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How Can The Promoted Clubs Survive in The New PL Season?

Burnley - Turf Moor

How Can the Promoted Clubs Survive The New PL Season?

This Friday evening sees the return of the Premier League for what will be the competition’s 32nd outing, with last year’s champions Manchester City kicking the 2023/24 season off with a visit to Turf Moor to take on newly-promoted Burnley.

Playing Manchester City in the season-opening fixture is the last thing that Vincent Kompany and his players will have wanted – facing the treble winners will be a very tough test for the Clarets, and there will also be a lot of eyes on the game as well. The following day then sees the other two promoted sides in action, with Luton Town facing a tricky test away at Brighton while Sheffield United play host to Crystal Palace as part of the day’s 3 pm kick-offs.

It will be a tough and arduous season for all three clubs as they face off against some of the world’s richest and best-run clubs in what is the highest-quality league in world football, meaning that the odds are stacked severely against Burnley, Luton and Sheffield United.

These three clubs absolutely cannot compete with the mega-money that is possessed by just a small handful of clubs at the top of the English game, so just how can they hope to stay up then? There are clubs that have previously managed to have extended stays in the top-flight despite their lack of wealth in comparison to some of the other sides, so should Burnley, Sheffield Utd and Luton follow the models that those clubs utilised? Or should they stick with the tactics and methods that got them promoted in the first place?

Vincent Kompany’s Burnley side were heavily praised for the style of football the club played under the Belgian during the 2022/23 Championship season, with the change an unexpected yet welcome one from the dreary, defensive-minded football that all Burnley, and Premier League fans, had become accustomed to seeing from the Clarets. But that was the Championship – the Premier League is a different kettle of fish.

Burnley were used to having the ball for a majority of their matches last season, (averaging 64.7% possession per game in the second tier, according to FotMob), but they will find it much harder to have the same level of control in the Premier League. Coming up against much superior sides such as the two Manchester clubs, Arsenal or Newcastle, will Vincent Kompany’s side be able to exert the same level of influence on the ball as they did in the Championship? Or might they potentially revert back to the same dour but reliable defensive style of play that worked so well for the club during their previous stint in the top flight?

Here, we take a quick look at some of the things that the three newly promoted sides need to do to ensure that their stay in the Premier League lasts more than just a single season.

Transfer Strategies

Arguably the most important tool available to the promoted sides is the increase in the money that is now available to them. Promotion to the Premier League is a lucrative business, and there is a reason why the play-off final is commonly referred to as “the richest game of football in the world”.

Ahead of the 2020 Championship play-off final, a report from Deloitte stated that the victorious club could potentially end up with a windfall of anywhere between £135m-£265m – a large sum is guaranteed upfront, but if the victorious team is able to avoid relegation in their first Premier League season, then that is even better for the club financially as they are able to continue to reap the rewards that an extended stay in the Premier League brings – this involves things such as continued access to lucrative sponsorship deals as well as a share of the revenue from the league’s astronomical broadcasting rights.

While the likes of Burnley and Luton certainly will not be able to compete with the likes of a Sheikh Mansour at Man City or Newcastle’s Saudi Arabia PIF when it comes to buying players and handing out enticing mega-contracts, the fact that these clubs are in the Premier League and the huge cash injection that that in itself provides is extremely useful anyway. But it is then also about spending that money wisely and correctly – identifying the areas of a squad that need upgrades on both a physical and technical level and then finding those players, alongside ensuring that any signings will fit well into the existing squad that worked hard to earn the promotion in the first place.

If these clubs can do that, then they have a much-improved chance of staying up. Fulham are maybe one of the best examples of how not to do this – the Cottagers spent over £100m on new additions for the 2018/19 PL campaign, but endured a miserable season and were relegated after finishing in 19th place, with practically all of their signings (players such as Alfie Mawson, Jean Michael Seri, Andre-Frank Anguissa and Fabri) having little to no impact.

Contrast that to clubs such as Nottingham Forest in the campaign just gone, Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2017/18 or Brentford in 2020/21 – they are all good examples of how some clubs conduct their transfer business when preparing for a stint in the top-flight. Both Wolves (Joao Moutinho, Diogo Jota, Willy Boly) and Brentford splashed the cash not on a whole slew of new and flashy names, but on a very small number of players who would come in and instantly raise the level in key areas of their squad. Which those players did, and helped their respective clubs in having sustained stays in the Premier League.

Nottingham Forest’s approach last season was a bit more gung-ho and more riskier than how Wolves and Brentford operated, it shows that, unlike Fulham, the model of spending big can also work, but there does still need to be some sort of strategy behind it.

The Reds bought in well over 20 players at a cost of approximately £170m, with standout players including Dean Henderson, Taiwo Awoniyi, Morgan Gibbs-White, Renan Lodi, Keylor Navas, Danilo and Felipe, who all played important roles in keeping the Reds up. Now at first, Forest’s transfer strategy was a little puzzling – seemingly just trying to sign as many different players as they could to fill out what was a depleted squad at the time, with the hope that manager Steve Cooper could work enough magic on the group to form a cohesive side capable of picking up points.

