Promotion to the Premier League can be a strenuous plight for any club. Now halfway through the 2014/15 season, Burnley, QPR, and Leicester are feeling that strain first hand
When it comes to newly promoted Premier League teams, the outcome is typically stoneclad. Of the three underdogs, two usually struggle to stay up — often failing — while one surprises everyone with a stellar mid-table finish. Well, this year is a little different. But just a little. While each of the newbies suck in their own special way, there are still plenty of compelling reasons to care about what happens to them. Yes, one appears to be better than the other two, but only slightly. Though that could all change by the time May rolls around.
Currently: 17th place
Well, if we’re sticking to the “one of these teams is different than the others,” then I suppose Burnley is the Highlander of the promoted sides. Although nearly by default. Sean Dyche’s side has had a variety of ups-and-downs so far this season. An unexpected win against Southampton and two steely draws against both Manchester clubs stand out as the early highlights, although their minus-14 goal differential is still tied for worst in the whole league.
The key to Burnley’s relative success has been consistency. Let’s be clear, this isn’t consistency on the level of a Bayern Munich, but even a shred of normalcy can carry you towards the promised land in a relegation scrap. Burnley suffered a three game losing streak in late October, but that’s about as bad as it’s gotten for the Clarets. As long as they’re fighting for points on a steady basis, they’ll manage to stay afloat; especially with a whole slew of awful teams swimming below.
Now for the uncomfortable stuff.
Burnley’s 19 goals scored is third-worst in the EPL, which crystallizes the critical impact of striker Danny Ings. Ings leads the team in both goals and assists, with six and three, respectively. The attacking presence of George Boyd and Ashley Barnes — who’ve each tallied four league goals — will hopefully, for Burnley, pick up some slack for Ings in the second half of the season; especially if the unthinkable happens.
The “unthinkable” is the possible transfer of Ings.
Ings’ expiring contract brings speculation over his immediate future as a Burnley player. Impressed by his performances, both Tottenham and Liverpool are reported to be keen on securing the 22-year-old’s services. As with many struggling football clubs, the potential of cashing in on an in-form player, in-turn maximizing your investment, is often too great to bypass. But hang on just a minute. True, with just a couple of weeks left in the January transfer window, it’d be “silly” not to expect interest in the striker to clog the phonelines at Turf Moor. However, it’d be even sillier to expect Burnley to let him leave. By the looks of it, his staying could be the difference between bathing in next year’s tub of EPL TV rights cash and rewatching video all summer wondering where things went wrong. Everything kind of hinges on the outcome of this situation.
Currently: 19th place
At the beginning of the season, I believed Harry Redknapp’s Royals were sureshots for relegation, and my opinion of their survival hasn’t changed. There are two piercing, undeniable knocks against QPR’s season. One has been their terrible defensive record: their minus-37 goal differential is far and away the worst in the league. The team that concedes the most is almost always relegated, period. Secondly, QPR have failed to pick up a single away point this season. That’s ten game, ten losses. Yes, this team is bad. Like, bad bad. The only semblance of sunlight has been that their last three PL wins have come against relegation rivals West Brom, Burnley, and Leicester. It’s imperative that they perform well against those sides at the very least.
But then there’s Charlie Austin.
Charlie Austin’s one of those players who makes you question everything about everything. The Englishman is third-best in the PL with 13 goals. Alongside Harry Kane, he’s has been the chief breakthrough centreforward in England. Coming into every promotion season, the debate was, and always is, whether or not Player X can carry his lower-league aptitude over and up one level, the highest level. Austin has taken those questions and made them into sonnets. The 25-year-old’s hat-trick against West Brom stands above and beyond any moment at Loftus Road this campaign. Despite how terrible Rangers have been, you still feel like they’re capable of the odd magical result, so long as Austin is leading the line.
However, the issue arises when you look at the rest of QPR’s goals. Austin’s 13 goals account for 57 percent of the teams full tally, which is far too high to not be of dire concern. After Austin, the next leading scorer is Leroy Fer with four; after that, there’s four separate players with one each. It’s unacceptable to be so blatantly reliant on one individual, and if Redknapp doesn’t sort out this lopsided structure of his squad, relegation won’t just be likely, it’ll be definite.
Currently: 20th place
Leicester City currently find themselves draped in uncertainty. They’ve been unequivocally the worst side in the PL this season. The table doesn’t lie in that regard. They’re dead last and have lost 12 of their 21 matches. Their goal differential is minus-13, second worst in the league. Here’s how poor they’ve been: from late September to late December, they managed only two draws in thirteen matches; that’s two points out of a possible 39.
It doesn’t sound uncertain, I know. It sounds like they’re just a really, really, really bad team that will undoubtedly be pawning nPower swag come August. The thing is, they might finally be turning a corner here.
The Foxes have three wins and a draw in their last four matches, including an away win against Hull, an away draw with Liverpool, and an FA Cup triumph over Newcastle. It seems unlikely, but if Nigel Pearson’s side are going to formulate a climb up the table, it has to start soon, preferably now.
It’s increasingly difficult to single out superior performers in such a downtrodden side, but there have been a few outstanding Foxes this campaign. Leonardo Ulloa is the leading goalscorer with seven in the PL, while Jeffrey Schlupp follows him with four; both are having reputable campaigns. But it’s really been right winger Riyad Mahrez who has recently shone brightest for Leicester. The Algerian midfielder has a goal and two assists in the Foxes’ last three league matches. He’s just the kind of aggressive goal-threat they’ll need in the season’s final months.
It doesn’t look good for Leicester, even with the recent run of positive results. Of their next seven league matches, five of them are against each of Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea, and Manchester City. Steal a few points here and there, and safety could be around the corner. But lose most or all of those game, as they’re likely to, and the drop awaits with open arms.
Also, relegation scraps are usually spearheaded by special individuals who rise to the occasion and locate a hidden reserve that allows him to be superhuman on those March/April afternoon kickoffs. Often it’s a player (see: Carlos Tevez for West Ham in 2006), but it can also be a manager (see: Tony Pulis every year). I’m not sure I see that figure in the Foxes’ locker room. Is it Ulloa? Mahrez? Pearson? Maybe, maybe, and maybe. But probably not. Get the ‘chutes ready, boys.