It’s hard to believe that the offseason is almost over and the Premier League season begins on Friday, Aug. 5. But with that in mind, the end of the offseason is also a good time to examine the newly promoted teams from the Championship.
It’s always an interesting exercise to see which teams can avoid the drop, especially when you consider how Wolverhampton, Leeds United, Sheffield United and Brentford have only raised expectations for recently promoted teams. Thirty teams have been promoted over the past 10 seasons, and 15 of them have managed to avoid the drop. Six of have managed to finish 10th or better. The 2016-17 season was a bit of an outlier as all three teams (Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield) stayed up. Either way, there’s a 50 percent success rate over the past decade, which should give hope to the current crop of new teams in the league.
Fulham are back after winning the Championship by a wide margin, with Bournemouth joining the fray after spending two seasons resetting with the added spice of being led by former Fulham manager Scott Parker. Steve Cooper’s Nottingham Forest side won the promotion playoff final over Huddersfield Town to end a 23-year hiatus from top-flight soccer.
All three are led by impressive forwards (Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke, Fulham’s Aleksander Mitrovic and Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson) along with shrewd managers. But that’s where the differences end. In four of the past five seasons, one promoted team has managed to finish in the top half of the Premier League in their first season, showing growth in quality in the top teams getting promoted. Last season, if not for David Raya getting injured, Brentford were on track to make it a 5 for 5 on top-half finishes.
Let’s take a look at the newly promoted teams and their outlook ahead of the new season.
- Key additions: Joao Palhinha, Andreas Pereira, Manor Solomon, Kevin Mbabu
- Key departures: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Fabio Carvalho, Neco Williams
- Key players: Aleksandar Mitrovic (43 goals, seven assists), Joao Palhinha (Three goals), Harry Wilson (10 goals, nine assists), Tosin Adarabioyo (two goals, two assists)
Outlook: Outside of Norwich City, there isn’t a bigger yo-yo club than Fulham, who have made it to the Premier League for the third time in five years. If this were baseball, they would be labeled as a Quadruple-A team: Too good for the Championship, but not good enough to stay up in the Premier League. Led by Marco Silva, the Cottagers have talent and most of their success lies in Serbian marksman Aleksandar Mitrovic’s ability to find the back of the net.
Coming off of a 43-goal season in the Championship, you’d love to expect that things will finally click for him in the top flight and he scores 20-plus goals to keep Fulham up. Then you realize that Mitrovic hasn’t scored more than 11 goals in four Premier League seasons between Newcastle and Fulham. Without Fabio Carvalho, who’s off to Liverpool, a large spark is gone from this attack even though they scored a whopping 106 goals in the Championship.
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Andreas Pereira has been signed to try to improve Fulham’s attack in the center of the park which shows just how dire their situation is. Since starring in La Liga at 20 with Granada, Pereira struggled to catch on in Brazil with Flamengo as he only received 25 starts over the past two seasons. Pereira logged seven goals and two assists in Brazil. He is only 27, but it’s still hard to see him being a critical part of the Cottagers’ attack.
Sticking with new signings, FIFA held up the completion of Manor Solomon’s transfer from Shakhtar Donetsk. While FIFA’s extended their work permit exemptions for players in Ukraine in June, a deal won’t be made official until almost August, causing Solomon to miss critical time to get up to speed during the preseason. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder is expected to improve Fulham’s attacking depth, but it doesn’t answer major questions about the defense.
Fulham have gone in for their annual purchase at right back to add Kevin Mbabu from Wolfsburg as an attempt to address defensive needs. After losing Neco Williams to Nottingham Forest, Silva needed an experienced defender who can slot in quickly to be ready for the season. He has gotten that in Mbabu while also keeping some of what Williams did well with carrying the ball forward and overlapping with wingers. Mbabu also has experience of being in the relegation zone, which is a pressure cooker that can’t be taught.
