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Dissecting our Premier League relegation battle

2nd August 2022

In his debut piece for Fulhamish, Peter Couch looks at our relegation rivals and gauges their chances of survival.

Even the most optimistic Fulham fan will admit that we are likely to be involved in another relegation battle this season. However, I believe that this year will be an open fight – and there are several teams who could be dragged into it. Here, I look at six teams I believe we’ll be competing with to avoid another relegation to the Championship.

The promoted sides

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Bournemouth

(Last season: second in the Championship)

Bournemouth are currently in a precarious position, having made just three signings so far this window. Free signings Ryan Fredericks and Joe Rothwell are smart recruits, but there are real question marks over whether they both have the quality to be Premier League starters. Fredericks has spent the last four seasons in the top flight with West Ham, where he’s struggled to make his mark, making only six starts in each of his last two seasons.

Rothwell has spent the last four seasons as a regular in Blackburn’s midfield and although his stats from last season are impressive, as he registered 10 assists, he’s never played in the Premier League. James Tavernier has also signed from Middlesborough and while that’s an exciting signing, Bournemouth already have several options in that area.

Bournemouth’s current squad still has several problems heading into the new season, particularly at centre-back (sound familiar?). Currently their only CBs are Lloyd Kelly, Chris Mepham and James Hill. Kelly is more than good enough to start in the Premier League. But I’m not convinced Mepham and Hill are good enough. They both saw limited game time for Bournemouth last season. Mepham featuring just 22 times, mostly from the bench, and Hill made only one substitute appearance after joining from Fleetwood in January.

Overall, there’s a lack of quality when you compare this Bournemouth side to the others in this league. There’s a big reliance on Dominic Solanke to score their goals and if he was to get an injury, they might struggle. Despite the questions over the quality of the squad, there’s a lot of continuity from last season, which could help Bournemouth’s survival hopes.

And then there’s Scott Parker. He showed during his time in the Premier League with Fulham that he focused on not losing games more than winning games, which ultimately led to our downfall. Fans were left disappointed with Parker’s uninspiring style of play, and a large portion of Bournemouth fans have come to similar conclusions about ‘Parkerball’. Maybe he’ll have learned from his mistakes and will take a new approach to trying to keep Bournemouth in the Premier League. But it’s unlikely given how he approached things last season – and this Bournemouth isn’t as talented as the Fulham side of 2020/21.

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Nottingham Forest

(Last Season: third in the Championship)

Forest have already seen a big change to the squad that got them promoted via the play-offs. This is largely down to the fact that they were very reliant on loans players, with four of the starting XI (Djed Spence, Joe Garner, Philip Zinckernagel and Keinan Davis) in the final being on loan, and none have returned to the club. As well as this, last season’s starting goalkeeper Brice Samba has joined Lens. But Forest have made some impressive signings so far this window, bringing in 11 new faces already.

Dean Henderson has come in on loan from Manchester United as replacement for Samba, and he’s proven himself in the Premier League during his previous spell with Sheffield United. Wayne Hennessey has also been signed from Burnley as an experienced backup. Forest have also replaced Djed Spence with Nico Williams from Liverpool for £17 million. As we all know, Williams is a very talented player, but I’m unsure if he’s worth that much money. He’s also a different type of full-back to Spence, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fits into Steve Cooper’s system.

Forest have also strengthened at left wing-back, with Omar Richards and Harry Toffolo joining from Bayern Munich and Huddersfield respectively. Toffolo has signed alongside former Huddersfield teammate Lewis O’Brian for a reported combined £10 million. Both of these players are good additions and should thrive in the Premier League after successful seasons in the Championship. Richards isn’t the only player that Forest have brought from the Bundesliga, with Moussa Niakhate, Taiwo Awoniyi and Orel Mangala joining from Mainz, Union Berlin and Stuttgart, respectively. All three have impressed in Germany and are likely to be important additions. Awoniyi will be crucial, and Forest will hope he can repeat his performance last season where he scored 15 goals.

Giulian Biancone has arrived from Troyes and will provide another option at right centre-back in a back three, as well as at right wing-back. Finally, Forest’s most impressive signing of the window is Jesse Lingard, who’s joined on a free. It was a surprise to see Lingard opt for Forest; he’s undoubtedly a brilliant player who will help their survival hopes.

This is obviously a lot of new faces to bring in at once, and it could take a while for these players to gel. Fulham faced this in both the 2018/2019 and 2020/21 seasons, where there were large overhauls of the squad. Forest will be hoping that they don’t suffer from this problem, and that the quality of the signings and the fact that they done the majority of their business early will prevent this and could be enough for them to survive.

Last season’s strugglers

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Leeds

(Last season: 17th)

Leeds are another side who have been very busy so far this summer, after narrowly avoiding relegation on the final day of last season. They’ve brought several players who know manager Jesse Marsch and will be familiar with the 4-2-2-2 system that I expect him to implement this season. Attacking midfielder Brenden Aaronsen and right-back Rasmus Kristensen have been signed from Red Bull Salzburg for £29 million and £12 million, respectively. Both played under Marsch at Salzburg and are talented players who should fit seamlessly into his system.

