Can Newly Relegated Teams Earn Premier League Promotion?

Getting relegated from the Premier League can be one of the toughest things for a club.

While the Championship is a high-level competition, the financial realities of moving down a level can make earning promotion once again a challenge.

For Stoke City, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion, it won’t be easy, but getting back to the English top flight is possible.

Perhaps the toughest road for a recently relegated team will be for Stoke City. Stoke was a goldmine for bettors who placed lay wagers against those who predicted high goal totals for Stoke on the Betfair Exchange. Their attack was anaemic in the 2017-2018 Premier League campaign, and it may be likely to get worse with the inevitable exodus of some Premier League quality players after their relegation.

“West Brom warm up 3” by Ronnie Macdonald (CC BY 2.0)

Swansea City have an interesting season ahead, as they’ve made an adventurous coaching hire. They have brought in Graham Potter to run the squad, after Potter had a great run with Swedish side Ostersunds. Ostersunds made a deep run in the Europa League last season, one highlighted by a win at Arsenal despite the Gunners knocking them out of the competition on aggregate. Potter should be hungry to bring his team to the top flight, but the question is if his players can help him achieve that goal either by directly qualifying with a top two spot or through the playoff final, the richest game in the sport.

“Swansea City warm up 5” by Ronnie Macdonald (CC BY 2.0)

West Brom, meanwhile, have been Premier League mainstays for years until facing the drop at the end of this season. But they have had a disastrous start to their time as a Championship team, with personnel problems only compounding the financial hit that clubs take when dropping. While the club is getting a bonus from FIFA from having one of their players represent Egypt in the World Cup, that is not enough to offset the negatives that they have faced. Betfair football betting tips may be poised to go against the Baggies early in the Championship campaign due to the club’s turmoil.

As for the chances of these teams to get back to the Premier League, one would think that Swansea have the best chance to get back to the big time. But there are plenty of flaws in the top teams in the Championship that should give all three a chance to achieve their goal and return to the Premier League. For example, Aston Villa‘s difficulties in the transfer window may knock out a team that was in last year’s playoff final. That will open the door even wider for the three new Championship teams.

So many things can change over the course of a Championship campaign, and so many things can change during the transfer window leading up to the season. But there are going to be struggles for all of the teams starting anew in the Championship. Whether or not those teams can overcome their challenges remains to be seen, but it is sure to be an interesting season for Stoke, West Brom, and Swansea.

 

Abel Hernandez is a Free Agent – Who Will he Sign For?

Source: Abel Hernandez via Facebook 

It’s not often that a prolific Championship poacher is available for cheap these days, with Leeds United’s sale of Chris Wood to Burnley last season for £15 million illustrating that fact. It’s even less frequent that these renowned strikers are on offer for free, and when they do they are snatched up faster than a vacuum collecting dust. With this in mind, the vultures will be circling around Abel Hernandez as the former Hull City striker is now out of contract and looking for a new club.

Hernandez has made a name for himself as an elite forward at Championship level, and has scored 29 goals in 52 games in the second tier. Last season with the Tigers, the Uruguayan hitman was plagued with injury and only managed to appear in 10 Championship games for the Yorkshire outfit. However, in this time, he was able to put away eight goals and register an assist. These are incredible attacking returns, and if he’d stayed fit throughout the campaign, Hull’s season would have turned out a lot differently.

The 27-year-old is one of the few Championship players who is also well-capped at international level. The former Palermo man made his debut for Uruguay in 2010 and has appeared for his country 27 times since then. He has scored 11 goals for La Celeste, and considering that Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani also compete for places in Uruguay’s attack, this is highly impressive.

At the time of writing, there are rumours suggesting that Leeds may be about to offer Hernandez a job at Elland Road. The Whites have been desperate for a regular goalscorer since losing Wood to the Premier League, and last season’s loan player Pierre-Michel Lasogga has returned to Germany. The free agent would surely demand higher wages than many of the other United regulars, but this would be offset by the money saved from not having to pay a transfer fee.

At the time of writing, the West Yorkshire outfit are considered outsiders to win the league at 14/1 in the Championship betting, but a few shrewd acquisitions in the summer could have Leeds dreaming of a long-awaited return to the top flight. The most exciting news for the three-time Division One champions is the possibility that tactical genius Marcelo Bielsa may be about to take Paul Heckingbottom’s old job in the Elland Road hot seat. If the Argentine does make the anticipated move to Leeds, players like Hernandez will surely be tempted by the prospect of working with one of the most respected managers in the game.

Hernandez is likely to be seeking a return to the English top flight, but he will also be looking for regular team action. For this reason, the sought-after player will aim to join a team that he believes can achieve promotion. The recently relegated clubs will be in the running for his signature, but the opportunity to work under Bielsa at Leeds could be too tempting for the goal hungry forward to turn down.

