Early term report: Grading the Premier League’s promoted clubs

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12th, 17th and 18th.

After seven games and seven weeks of the Premier League season, such are the positions of the three promoted clubs – Sheffield United, Norwich City and Aston Villa, respectively.

But are the league positions truly reflective of how they have performed? And what do the underlying trends suggest about where they might end up?

Let’s begin with the current highest side, Sheffield United.

There are different schools of thought when you get promoted to the promised land of the Premier League.

Perhaps you let the status and new-found financial riches tempt you into going after established stars. Or at the other end of the scale, you keep faith with what got you there.

The latter was certainly the Chris Wilder approach before the start of his club’s first top-flight campaign since 2007. 

And so far, his players are vindicating him. 

Their recent win over Everton was perhaps a little fortunate – the expected goals (xG) metric was 1.23 : 0.45 against – but after six games the expected points (xPts) metric had them in 10th, which was exactly where they sat before losing narrowly – and perhaps undeservedly – to Liverpool last weekend. 

So how are they being successful? Much was made of Wilder’s ‘overlapping centre-backs’ concept before the season started, and that’s still been a feature – but in broader terms, simply keeping a consistent backline has been the key.

Five of their back six, comprising the Irish pair of John Egan and Enda Stevens (£0.82), and the English trio of George Baldock (£0.81), Jack O’Connell (£0.48) and ‘keeper Dean Henderson (£0.53) have played every league minute so far.

The result? The joint-second fewest goals conceded.

It’s not quite been the same story of defensive solidity at Carrow Road.

The Canaries of Daniel Farke have conceded the second-most goals in the league so far, behind only Watford – who conceded eight in one game.

It’s been at the other end where Norwich have shone, and one man, in particular, has taken to the top-flight like a duck to water – Teemu Pukki (£1.81).

The flying Finn has already scored six times in just seven league outings (and notched twice for Finland during the international break for good measure).

As a result of his increased exposure and form, his price on our index has risen 63% in the last three months, from £1.18 to £1.81.

He’s certainly had a supply line though. Argentinian Emi Buendia (£1.45) has four assists to his name and is living up to his fans’ ditty that he is ‘5’7” and football heaven’.

Norwich are nonetheless languishing close to the relegation zone and in contrast to Sheffield United, their injuries have had a part to play. According to premierinjuries.com, they currently have as many as ten senior players out, and for a side with a modest budget, this is an unsustainable toll.

No such worries at Villa Park at the moment, where Dean Smith has a much cleaner bill of health.

However, his charges find themselves the lowest of the three promoted sides in 18th.

What is this down to?

Although there’s been just a single goal margin in three of their four defeats, ultimately this is reflective of the Villans giving their opponents too many looks at their goal. 

After the first six games of the season, they had conceded the third-highest number of shots (96), including 21 in their recent trip to Arsenal.

Smith’s 4-3-3 is set up to contain attack-minded players, but expecting the inexperienced Douglas Luiz (£0.74) or Marvelous Nakamba to patrol the whole area in front of the back four is a big ask. 

The area needs bolstering if they to are to pull away from the basement.

So three clubs, three approaches, and three different starts.

Premier League history doesn’t look too favourably on porous defences, and while Sheffield United have currently got theirs functioning well, their fellow promotees will need to address their failings in this area if they hope to keep their place among England’s elite.

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About Author

Rob is a football writer who has featured on Football Espana, Crystal Palace FC and BBC Sport. A long-time Indexer, he prefers an assist to a goal.

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