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Making a plan for Premier League promotion

Premier League

Week six of the still young Premier League season probably didn’t make any lasting impressions. Burnely took out a seasons worth of frustrations with a surprising 4-0 shellacking of Bournemouth. Liverpool took care of business 3-0 over Southampton, while Chelsea stumbled at London Stadium in a scoreless draw against West Ham United, leaving the Reds alone at the top of the table with a maximum eighteen points. And defending champ Man City destroyed Cardiff 5-0, embarrassing the Bluebirds in from of their supporters.

The Promoted: Cardiff Not Ready for Prime Time?

The Bluebirds destruction at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s “sent back from the future to destroy English Football” attack was sadly unsurprising. Goals from Kun Aguero, Silva and Gundogan before halftime pretty much ended that game early. Ryad Mahrez’ two strikes in the second half, his first in City’s baby blue rather than Leicester’s King Power Royal, were just piling on.

Cardiff City’s second trip to the Premier League hasn’t been much fun yet. They are mired at the bottom of the table with Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United with only a pair of 0-0 draws against their fellow cellar dwellers to brag about. The Bluebirds have been outscored, conceding 14 goals to a paltry three. They have been abysmally inaccurate in front of goal with only 22% of their shots considered on target. They haven’t even hit the woodwork with a shot so far.

Of the three promoted teams, Cardiff City appeared to do the least to adjust to the loftier climes. The only top flight player they added over the summer was taking steady Irish midfielder Harry Arter on loan from Bournemouth. This lack of action compared to their sexier colleagues led many (including me) to write them off as going right back down at the end of the season. But looks can be deceiving, and that’s why they play the games.

Premier league
Man City blasts Cardiff, premierleaghue.com

Football Whisper’s Mark Thompson took a look at the Bluebirds a couple of weeks ago and their advanced analysis shows a team that is pressing a lot more aggressively than would be expected. Look to their 2-3 loss to Arsenal as an example of what this team can do to harass a side expecting a team with Cardiff’s offensive deficiencies to sit back and take it rather than aggressively pursue the ball.

They still need to find someone to put the ball in the net though…

The Promoted: Fulham and their shiny toys

Fulham have something that Cardiff simply can’t replicate, flair. Owner Shahid Khan, who also owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, is a legitimate billionaire, the 221st richest person in the world. He’s exactly the kind of guy you want owning a sports franchise, a crazy rich dude who loves sports. He’s been aggressive with the checkbook, with Fulham becoming the first promoted squad to spend over £100 million over the summer.

All that sterling put together a squad radically different from the one that won the promotion tourney last year. They started with a good base, homegrown winger Ryan Sessegnon, at 18 already looking like a future star, and locking up loanee Aleksander Mitrovic permanently. They brought German national Andre Schurrle back to the Premier League and swiped Ivory Coast midfielder Jean Michael Seri out from under Barcelona’s’ nose.

Premier League
Fulham vs Watford. premierleague.com

The results of all that spending have been mixed. Mitrovic alone has scored more than four entire teams with five in his book so far. They haven’t been as lucky on defense, conceding 2.17 goals a game and with no clean sheets yet this year. The Whites are talented, and look like they are safe from relegation, but it may take a couple seasons before Khan’s spins all that gold into success on the pitch

The Promoted: Wolves, I love it when a plan comes together

Wolverhampton had a plan. The historic franchise served a six-year exile in the Championship before storming back into the Premier League with a decisive promotion campaign in 2017/18, winning the league by 9 points and outscoring their foes by a whopping 43 goals. They reintroduced the world to a revitalized Molyneux Stadium with a come from behind draw against Manchester City, and capped off the opening six weeks with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford against a Man United team that looked like it left all their offense in Switzerland after their 3-0 dispatching of BSC Young Boys last week in the Champions League.

Premier League
Santos hugs it out with Mourinho after Wolves claim their first points at Old Trafford since 1980, premierleague.com

Wolves strategy for promotion was a combination of their compatriots. They weren’t as splashy as Fulham, but neither were they as stingy as Cardiff. The biggest names they added over the summer were a loan of striker Raul Jimenez from Benfica and midfielder Joao Moutino. Both Portuguese veterans have paid dividends in front of goal. Keeper Rui Patricio came over from Sporting CP and has already notched 2 clean sheets. Wolves scouts like Portuguese cooking I suppose. As the transfer window closed Wolves decided they weren’t done and snapped up Middleborough 22-year-old winger Adama Traore, who has provided an incredible spark off the bench and might well be the fastest player in the league.

But the core of the team that is currently in sixth place was already put together in the previous season. The stout defense includes fullback Matt Doherty, who has been with the team since 2012. And Wolves stole a march by snagging more Portuguese weapons in Diego Jota and Ruben Neves last year,  as part of their Championship campaign. The result has been a team that has top-flight young talent but also the experience and cohesion to execute Nuno Espirito Santo’s gameplan.

it might not be hyperbole to say that Wolves are the best newly promoted team we’ve seen since Blackburn Rovers way back in 1992. They won the whole damn thing three years later.

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