulham’s chances of staying up for another season. Palhninha, a powerful defensive midfielder with Sporting CP, provides Fulham with a solid defensive foundation to develop. Still, he and Tosin Adarabioyo can’t do it alone because Premier League defenders will be more proficient at defending against Harry Wilson and Mitrovic. Fulham will have another yo-yo season if no new players are signed.
Notable Additions: Joe Rothwell and Ryan Fredericks
Notable Departure: Nat Phillips
Notable Players: Dominic Solanke (29 goals, 7assists), Rothwell (three goals, ten assists), Jaidon Anthony (eight goals, six assists), and Mark Travers
Bournemouth had the second-best goal difference in the Championship, at +35, thanks to Dominic Solanke’s 29 goals. It wasn’t always pretty, but they made it to the top tier thanks to Solanke’s good season and Mark Travers’ efforts. It ensured they wouldn’t skip a beat in goal despite losing Aaron Ramsdale to Arsenal. Whilst facing 156 shots on target, Travers and Bournemouth had the third-best save percentage at 76.9 per cent. Only Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest had a higher number of starting goalkeepers this season.
Solanke’s season was unusual. He scored 29 goals yet underperformed compared to his underlying statistics. He struggled to hit the target. Solanke’s expected goals (xG) were 33.83. Only 59 of the 164 shots fired challenged the goalie. If Solanke can increase that % in the Premier League, his goalscoring might go longer than Mitrovic’s.
The problem is that the Premier League game advances faster. If Solanke can’t keep up, the Cherries won’t have other choices to lead the line. Solanke has scored only four goals and assisted three more in 63 Premier League games for Liverpool and Bournemouth. The goal is that by the age of 24, he will be able to put things together in the top flight.
The good news is that with the arrivals of Joe Rothwell and Ryan Fredericks, he will receive greater service. Rothwell is a reliable offensive midfielder who can keep the ball moving. He doesn’t ignite the stat sheet with critical passes like Emi Buendia. Rothwell performs the grunt work of a 10 to keep the game moving.
Last season, Parker made the unusual decision to play Philip Billing as his 10 in front of a pivot of Lewis Cook and Jefferson Lerma. And, whilst Billing performed admirably there, he may return to a more familiar spot or have Rothwell play wide midfield.
Without Nat Phillips, the defence is a bit of a concern, but Lloyd Kelly and Chris Mepham should be a good core duo. Fredericks is excellent for West Ham whilst he was healthy, but staying healthy remains a problem. A long history of muscle problems has rendered Fredricks unavailable for the Hammers on several occasions. That is why he is allowed to go on a free transfer. Parker will need to be available this season. Still, it will be tougher said than done, given how carefully he must be controlled.
This is an intriguing team with a strong core, particularly in midfield. The trio of Lerma, Cook, and Billing would see action with various clubs in the league, whilst the remainder of the squad’s spine is equally strong. However, it appears Bournemouth has not done enough to strengthen the flanks. Adam Smith will likely cycle with Fredericks, but if the latter is injured, Smith will get more playing time than you’d want.
Last season, Jordan Zemura was good. But it was also his first professional soccer experience after being promoted from the U21s.
Parker requires youth to take the next step to avoid relegation. Jaidon Anthony, 22, took a big breakthrough last season. He took over one of the wing spots and scored 14 goals.
The Cherries will need it again, coupled with Solanke eventually breaking into the Premier League. If that occurs, they’ll be able to escape the drop. But it is uncertain that Parker will be able to see them through to the end of the season if things are not well early on.
3. Nottinghamshire Forest
Notable Additions: Jesse Lingard, Taiwo Awoniyi, Neco Williams, Moussa Niakhate, Giulian Biancone, Omar Richards, Lewis O’Brien, Harry Toffolo, Dean Henderson, and Orel Mangala.
Notable Departures: Djed Spence, James Garner, Philip Zinckernagel, Max Lowe, Keinan Davis, and Brice Samba.
Notable Players: Henderson, Brennan Johnson (16 goals, 10 assists), Ryan Yates (eight goals), and Taiwo Awoniyi (15 goals, one assist)
The Tricky Trees stayed busy this summer, adding 12 members and counting to their roster. That type of roster change is troubling, especially if it was done on purpose because they functioned in the Championship to gain promotion. Last season, whilst gaining promotion, Steve Cooper used seven loan players. With all of them gone, there were already gaps to fill before boosting the team to ensure enough coverage for the Premier League season. In fact, what Forest did last season was rather wise, assuming the manager and front office are on the same page.
Obtaining vital loans assures that they may enter the Premier League. It is possible without reducing fat off the roster and spending more money on upgrading. This summer, Forest has spent roughly $90 million on moves. Most of the investment is made early in the window, giving Cooper the luxury of having virtually his whole team available for preseason to get acquainted with their 3-5-2 formation. The only exceptions are Jesse Lingard, Lewis O’Brien, and Harry Toffolo, the newest trio.
Forest has strengthened their midfield by signing Orel Mangala from Stuttgart for £12.7 million. With James Garner remaining at Manchester United, for the time being, there is an opening in centre midfield to partner Ryan Yates. Mangala, a defensive-minded midfielder in Cooper’s favoured formation, will assist guard the defence. At the same time, Yates, Lingard, and the wingbacks support the attack. This indicates that Johnson will play more centrally beside Awoniyi than he did in the Championship as a wide attacker in a front three.
Awoniyi was a big addition to Union Berlin after leading them to the Europa League last season.
He’ll be a strong option for Johnson to play off of and might provide some much-needed scoring assistance. Neco Williams is a good substitute for Djed Spence, who left for Tottenham. Getting Williams to pour crosses into the box whilst bombing the flanks and preventing Fulham from signing him from Liverpool also weakens their opponents.
It demonstrates how much consideration Forest puts into the business. However, it won’t mean much if they don’t have the team blazing on all cylinders immediately. Dean Henderson has large shoes to fill in the goal, but his success with Sheffield United when they were promoted suggests Brice Samba won’t be missed all that much. With Wayne Hennessey as an experienced option, the changeover should be as painless as possible.
But when you look at their back line, it was entirely new faces in front of Henderson. They’re led by Moussa Niakhate, a dependable defender who spent the previous four seasons with Mainz.
On set plays, he may also serve as a target for the team. Niakhate’s departure also demonstrates the Premier League’s allure, as he foregoes Champions League football to join a recently promoted team. It also implies that he will retain them in the league for more than one season.
If everything goes as planned, Forest will be the side best positioned to compete for a top-half slot this season. However, with so many new faces, Cooper will need to maintain morale up if they get roughed up early in the season. A few setbacks might put them into a tailspin. Spending with a strategy is preferable to spending without one, as several freshly promoted teams have done. Still, problems may arise if the newly acquired players struggle to form chemistry.