2018 Playoff Final: The Aftermath

ICYMI…

Congratulations to Fulham – I told you they’d win promotion a year ago 🙂

However, things have taken a turn for the worse for Villa. Yesterday CEO Keith Wyness was suspended from his position following suggestions that a winding up order had been issued by HMRC over an unpaid multi-million pound tax bill. This morning there have been reports that Dr Tony Xia might have problems selling the club: we’ll monitor the situation as it develops.

Next scheduled post is June 21st, when the fixtures are released. The pre-season previews will be appearing in the first week of July, but I’m not entirely sure what format they’ll be in this time round.

2018 Playoff Final Preview

Saturday’s game is the eighth playoff final I’ve covered for this blog.

Before we go any further, I have to warn any Fulham fans that I don’t have a great record of accurately predicting the outcome of this game.

Aston Villa v Fulham

(Saturday 5pm kickoff, Sky Sports Football/Main Event will begin broadcasting at 4pm)

Statistically I always treat this as an away game for both teams and there’s a big difference between them in this respect.

Aston Villa

Last ten aways: 5-1-4, 14-9. Five clean sheets, failed to score in four games.

Don’t read too much into those numbers. Only two of those five wins were recorded against teams that finished in the top ten and Villa’s away record against the other teams in the top six was worse than that. Although their win at Middlesbrough in the first leg of the semi final duplicated the result at the Riverside at the end of December, it’s worth remembering that they only picked up 13 away points from 33 available against the other clubs in the top half of the Championship and Steve Bruce’s side failed to beat Brentford, Derby and Millwall either at home or away. Indeed, Preston had a better overall away record than Villa.

Villa have been pretty settled this season – four players have appeared in 40 or more games – and their main sources of goals are Albert Adomah and Conor Hourihane, who have scored 25 times between them this season. A note of caution here: Adomah hasn’t scored away from Villa Park in the league since mid-November and hasn’t scored at all since the start of February. He’s currently 3/1 in the ‘anytime goalscorer’ market.

Fulham

Last ten aways: 6-2-2, 16-9. Three clean sheets, failed to score in one game.

This season Fulham’s away record against the other teams in the top six was far better than Villa’s. The Cottagers earned nine more away points against the teams in the top half of the table than their opponents did (only Wolves had a better record on the road this season), but interestingly one of the reasons Fulham are playing in the final rather than watching it is that they failed to beat either Brentford or Bristol City this season. It’s also interesting to note that Fulham are going into the final having not won on the road since beating Millwall in April: they haven’t lost three away games in the Championship since the end of 2014.

As you might expect, Fulham have also been settled this season: six of their squad have made 40 or more appearances this season including the phenomenal teenage ‘defender’ Ryan Sessegnon, who has an extremely bright future ahead of him regardless of whether he stays at Craven Cottage or not. The arrival of Serbian international striker Aleksandar Mitrovic from Newcastle at the start of February was an inspired managerial move by fellow Serb Slavisa Jokanovic: unlike Albert Adomah, Sessegnon and Mitrovic have both scored away goals recently and are first and second favourites in the ‘anytime goalscorer’ market.

Head to head

This is where it starts looking ominous for Villa. They’ve only won three of their last ten games against Fulham and only two of the last six.

Random stats

I’ll be returning to this theme in a moment, but the last five finals have produced a grand total of just four goals in 90 minutes with two going to extra time. The last time both teams scored in the final was six years ago when West Ham beat Blackpool.

This is the first final between teams that have finished 3rd and 4th in the final table since 2015, when Norwich beat Middlesbrough. Generally speaking, the higher placed team have won half of the last ten finals.

Six of the last ten playoff winners have won at least 80 points, including five of the last six. In four of the last six finals, both teams have won at least 80 points. That’s significant – as is the fact that no team over the last decade has reached the final having won more points than Fulham did this season.

Verdict

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I picked Fulham for promotion before 2017/18 began so I can’t go against them now. One thing that may go in their favour is that the weight of expectation on Aston Villa – who have never appeared in a playoff final – may be too much: Steve Bruce played down reports of a ‘feisty’ training session earlier this week – which is odd, considering how Villa ‘won’ the Fair Play title in the Championship this season.

However, I do think there will be a few goals in this game. Nobody scored more away goals than Fulham this season – nine more than Villa – but eight teams (including Villa themselves) conceded fewer away from home than Fulham did.

In their away games this season, Villa have vulnerable in the fifteen minutes after half time: just over a third of the goals they’ve conceded on their travels have been scored during that period. However, almost a quarter of the goals they’ve scored have come between the 61st and 75th minute.