American international midfielder, Tyler Adams has also joined, and he played for Marsch during his brief spell as manager of RB Leipzig. Leeds have also completed the signings of Luis Sinisterra from Feyenoord and Marc Roca from Bayern Munich. Sinisterra, who was signed for around £22 million, is an exciting left winger who is coming of the back of a very good season. He scored 12 goals and racked up seven assists in the Eredivisie, as well as six goals and four assists in just 12 appearances in the Europa Conference League. Roca is a defensive midfielder, who was signed for around £10 million, and provides Leeds with more quality in midfield and will likely partner Adams.

Overall, I think Leeds have a great window so far and have done most of their business early, allowing their new players plenty of time to settle in. However, they will need them to hit the ground running to help replace the departures of Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha.

A key issue that Leeds have is the fitness of Patrick Bamford. Bamford was Leeds’s top scorer in the 2020/21 season with 17. But due to injury he managed just nine Premier League appearances last time out, scoring only twice. Without Bamford, Leeds struggle to score goals and don’t have another proven Premier League goalscorer in their squad. Currently they have Rodrigo, who has failed to live up to the expectations of his arrival, and Joe Gelhdart, who although very talented isn’t a prolific goalscorer yet.

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Everton

(Last season: 16th)

Just like Leeds, Everton struggled last season, and only narrowly avoided relegation. But unlike Leeds, Everton haven’t been very active this summer and have made just three signings. James Tarkowski has joined on a free after leaving Burnley. He provides some solidity for Everton at the back, which they lacked last season. Ruben Vinagre has also joined on loan from Sporting Lisbon, to provide cover at left-back.

Finally, Dwight McNeil has joined from Burnley and gives Everton another option out wide, where they were weak. Although these are good signings they are clearly lacking in other areas of the pitch, especially in midfield. Everton have been linked to several players, the most recently returns for Idrissa Gueye and Ross Barkley.

Another problem is the departure of Richarlison and the loss of his goals. Richarlison was a talisman at times last season for Everton, scoring 10 goals including some vital ones at the end of the season. Without him, it’s more than likely that Everton would be preparing for life in the Championship right now.

The reliance on Richarlison last season was in partly down to the Dominic Calvert-Lewin’ injury issues. He made just 15 starts, meaning that Richarlison was left with the responsibility of being the main goalscorer. If Calvert-Lewin can stay fit this season, then he will probably score enough goals to make up for the loss. However, if he gets injured again, Salomon Rondon would be the likely replacement. This is a problem for Everton, and they should look for another option up front before the end of the window.

Other teams who could be in the mix

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Southampton

(Last season: 15th)

The Saints were never in any real danger last season. But their form at the end of last season is a cause for concern; they lost four in a row and won just one of their final 12 matches. If this continues into the new campaign, they will find themselves in trouble and Ralph Hasenhuttl’s job will come under threat. So far Southampton have been relatively busy in the transfer market, making six signings. Gavin Bazunu has arrived from Manchester City for £13 million and will compete for the number 1 spot with Alex McCarthy. Bazunu has impressed both internationally for the Republic of Ireland and on loan at Portsmouth in League One. But he lacks any Premier League experience so it will be interesting to see how quickly he adapts to making the step up.

Southampton have also signed Romeo Lavia from Manchester City for £11 million. Lavia will help provide competition for James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu in the centre of midfield and is an exciting signing for the future, at just 18 years old. Armel Bella-Kotchap has also been signed from Vfl Bochum. The 20-year-old centre back provides more depth for Southampton in defence and could become the ideal partner for Mohamed Salisu.

Potentially Southampton’s most impressive signing of the summer is Joe Aribo from Rangers for a reported £6 million. Aribo will play in attacking midfield for Southampton and is perfect for their high-pressing system. Finally, Sekou Mara has been signed from Bordeaux, to address the lack of options up front for Southampton. Mara is just 20 years old and scored seven goals in Ligue 1 last season.

The majority of Southampton’s signings fit into their strategy of buying young players and aiming to develop them to sell on for profit. This a risky strategy and it will be interesting to see how long they can continue to have success with this.

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Brentford

(Last Season: 13th)

Brentford’s aim for this year will be remaining in the division and avoiding the infamous ‘second season syndrome’. So far Brentford have made four signings. The first was Aaron Hickey from Bologna for £15 million. Hickey is an exciting talent who can play both left and right-back as well as wing-back and provides versatility to play both four and five at the back. Brentford have also completed the signing of Keane Lewis-Potter from Hull for £17 million. The 21-year-old winger has been a target for a couple of windows now and should be ready to take the step up to the Premier League. Albanian international goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, who was previously linked with Fulham, has joined from Lazio to provide competition for David Raya. Finally, Ben Mee has joined on a free transfer from Burnley. Brentford’s data-driven approach to recruitment has been successful in finding players who fit into Thomas Frank’s style of play, so you would expect these players to settle in quickly.

A big loss going to into the new season is that of Christian Eriksen to Manchester United. Eriksen was crucial to Brentford’s success last season, and they may have gone down without his arrival in January. One player who is already at the club and I think could help to fill the void left by Eriksen is Josh Dasilva. Dasilva missed the majority of last season due to injury. But before this he was one Brentford key players and was attracting interest from several Premier League clubs. Although DaSilva doesn’t offer the same level of creativity as Eriksen, he’s an attacking force from midfield.

This isn’t the first time that Brentford had deal with losing a key player, having lost the likes of Neal Maupay, Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma in previous seasons, and they’ve still been able to continue to progress. But to do this in the Premier League is a completely different challenge. How well they deal with this latest loss will be a key factor in whether they are successful in avoiding the drop this campaign.

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