Welcome to Yahoo Soccer’s Premier League Starting XI. This lineup of stories will get you ready for the upcoming season as we count down to kickoff on Friday.
Thanks to extraordinarily lucrative television deals and the self-perpetuating growth that accompanies a spot in England’s top flight, the gulf in class between the second-tier Championship and the Premier League grows ever wider.
Each season, three new teams are promoted to the world’s richest league, typically hoping for little more than survival in the promised land. And each of those three new teams are somewhat written off from the outside.
The good news for this season’s newbies — Norwich City, Sheffield United and Aston Villa — is that the odds actually favor survival for at least one promoted team every season.
Only once in Premier League history have all three promoted teams dropped straight back down, and that was back in 1997-98. Furthermore, there have been three instances when all three promoted teams have survived, most recently in 2017-18, when Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town all lived to fight another season.
It stands to reason, then, that at least one of this season’s new teams will stay up. But which will retain Premier League status? Here’s our take on each of the new boys.
Against the odds, manager Daniel Farke’s Norwich took the Championship by storm last season to win the competition for the fourth time in their history.
The Canaries were founding members of the Premier League in 1992-93, a season in which they outkicked their coverage to finish in third place, two points behind runners-up Aston Villa. (How times have changed.)
However, that season was the zenith of Norwich’s Premier League experience, and they have been relegated immediately on four of the six occasions they have re-entered the league.
Do they have the ability to improve upon that relegation record? The balance sheet certainly says no.
Norwich have spent the least of any promoted team, with a $912,000 fee for West Ham fullback Sam Byram representing their biggest outlay. Clearly, the Canaries aim to rely on the players who served them well last season, although they have made some interesting loan moves. For example, Manchester City winger Patrick Roberts may add some creativity to the flanks at Carrow Road.
Farke — who came from coaching Borussia Dortmund’s reserves in 2017 — plays a style of soccer more typically witnessed by Big Six sides. Norwich like to keep possession, they distribute with short passes, they play with pace, and the fullbacks like to race up the field.
While this gung-ho approach will be fun to watch, there is a danger it will be exposed at Premier League level, where the counters will be faster and stronger. Norwich conceded 57 goals last season (including 34 at home) which is a phenomenal amount for a title-winning side. Don’t be surprised if the likes of Manchester City rack up huge scorelines when they head to Norfolk this season. The opener against Liverpool may be a good barometer for the Canaries’ leakiness.
Norwich’s best hope of survival may be striker Teemu Pukki, who won the Championship Golden Boot with 29 goals. However, Championship top scorers rarely translate to Premier League big hitters, so Pukki will need to be the exception that proves the rule.
Will they survive? It seems unlikely. A lack of spending, cavalier tactics and a squad that pulled off a surprise Championship will not work in Norwich’s favor.
Norwich aren’t the only team whose fans may be slightly surprised to find them in the Premier League. Two seasons ago, Sheffield United were in the third tier.
Chris Wilder’s side return to the top flight for the first time since 2007, when they were relegated against West Ham on the last day by a highly controversial Carlos Tevez goal — for which they were awarded $24 million in damages. Suffice to say, there will be no love lost when the Blades face the Hammers in this campaign.
Since that relegation, they have spent half their time in League One. However, a Saudi prince bought half the club in 2013, which may have contributed to their rise to the top flight.
Wilder plays a back three that, unlike Norwich’s back line, was watertight last season. Hence, the attention has been paid to the front line during the summer, with a combined $36.5 million being spent on strikers Oliver McBurnie and Lys Mousset.
The attack may also be bolstered by the arrival of controversial midfielder Ravel Morrison, who was hailed by Sir Alex Ferguson as “the best kid you’ll ever see” while at Manchester United. However, disciplinary issues have limited his ability to live up to his potential.
The bookmakers will have you believe that Sheffield United are the weakest team in the league. Much of the current squad comes from their League One days, and they have not made the kind of investment that one may expect from a team with a Saudi owner.
Will they survive? It is possible that Wilder’s spirited leadership will help the Blades get some results, but it would be surprising if they did not return to the Championship next season.
If it is any solace to fans of actor Sean Bean’s favorite team, they have performed well in FC Yahoo’s kit rankings.
Norwich and Sheffield United are relying largely on Championship-level squads, perhaps practicing fiscal responsibility as the odds suggest they may return to the second tier imminently.
Aston Villa, on the other hand, aren’t here to make up the numbers.
Returning to the top flight for the first time since their rock-bottom finish in 2016, the Villans have the highest net summer spend of any English club, splashing $183 million on 13 new players. The club have released or loaned 19 players, including stalwarts such as Micah Richards and Alan Hutton, in order to make their mark on the Premier League.
A back line that was far too leaky for a side who won promotion via the playoffs has been strengthened, but the most intriguing additions have come at the other end: one-name wonders Wesley and Trezeguet have been signed from Club Brugge and Kasimpasa, respectively. The former is a club-record signing at $27 million, who will need to fill the void left by last season’s top scorer Tammy Abraham, who has been recalled by parent club Chelsea.
Blues legend John Terry, coincidentally, is an assistant coach at Villa, and he will face former teammate Frank Lampard at Chelsea this season — just as he did when the midlands side overcame Lampard’s Derby at Wembley in the Championship play-off final in May.
Aston Villa are a storied English side, with seven top flight titles and a European Cup in their rearview mirror. They expect nothing less than to be part of the Premier League elite, and have prepared accordingly.
The potential Achilles heel of their approach is their vast spending: Fulham did the same thing last season, dropping over $146 million on a wholesale squad change to try and stay up. But the plan backfired when they abandoned the philosophies and style of play that gained them promotion in the first place, and several purchases turned out to be duds. If Villa’s new charges also fail to assimilate, this season could be an expensive experiment.
Will they survive? Yes! Their massive spending is risky, but Villa unquestionably have a stronger squad, and a better pedigree, than at least three other Premier League teams. While their two promoted brethren falter, Villa could easily finish above Brighton, or perhaps the likes of Newcastle and Burnley.
Yahoo Soccer’s Premier League Starting XI