It’s the final 15 minutes that could be explosive. Fulham have scored 35% of their away goals in that period. However the Cottagers are defensively vulnerable at the end of each half whilst Villa often go on a defensive footing during that period: indicates that it might come down to Fulham looking for a late winner and seeing how the Villa defence holds up.

Owing to yet another family occasion, it’s unlikely there’ll be an update immediately after the game but I’m hoping to have something in place as soon as possible.

Fulham are up after a 1-0 win on Saturday – report to follow ASAP.

Playoff Semi Finals Preview

Just like that, we’ve reached the playoffs again.

Once more the Championship becomes the most interesting element of English football. The world will hold its breath whilst waiting to see which team that wasn’t as good as Wolves or Cardiff will finish in the bottom half of the Premier League in May 2019.

Way back last July one of my pre-season predictions was that Fulham would win promotion and so I’m committed to backing the Cottagers this year. That’s usually been the kiss of death since I started writing for this blog, although it’s worth remembering that over the last decade the third and fifth placed teams have won seven of the last ten finals.

Having written that, it’s fair to say that nothing really jumps out from the dozen games between the four playoff contenders other than Aston Villa and Fulham  were better than Derby and Middlesbrough. There were only two home wins in those matches – Villa and Fulham beat each other once – but with Boro having quickly adapted to Tony Pulis’ style of football, I’d agree with the bookies and say that Derby are the outsiders.

Derby v Fulham (this evening, 7:45pm, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

In a scenario that will have been horribly familiar to Derby fans but not entirely out of the blue for the rest of us, having been second at the start of February The Rams almost dropped out of the playoffs last month. A team that can lose 4-1 at home to Sunderland yet still has a chance of winning promotion is an outstanding example of not only how daft the Championship can be but also indicates that Derby’s record of five consecutive top ten finishes without promotion will probably continue next season. It’s fair to say that if you neutralise Matej Vydra you can stop them and the defence has only kept one clean sheet at home since February.

Defeat at Birmingham last weekend was Fulham’s first reverse on the road since before Christmas, so was that just a sign of things to come or just acceptance that automatic promotion wasn’t going to happen? Worryingly for those of us backing them, the Cottagers have now gone ten away games without losing, which usually means another defeat is just around the corner. On the other hand, no team scored more goals away from home during the season than Fulham and – combined with Derby’s defensive frailties – could be a recipe for success.

Since 2000, Derby have beaten Fulham in half of their last six league meetings at Pride Park. Fulham won at Derby at the start of March with early goals from Mitrovic and Sessegnon before Huddlestone replied for the hosts.

Verdict: it would not surprise me at all if Fulham won this evening but then drew at Craven Cottage next week.

Middlesbrough v Aston Villa (5:15pm tomorrow, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

Steve Gibson’s rather naive pre-season comment that Boro were going to ‘smash’ the Championship was looking unlikely as early as October, although as I pointed just after Christmas, Middlesbrough couldn’t be ruled out of the playoffs. Although they didn’t crack the top six until the start of March and have only lost twice since then, Tony Pulis’ appointment on Boxing Day clearly suits the players he inherited from Garry Monk: only Cardiff conceded fewer goals at home this season but their ‘defence first’ style at the Riverside has resulted in them scoring more goals in away matches this season. Middlesbrough have only lost two of their last ten home games – they almost earned a point against Fulham – and it’s only a couple of years since they were last in the playoffs.

Aston Villa have been in the playoff spots for most of the season but never really looked like automatic promotion material after losing at Fulham in February and consecutive defeats a few weeks later confirmed that analysis. One of those games (Bolton) appeared to trigger some sort of crisis of confidence as Villa have only won one of their four aways since then; it’s also highly significant that they lost all three games without scoring when they travelled to the teams that finished immediately above them this season.

Head to head: this looks particularly bad for Boro – their last home win against Villa was in December 2004 and they’ve met on Teeside in the league on five subsequent occasions. Boro have lost four of those games.

Verdict: on paper any game between Tony Pulis and Steve Bruce always looks as if it could finish 0-0. However, if Middlesbrough want to win promotion they’ll have to win tomorrow because the prospect of travelling to Villa Park next week without any sort of advantage will be a mountain to climb. I don’t think Boro will lose, but that may not be good enough to reach Wembley.

I’ll be back with an update at some point over the weekend although it’s more likely to be late on Sunday. At that point we’ll also definitely know if Swansea will be returning to the Championship along with Stoke and West Brom.

Result from Friday evening: Derby 1, Fulham 0. I really am the kiss of death 🙂

Proper update: the most overhyped match in the entire history of the galaxy will be between Aston Villa and Fulham. The preview will be posted sometime next week.