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Relegation Battle 12/13: Swansea CIty, Norwich City & Reading To Go Down

As the opening weekend approaches I assess  potential relegation candidates, from the three newly-promoted teams, to a couple of the less obvious ones.

Fulham:

It May seem to some as daft to suggest that the top half club with one of the most proven managers in the league could be contenders for the drop – but it’s far from daft.

Their three highest scorers last season were Clint Dempsey (23), Andy Johnson (11), and Bobby Zamora (9). Two have already left and it seems likely that Clint Dempsey will move on too. Fulham didn’t sign Pavel Pogrebnyak – an integral part of their attack – on a permanent deal too. So where will the goals come from? Martin Jol has brought in Hugo Rodallega and  Mladen Petric for a combined total of nothing. If you added their goals together from last season in all competitions then they still wouldn’t amass the same number of goals that Andy Johnson scored for the Cottagers last season – and he was injured for a lot of that time. Captain Danny Murphy left to go to Blackburn for a modest sum of £1m, and he hasn’t been replaced directly.

Fortunately for Fulham, their defence is vastly superior to those who they could potentially be scrapping with, and it has been strengthened by the signing of German international Sascha Riether on a season-long loan.

Last Season: 9th.

My Prediction for this season: 17th (Assuming Clint Dempsey leaves).

Norwich:

Despite a decent league position last season and no major departures, Norwich’s survival aspirations look glum. Let’s be honest, they over-achieved last year with a manager who has since left. Chris Hughton, the replacement, is a manager known for doing fairly well with decent squads. At the time of his sacking from Newcastle there was outrage at the decision, but they soon dried up and his achievements at the ‘Toon’ have since been dwarfed by his successor Alan Pardew.

Norwich’s Achilles’ heel is their leaky defence. Last season they conceded 66 goals. Fortunately for them, they’ve brought in Michael Turner and Steven Whittaker at relatively cheap prices who will have the task of cutting that goal tally drastically. Striker Grant Holt handed in a transfer request in July but has since signed a new contract and will be key to any hope they have of staying up. Robert Snodgrass has joined and it will be interesting to see if he can adapt to Premier League standards as well as Norwich’s physical approach.

Last Season: 12th

My Prediction for this season: 19th

Reading:

Last season’s Championship champions are a side fancied by few to avoid the drop this season. They were the surprise package six seasons ago under Steve Coppell finishing 8th, only to be narrowly relegated the season afterwards. Manager Brian McDermott will be very happy if he can start their Premier League stint in the same manner as Steve Coppell, but will want the stint to last for longer this time round.

Looking at Reading’s squad, it looks more like it should be in the Championship than the top flight – but this may work to their advantage. It does at least have depth. Pavel Pogrebnyak signed on a free after his contract at Stuttgart expired, and if the gossip turns out to be true then he’s not cheap. This was necessary for the Reading side that were comparatively weak offensively last season.

Adrian Marriapa has been signed from Watford in an attempt to bolster last season’s Championship’s best defence. Nicky Shorey has also returned to the club that he entered the Premier League with back in 2006 – whether his ability has declined rapidly is yet to be seen.

Last Season: 1st (In the Championship)

My Prediction for this season: 20th

Southampton:

The Saints have been gone marching for a while. They’ve been down to League one, but Nigel Adkins has led them back with two consecutive promotions. They were runners-up in the Championship last season and finished with the best goal difference – perhaps suggesting that neither their attack nor their defence needs sorting out desperately.

They’ve signed no more than four players meaning their Summer has been reasonably quiet – but it has been expensive. Jay Rodriguez was signed to partner the high-scoring Ricky Lambert up front for a club-record £7m. Nathaniel Clyne was also signed, his fee has been kept undisclosed but it has been estimated at around £2-3m. Steven Davis was taken from Rangers at around £800,000 – a very good deal for the Saints. Combined, they represent a large outlay for the newly-promoted club. In all probability these signings will be enough to keep them up at least for this year.

Last Season: 2nd (Championship)

My Prediction for this season: 16th

Swansea:

The Swans enjoyed a fantastic 2011/2012 season, finishing 11th. It wasn’t just their league position that had them being heaped with praise, but it was also their fast, attractive style of football. However, without two of their key players from last season as well as their talismanic manager I predict things will not be as plain sailing this term. Former Barcelona midfielder Michael Laudrup has taken the hot seat.

Ashley Williams partnered Steven Caulker last season in Swansea’s defence but the latter has returned to Tottenham from his loan. Laudrup has signed Spanish centre back Jose Manuel Flores to replace him but with no Premier League experience as of yet it may take him a while to gel in. Gylfi Sigurdsson left, Scott Sinclair may potentially leave with reported interest from Manchester City, which will leave a lot of pressure on new signing Michu to make a big impact. The highly rated Spaniard scored 15 goals in La Liga last year and will hope to do just as well in the Premier League. At £2m, that could turn out to be the bargain of the transfer window.

However, I can’t see Laudrup & Swansea reaching the standards of last season so I’ve placed them at 18th, it will be closely fought though.

Last Season: 11th

My Prediction for this season: 18th

West Ham:

It hasn’t taken West Ham long to return to the top flight. Since then the manager has changed, as well as a lot of the squad. They were only narrowly promoted last season and probably wouldn’t be back if Blackpool were capable of finishing.

It is very hard to see the Hammers going down. Sam Allardyce has a very good record of keeping fairly average sides up, previously doing it with Bolton for years and Blackburn for a period, albeit with a very physical, aggressive, and ugly approach. However this time he’s being given quite a lavish budget, and their transfer window isn’t over just yet. They’ve signed eight players to date and could potentially sign Andy Carroll – at least on loan.  Should Carroll not join, much pressure will lay on Modibo Maiga – a £4.7m signing from Sochaux – to fire their way to safety.

One player to look out for will be Ricardo Vaz Te, it was his goal that sent them into the Premier League and Allardyce will hope his goals can fire them to safety this year. The Portuguese forward has a lot of flair, which may not fit in with his manager’s philosophy but may please the supporters who, for a long time were on Allardyce’s back last season.

Last Season: 3rd (Championship)

My Prediction for this season: 15th

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