You often hear the Premier League described as the ‘promised land,’ and that reaching the English top flight is to truly make it as a club. However, while winning promotion to the Premier League is a magnificent achievement, to remain there is even more difficult. That is the challenge set before Norwich City, Sheffield United and Aston Villa this season.
Although much attention is geared towards the top of the table and Premier League winner odds, the scrap to avoid relegation can often be just as engrossing. With the season now well underway, do early results and performances suggest the three promoted sides have what it takes to stay up?
It’s fair to say that each of the three teams have shown encouraging signs at times already this season. Norwich, after being somewhat humbled in their opening game at Anfield against Liverpool, have shown promise, easily beating Newcastle United 3-1 in the second week, and running Chelsea very close before succumbing to a narrow 3-2 defeat. A defeat at West Ham was slightly worrying, but you feel that Norwich’s home form will be the real key to staying up.
Sheffield United have made a very solid start. A creditable draw at Bournemouth was followed by a fine victory at home to Crystal Palace, and Chris Wilder has clearly got a squad who are relishing the challenge of Premier League football.
Aston Villa looked like causing a shock away to Tottenham Hotspur on opening day before running out of legs and losing 3-1, but a recent home win over Everton was enough to suggest that Dean Smith’s side are also well equipped for the task at hand.
Daniel Farke’s Norwich have been one of the most entertaining teams in the league so far this season. Their open, expansive football has won many admirers, and credit must be given for how they approached the game against Liverpool. Rather than sit with ten men behind the ball, Norwich took the game to Jurgen Klopp’s men, and although it ended in a heavy defeat, it was a statement that the Canaries were not going to abandon the style that won them promotion.
Norwich, at the time of writing, have conceded more goals than any other side in the Premier League so far this season, and you have to wonder if such defensive frailties can be adequately counterbalanced by their attacking prowess. However, with a goal-scorer like Teemu Pukki, you wouldn’t put it past them.
Chris Wilder also made it clear before the season began that he was not going to abandon his philosophy in the Premier League. As a result, Sheffield United and their famous overlapping centre-halves have entertained thus far. They impressively recorded a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge after being 2-0 behind to Chelsea, and such resilience will be vital if the Blades are to avoid the drop.
Aston Villa are a club who you always feel are too big for the Championship, and this recent promotion is a chance to put behind them the awful few years which ultimately led to their relegation from the Premier League in 2016. In Dean Smith, they have a modern, forward-thinking manager who loves the club and plays football the right way.
The 2-0 win over Everton at Villa Park showcased a stadium full of supporters who are right behind their team and their manager. Villa’s home had developed something of a toxic atmosphere in the few seasons leading to their relegation, and restoring a feel-good factor at the club is key if they are to survive relegation.
While the Premier League has never been tougher, often the bounce of winning promotion can give teams a lift as they seek to remain there. All three of this season’s promoted sides have experienced this to some degree in the early stages of this campaign. Whether that can be maintained over a long, hard season remains to be seen.