A Premier League of their own: What history tells us about promoted sides’ chances

How will Premier League new-boys Leeds United, Fulham and West Bromwich Abion fare in the top fight>

Taking the last two seasons as a guide, Premier League new-boys Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, and Fulham have three roles to divide between them. It’s how the promoted sides do things now. One team challenging for Europe, one team in a traditional relegation scrap, and one team bombing completely.

This might have emerged as a recent trend, but it’s a big departure from the rest of the previous decade. In the last two campaigns, the gap between best- and worst-performing promoted teams was over 30 points! The average in the eight seasons prior to that, though, was just 11.5.

This might be a sign of an increasing difficulty in matching the level of the Premier League for sides coming in from the Championship. While some teams are thriving, helped by some solid tactics, it feels like season-long collapses are an annual feature nowadays. On top of that, two promoted sides have gone straight back down in two of the past four years (2018/19 and 2016/17). Aston Villa only narrowly avoided 2019/20 being added to that list as well.

Of course, part of the strength of the Premier League are the teams at risk of relegation. In the early 2010s, we were used to seeing teams ‘circle the drain’, as it were. Wigan Athletic spent several years between 15th and 17th before being relegated in 2012/13; Sunderland were perennially down there before finally succumbing in 2016/17, and Aston Villa spent four seasons in a row finishing 15th to 17th before their terrible, 17-point 2015/16 campaign.

This feature of the league seems to be less pertinent nowadays. Burnley and Southampton both followed up 15th-17th finishes with 50-plus point seasons in 2019/20. Brighton could be a worry, though, and may be a team fans of promoted teams target as one to leapfrog in the quest for safety. The Seagulls have spent each of their three seasons since promotion lingering in this ‘not-quite-relegation’ zone. This is Wigan territory (so maybe keep an eye on them in the FA Cup).

Leeds, by many measures, look in a good position. In their promotion campaign, the difference between their expected goals for and against was +0.84 per match. That’s more than any of the other promoted sides since 2017/18 by a distance.

Fulham, unfortunately, go the other way. Their expected goals difference was barely above even by Twenty3’s figures, noticeably the worst of any promoted side since 2017/18. Things could barely go worse than their 2018/19 Premier League season, and they’ll have surely learnt from the experience, but they’re certainly not starting from as strong a position as Leeds.

But the truth – which may be scary or solace depending who you support – is that it’s very difficult to work out which teams will prosper upon promotion. 

When Cardiff were promoted, they had a very strong expected goals difference but were relegated on 34 points. Wolves and Sheffield United both had comparable differences when they were promoted in 2017/18 and 2018/19 respectively, and both smashed past the 50-point mark. Norwich did very badly while Aston Villa scraped survival last year, despite both achieving similar expected goals differences in their promotion campaigns. 

The Premier League, it seems, is just a different league.

All the graphics and visualisations in this article use Wyscout data and were produced in the Twenty3 Content Toolbox.

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