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The newly-promoted teams conundrum: Who’s for the drop?

Eleven games into the 2014/15 Premier League campaign, and the three relegation spots are currently filled by the three newly-promoted sides.

Leicester, Burnley and QPR have all found life in England’s top division difficult, and at this rate it’ll be only the second time all three promoted sides have gone straight back down, after 1997/98 saw Barnsley, Bolton and Crystal Palace relegated.

football on pitch in stadium

Leicester, Burnley and QPR represent two very different types of side. Whereas QPR were in the Premier League two seasons ago, and started this campaign with an experienced Premier League manager and experienced Premier League footballers, they lacked the concepts that actually create a successful team. A lack of team spirit has been obvious over the past few years, and the continued chopping and changing of the playing staff means there’s little discernible identity.

On the other hand, Leicester and Burnley were at the opposite end of the spectrum. The automatically promoted duo boasted great togetherness in the dressing room, plus young, talented managers who had imposed a particular style of football upon their side, which suited the Championship perfectly. However, neither Nigel Pearson nor Sean Dyche had any previous Premier League experience, and there was little top-flight knowledge amongst the players, either.

Premier League experience was once valued highly, but in recent years it’s been notable how many teams in Leicester and Burnley’s situations have excelled. 2011/12 was a great example, with both Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea and Paul Lambert’s Norwich arriving in the top-flight with a squad full of apparently Championship-level players.

Nevertheless, both had a defined playing style – Swansea kept the ball brilliantly, while Norwich were highly reactive, but also very attacking. They stayed true to their beliefs, and finished comfortably midtable. The next season, Southampton (while undergoing a managerial change midway through their first campaign) also pushed on after a difficult start, again without much Premier League experience in their ranks.

A sudden ‘clicking’, after about two months in the top division, is notable throughout all three of those examples. The players needed to experience the difference in technical quality, and the managers realised how to adjust tactically, particularly in a defensive sense: Southampton’s improvement was particularly stark in this respect. Therefore, once that experience was acquired, the team spirit and football philosophy shone through.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be an imminent ‘clicking’ around the corner for either Leicester or Burnley. In fact, the Foxes have gone backwards after an extremely bright opening – after eight points from their first five games, they’ve collected just one from their subsequent six. The honeymoon period is over, and an approach largely based around getting the ball wide and crossing has been sussed out by opponents. Leonardo Ulloa, who appeared a superb signing a month into the campaign, has gone incredibly quiet – since the famous 5-3 victory over Manchester United, he hasn’t scored and has managed just one shot in 426 minutes.

Burnley, meanwhile, collected their first victory last time out – a narrow 1-0 home win over Hull. Nevertheless, this feels like the exception rather than the start of a good run. Dyche is a manager with a bright future in the game, but a disastrous summer transfer window means Burnley, realistically, are without players capable of competing at this level. Again, their strategy seems basic and the defence hits too many long balls, while being unable to contain opposition strikers themselves. It seems like a hopeless situation.

The team that has suddenly clicked, however, is QPR. Harry Redknapp’s side started the campaign disastrously, especially when using a three-man backline, but there’s been a sudden transformation over the last month. QPR were superb in the first half of an unfortunate 3-2 defeat against Liverpool, and competed well against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, going down 2-1. They also beat Aston Villa 2-0 and went ahead against Manchester City twice before drawing 2-2.

Clearly, four points from four matches isn’t good enough, and QPR need to start converting performances into results. Nevertheless, these have been good displays against quality opponents, and the only relegation battler during that run, Aston Villa, have been despatched with ease. Considering Redknapp’s side face both Burnley and Leicester within the next four matches, there’s every chance QPR will pull away from them before Christmas.

The impressive form of Bobby Zamora has been crucial in allowing QPR to play more directly, and this in turn has brought the best from Charlie Austin, who has hit four goals in three matches. The good work of Eduardo Vargas on the right flank has brought more technical quality to the side, too.

All things considered, it’s surprising that QPR’s relegation odds are much shorter than Leicester’s. QPR are 2.3 with Coral for the drop, and as short as 1.91 in places – whereas Leicester are available at 3.25 with BetVictor, which seems way too big. Pearson’s side started well but might have peaked with that victory over Manchester United, and are worth backing for the drop.

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[tweet_box]Michael Cox selects out of #Burnley #Leicester & #QPR will be heading back to the Championship[/tweet_box]

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November 20th, 2014 by Michael Cox

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