Silva’s side is still in search for upgrades between the sticks and at center back. Goalkeeper Marek Rodak has been serviceable in the Championship but he was replaced by Alphonse Areola when Fulham were last in the Premier League. They thought that Bernd Leno would have joined the team by now. In fact, he’s frustrated that the hurdles standing in the way have not yet been toppled. Fulham offered around £10 million for Leno but Arsenal seek £15 million. Both sides are holding out to see which will blink first as time winds down to get a new keeper in before the season opener. There’s a similar situation going on between Fulham and West Ham as they’ve yet to come to an agreement for the transfer of Issa Diop.
Even with Palhinha in the fold, both Diop and Leno would be key to Fulham’s bid to stay up another season. A strong defensive midfielder with Sporting CP, Palhninha gives Fulham a decent defensive base to build on, but he and Tosin Adarabioyo can’t do it alone when Premier League defenses will be more adept at defending against Harry Wilson and Mitrovic. Without more additions, Fulham are in for another yo-yo season.
- Key additions: Joe Rothwell, Ryan Fredericks
- Key departures: Nat Phillips
- Key players: Dominic Solanke (29 goals, seven assists), Rothwell (three goals, 10 assists), Jaidon Anthony (eight goals, six assists), Mark Travers
Outlook: Bournemouth posted the second-best goal difference in the Championship at +35 behind 29 goals from Dominic Solanke. It wasn’t always pretty, but they managed to get access to top-flight football behind a strong season from Solanke along with Mark Travers’ performances assuring they would not miss a beat in net after losing Aaron Ramsdale to Arsenal. Travers and Bournemouth had the third-best save percentage at 76.9 percent while facing 156 shots on target. That number was only bettered by Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest who fielding a new starting goalkeeper this season.
Solanke’s season was a bit weird when you consider that he scored 29 times, but underperformed compared to his underlying statistics. Solanke’s expected goals (xG) was 33.83 because he struggled to put shots on target. Of the 164 shots taken, only 59 tested the keeper. If Solanke is able to up that percentage in the Premier League, his goalscoring could be more sustainable than Mitrovic’s.
The issue is that the game moves faster in the Premier League. If Solanke isn’t able to keep up, then the Cherries don’t have other options to lead the line. In Solanke’s 63 Premier League appearances with Liverpool and Bournemouth, he has only scored four goals and assisted three more. The hope is that at age 24, he can finally put things together in the top flight.
The good news is that he will get better service with the additions of Joe Rothwell and Ryan Fredericks. Rothwell is a solid attacking midfielder who can keep play ticking over. While he doesn’t light up the stat sheet with key passes similarly to an Emi Buendia, Rothwell does the dirty work of a 10 to keep play ticking over. Parker made the unconventional choice of playing Philip Billing as his 10 last season in front of a pivot of Lewis Cook and Jefferson Lerma. And while Billing did well there, he could slide back into a more familiar role or have Rothwell slot into a wide midfield position.
The defense is a slight concern without Nat Phillips, but Lloyd Kelly and Chris Mepham should be a solid central pairing. Fredericks was effective when healthy for West Ham, but the being healthy part is an issue. A long history of muscular injuries has caused Fredricks to be unavailable quite a lot for the Hammers over the years, which is why he was allowed to leave on a free transfer. Parker will need him to be available this season, but that’s easier said than done when he needs to be carefully managed.
This is an interesting squad with quite a solid core, especially in midfield. The trio of Lerma, Cook and Billing would get time with quite a bit of teams in the league while the rest of the spine of the squad is also stout. But it also feels like Bournemouth haven’t done enough to shore up the flanks. Adam Smith will likely rotate with Fredericks, but when the latter is hurt, Smith will play more minutes than you’d like him to. Jordan Zemura was impressive last season, but it was also his first taste of professional soccer after being promoted from the U21s.
Youth taking the next step is what Parker needs to stave off relegation. Jaidon Anthony, 22, took quite a step last season and made one of the wing positions his own as he was involved in 14 goals. The Cherries will need that again to make things work along with Solanke finally cracking the Premier League. If that happens, they’re equipped to avoid the drop, though I’m not sure Parker will be the person to see them to the end of the season if things get off to a bad start.