But, despite their somewhat scattergun approach in the market, there was some strategy behind Forest’s business. They also targeted players who were quality but were being underutilised at their club – Dean Henderson at Manchester United, Renan Lodi and Felipe at Atletico Madrid while also bringing in Morgan Gibbs-White from Wolves before he had made a name for himself. Those signings were key for Forest’s season, and while their process was definitely a risk, Forest showed that it can work.

So the transfer strategy of Luton, Burnley and Sheffield United will obviously be key in whether or not they stay up, but it is all about what kind of strategy they employ – making a small number of shrewd signings like Wolves and Brentford, or do they, like Nottingham Forest, go for a total overhaul of their existing squads which are likely not good enough to stay up in their current state?

Home Form

Speaking further on Nottingham Forest, arguably the most crucial aspect of their successful fight for survival last year was their home form, which the trio of promoted clubs will also need a strong record in if they want to survive. Forest took 30 of their 38 points in 2022/23 at the City Ground, while Burnley will have to harness the spirit of their 2016/17 squad, who took 33 of their 40-points at Turf Moor.

A strong home record can tie into the wider psychological aspect of there being spirit and a strong sense of togetherness within a squad, which can play a huge part in helping a side to soldier on through tougher times of a season and pick up what could end up being vital points.

This concept might end up being a really crucial aspect of Luton’s fight for survival this season, because while all the odds are stacked against them staying up, the Hatters’ squad has been through a lot together, and is seemingly a classic case of a tight group of players whose collective spirit and willingness to fight for each other will certainly help them out.

Famously, midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu has been with Luton in every tier of the English football pyramid from the non-league Conference, playing for the club there and throughout the three Football League divisions, and will be playing for them in the Premier League. And this is where transfers come into play again - it is important that clubs end up recruiting players who have the mentality and stomach for a relegation fight, and not ones who are disinterested and could therefore have a negative effect on the rest of the squad, which can be a recipe for disaster, especially in the context of trying to survive a relegation fight. Therefore, it is crucial that Luton, Burnley and Sheffield Utd make their respective home grounds fortresses, and that will stand them in good stead this season.

Sheffield United did exactly that in their first season back in the Premier League in 2019/20. The Blades only won 14 league games that season, but 10 of those wins came at Bramall Lane. Memorable and crucial wins over Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea were part of those 10 matches, and this further links into something else that will be useful in helping these three teams get points on the board.

Getting Off to a Good Start

Getting a favourable opening run of fixtures, and then making the most of that run. Sheffield United’s opening two matches in 2019/20 came against Bournemouth and Crystal Palace, with the Blades taking a combined four points from the two matches.

The early confidence boost gained as a result of picking up those points was invaluable, and likely played a part in the Blades going on to amass 13 points in the following 10 matches. Sheffield United’s opening two games this season are against Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest, with a game against Man City afterwards sandwiched in between games against Everton and Tottenham. With such a favourable opening two games, getting results in those matches could be crucial come the end of the season.

Burnley have somewhat of a tougher opening few weeks, with matches against Man City, Aston Villa and Tottenham all potential stumbling blocks, but away games against Luton and Nottingham Forest are the Clarets’ best chance of putting points on the board early on.

Like Sheffield Utd, Luton also have somewhat of a favourable opening five fixtures, with the Hatters playing Brighton, Burnley, Chelsea, West Ham and Fulham. While Brighton will be a tough opening fixture, Luton have the chance to steal some crucial points in their other matches against sides like West Ham and Burnley, while the chaotic state of Chelsea means that Luton could pick up a memorable scalp early on in the campaign.

But in addition, how these three clubs respond to their setbacks will also be crucial. It is inevitable that there will likely be thrashings handed out by the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United when they play the promoted sides, but how the three clubs respond to those setbacks will be telling in who stays up and who goes down.

As mentioned before, if these clubs do the right transfer business and bring in mentally-tough players who do not let such setbacks affect them, then these inevitable thrashings will not have as much impact. Because in the Premier League, there is no time for wallowing over such situations when in a relegation battle. You have to be able to get over such things quickly, and shift your focus on to the next game.

So it is widely expected that Burnley, Luton and Sheffield United will all have tough campaigns in 2023/24. Throughout the previous 31 Premier League seasons, clubs have, on 40 occasions, failed to stay in the division for more than a single season. So, we will very likely see at least one, and maybe two, of these three clubs going back down to the Championship come May 2024.

Potentially, all three promoted sides could end up going straight back down, something that has not happened in the Premier League since the 1997/98 campaign. However, if teams such as Everton, Wolves and Nottingham Forest once again perform how they did for the majority of last season, then there is some respite for the promoted trio, who could very well secure safety at the expense of one of the aforementioned sides.