It’s that time of the season when the table should be taking shape. Each club has played 10 games and three of them have already sacked their managers. Two of those clubs are in the relegation zone – Crystal Palace and Everton – but none of the newly promoted sides are even close to the bottom three. Newcastle, Huddersfield and Brighton, are all ensconced in midtable, having pulled off some impressive results. Newcastle have conceded fewer goals than Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool; Huddersfield beat Manchester United for the first time in 65 years; and Brighton have only lost one of their last five league games.
That all three promoted sides have adapted well is nothing new. You have to go all the way back to the 1997-98 season to find the last (and only) time all three promoted clubs went straight back down in the Premier League. Although, in 25 years of the Premier League there have only been two seasons in which all three promoted clubs have stayed up – when Fulham, Bolton and Blackburn survived in 2001-02 and, a decade later, when QPR, Norwich and Swansea stayed up in 2011-12.
All three of this season’s promoted sides struggled last weekend – Huddersfield were well beaten by Liverpool on Saturday; Brighton could only draw at home to Southampton on Sunday; and Newcastle lost a tight match at Burnley on Monday – but all three have already made it to double figures in the points column after 10 games, with Huddersfield and Brighton on 12 and Newcastle on 14. This is only the eighth time in 26 seasons that all three promoted sides have hit double figures after 10 games.
It’s an impressive feat but promoted sides have a history of starting the season well. Of the 78 teams promoted to the top flight since the league began in 1992, 45 of them (58%) have picked up at least 10 points in their first 10 games, while 41% have matched or bettered the 12 points achieved by Huddersfield and Brighton so far. Since the league switched to a 20-team format in 1995, the average position of a newly promoted side after 10 matches is 14th; even the average position of the lowest ranked promoted side at this stage is above the relegation zone (17th).
On average, a promoted team has 10.8 points at this stage so Brighton, Huddesrfield and Newcastle have grounds for optimism. But they shouldn’t get too carried away just yet. In the very first Premier League season, newly promoted Middlesbrough picked up 15 points in their first 10 games and were flying high in seventh, but they went on a terrible run, losing 12 of their 15 games either side of Christmas, and were relegated.
No other promoted side has won as many points so quickly and gone down. Manchester City came close in 2000-01, when they picked up 14 points in their opening 10 matches and then went on a run of six straight defeats to fall into the relegation fight. They finally turned a corner with a 5-0 win over Everton in December but their form never truly recovered and they were relegated when they lost at Ipswich Town in their penultimate game of the season. Newcastle, also on 14 points at this stage, should take confidence from the fact that only two teams in Premier League history have performed as well as them and gone on to be relegated but they should also be mindful that a collapse in form can drag any team into danger.
As for Huddersfield and Brighton, six promoted sides have gone down after securing 12 or more points at this stage of the season. Blackpool are perhaps the most noteworthy. At this stage of the 2010-11 season, they were flying high in ninth place, having beaten Wigan, Newcastle, Liverpool and West Brom in their first 10 games. They couldn’t sustain that form and fell apart in the new year, losing eight games in January and February as they drifted towards the Championship.
So, who is going down this season? With only four points from their first 10 fixtures, Crystal Palace are the obvious candidates, but they should take some solace from their own recent history. They came up from the Championship in the 2013-14 season and suffered an horrendous start to the campaign, losing nine of their first 10 games and picking up just three points – one fewer than they have this time around. But then Tony Pulis came in to replace Ian Holloway and guided the club to safety, picking up the PFA Manager of the Year award in the process.
Southampton managed something similar the season before when they collected just four points from their first 10 matches – the same total Palace have now. The club dispensed with Nigel Adkins in January and Mauricio Pochettino led the club to a 14th-place finish. It might not be kind on the sacked managers, but it’s clear why clubs make early changes in an attempt to stave off the threat of relegation.
If Premier League history is anything to go by, clubs all the way up to newly promoted Newcastle in ninth should be looking over their shoulders. David Wagner, Chris Hughton and Rafa Benítez should all be proud of their work so far – and they may yet become the third trio of promoted clubs to all stay up – but it’s unlikely.
The Guardian Sport