- Key additions: Jesse Lingard, Taiwo Awoniyi, Neco Williams, Moussa Niakhate, Giulian Biancone, Omar Richards, Lewis O’Brien, Harry Toffolo, Dean Henderson, Orel Mangala
- Key departures: Djed Spence, James Garner, Philip Zinckernagel, Max Lowe, Keinan Davis, Brice Samba
- Key players: Henderson, Brennan Johnson (16 goals, 10 assists), Ryan Yates (eight goals), Taiwo Awoniyi (15 goals, one assist)
Outlook: The Tricky Trees have kept busy by adding 12 players and counting to the squad this summer. That kind of roster turnover can be concerning, even if it was by design due to how they operated in the Championship to achieve promotion. Steve Cooper fielded seven players on loan last season while achieving promotion. With all of them gone elsewhere, there were already holes to fill before strengthening the squad to make sure that there is enough coverage for the Premier League season. In reality, what Forest did last season is pretty smart if the manager and front office are in tune with each other.
Grabbing key loans ensures that they’re able to come into the Premier League without needing to trim much fat from the roster while also having more to spend for upgrades. Forest have nearly spent $90 million in transfers this summer. Most of that spending was done early in the window, which gave Cooper the luxury of practically having his entire squad available for preseason in order to get used to their 3-5-2 scheme. The only exceptions being the newest trio of Jesse Lingard, Lewis O’Brien and Harry Toffolo.
Let’s stick with Jesse Lingard for a second. Cooper (and large sums of cash) was enough to convince the 29-year-old to join Forest on a one-year, prove-it deal after hot spells with Manchester United and West Ham. If he succeeds in keeping them up while lighting it up in the Premier League, he’s bound to earn a payday either at Forest or elsewhere. Lingard will also get to support two forwards who scored 15-plus goals each in their respective leagues last season in Johnson and Awoniyi, so he will at least have suitable support up top.
Forest strengthened the midfield in adding Orel Mangala from Stuttgart for £12.7 million. With James Garner staying with Manchester United for now, there is an open spot in central midfield supporting Ryan Yates. As more of a defensive minded midfielder, Mangala will help protect the defense while Yates, Lingard and the wing backs help support the attack in Cooper’s preferred formation. This points to Johnson playing more central alongside Awoniyi, than his Championship role as a wide attacker in a front three.
Awoniyi is quite the addition from Union Berlin after firing them into a Europa League place last season. He’ll offer a solid option for Johnson to play off of and could provide some much-needed goalscoring help. Neco Williams is a solid replacement for losing Djed Spence to Tottenham as well. Getting Williams to spray crosses into the box while bombing down the flanks and ensuring that Fulham weren’t able to sign him from Liverpool also serves a good purpose of weakening their rivals.
It shows just how much thought goes into Forest’s business. That said, it won’t matter much if they don’t get the team firing on all cylinders out of the gate. Dean Henderson has big shoes to fill in net, but his performance with Sheffield United when they were promoted provides help that Brice Samba won’t be missed too much. Having Wayne Hennessey as an experienced option will hopefully make the transition as smooth as possible.
But when you break down their back line, there’s almost nothing but new faces in front of Henderson. They’re anchored by Moussa Niakhate, a solid defender who spent the past four seasons at Mainz. He can also provide a target for the team on set plays. Niakhate moving also shows how big the draw of the Premier League is because he’s forgoing Champions League soccer to join a newly promoted team. It also means that he’s pretty confident in keeping them in the league for more than one season.
If all goes according to plan, Forest are the team most equipped to challenge for a top half spot this season. But with so many new faces in, Cooper will need to keep morale high if they’re roughed up at the start of the season. A few defeats could send them down a spiral. Spending with a plan is certainly better than spending without one like some newly promoted teams in the past, but trouble may lie ahead if the newly acquired players struggle to build chemistry.