The Premier League has long been dogged by claims that it’s an elitist league almost impossible to stay in for promoted clubs – the disparity between quality out on the pitch and reddies in the coffers apparently too large to breach. However, season by season now, promoted clubs have more than often fared well in their maiden voyage into the top flight. With the Premier League now beginning to shape up in three distinct groups. Now, more than ever before, the gap appears to be shortening.
For instance, in 2008/9, perennial yo-yo club West Brom were promoted alongside Hull City and Stoke City. They went onto finish 20th, 17th and 12th respectively in a season that appeared to mark a watershed for promoted clubs, with two of them beating the drop.
In 2009/10, Wolves, Birmingham and Burnley all came up, with only the Clarets dropping down again. Last season Newcastle, West Brom and Blackpool all came up, with only the Seasiders missing out due to some final day heartache.
This term, QPR, Norwich and Swansea have all adjusted to the demands and step up in quality with apparent ease, with all three sides claiming scalps along so far. They occupy 12th, 8th and 10th positions so far respectively.
To put it into context, when you tally up the final league positions of the past 12 promoted teams, prior to this season’s exciting triumvirate, then you are left with an overall final league position of 16th. Of the same 12 promoted sides, only 5 have been relegated in their first season.
Of course, you are dealt with such anomalies such as yo-yo clubs like West Brom and the fact that Birmingham have been the unfortunate recipients of two relegations inside three seasons, but by and large, promoted side are certainly more competitive than in season’s past. The likelihood of encountering another unprepared Derby side, which finished the 2007/8 season with just one victory to their name for the entire campaign and a pitiful tally of just 11 points, a whole 24 points adrift of 19th place, has diminished.
The Championship is famed for being one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Getting out of that league is often seen as more difficult and more of an achievement than staying in the top flight. Of the three relegated sides from the 2009/10 season (Portsmouth, Burnley and Hull), it’s worth noting that none of them bounced back immediately and the highest league finish among them was Burnley in 8th, just outside the playoffs.
Spending your way out of the Championship is no guarantee of success either. Middlesborough went into the 2009/10 league campaign as the hot favourites for promotion, after Gordon Strachan saw his mini Old Firm revolution backed to the tune of £6m – they went onto finish a lowly 11th, with Strachan departing the season after with the club stranded in 20th place.
This term, Sven Goran Eriksson has already received his P45 at Leicester after an expensive overhaul of the squad in the summer which saw the club spend upwards of £20m in the last year or so and have seen little change back from that hefty outlay. With mixed results on the pitch, entirely understandable it has to be said considering the number of fresh faces, Leicester currently sit in 8th just two points outside the playoffs.
The Premier League can be neatly split up into three sections – we have the top two of Manchester United and Manchester City. Then you have those chasing the other European spots and league positions between 3rd and 8th which includes Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and at a push both Everton and Stoke and then from 8th downwards you have everyone else.
Last season, just 16 points separated 8th from bottom – the season before it was 42 points. The final league table was extremely congested which suggests a decrease in quality – a levelling of the playing field as it were; a situation that all promoted sides will be familiar with from the Championship. From Fulham in 8th to Wigan down in 16th, there was a separation of just seven points.
To put it quite simply, the gap between the Championship and the Premier League is shortening because the gap in quality within the top flight itself is widening. If you swapped West Ham, Southampton and Middlesbrough for the current bottom three, would anyone really notice the difference?
On one hand, the increasingly competitive nature of promoted sides is a positive thing, with Stoke providing the model by which others should look to follow in the future. But on the other hand, the lack of competition in the higher reaches of the Premier League is concerning.
Alongside Stoke’s unexpected European soirée, that is what makes Newcastle’s surprisingly excellent start to the season so exciting with the Magpies currently sat pretty in 3rd, making a mockery of those that considered them one of the favourites for the drop and consigned them to relegation before the season had even begun.
The strength of showing that the recent promoted outfits have provided only helps serve to highlight the relative lack of depth to the top flight. Thus far, the likes of Swansea, QPR and Norwich have been rewarded for failing to compromise their footballing principles. The days of having to adjust a team’s style of play to deal with the step up in class are over.
Promoted clubs are still often among the favourites for the drop before a season begins, and this doesn’t look like changing any time soon, but by taking a closer look at the evidence, more and more sides are acclimatising to the step up with ease. As a result, this season’s relegation candidates look likely to come from a small group of established Premier League sides as the gap continues to close.
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