Dropping from the English Premier League to the Championship can be a slippery slope. A quick drop followed by a return to the top flight is possible, but spending a prolonged period in the Championship – or descending to an even lower division – is equally so. With so much on the line, teams want to make a swift move back up to make sure the club stays healthy. These recent droppers have used that sense of urgency to their advantage, as they hope their hot starts to the Championship campaign culminate in promotion.
Aston Villa was a mainstay in the Premier League, remaining in the league from when it launched in 1992 to when they fell from grace in 2016. Having now spent a couple of seasons on the outside, Villa is feeling the pressure to get back to the highest level of the sport in England by earning promotion this season. And this year, in particular, feels like a high-stakes season for Villa who run the risk of staying in the Championship for a long time if they don’t get promoted soon.
Fortunately for Villa supporters, the team has played with a clear intent to move back up to the Premier League. The team picked up two quick wins to start the season, defeating Wigan Athletic and Hull City. Those two wins were particularly notable for being against other teams recently relegated from the Premier League, thus being teams that still had some decent resources with which to build a team.
Also impressive has been Villa’s ability to score goals early in the season. Villa scored three goals against both Hull and Wigan, doing a great job of setting the tone for the season with their attacking prowess. Goals get harder to come by over the course of a season, but if Villa can prolong such difficulties they can give themselves a genuine chance to move to the top of the Championship table and stay there.
Villa has also received praise for their stability this season. The team has received praise in the form of Championship betting tips and previews from Oddschecker for not sacking Steve Bruce. Deciding to keep an experienced manager at the helm is a good decision for a team already going through so many changes, after dropping from the Premier League.
Swansea City are completely new to the Championship, which can be a difficult place to be. First-year Championship sides are usually at a crossroads: they are trying to spend their way back into the Premier League but, unless they do this quickly, they’ll soon have to vastly change such spending habits, to avoid financial ruin.
Swansea have responded well to that pressure in the early parts of the Championship campaign, finding themselves near the top of the table. The Swans, like Villa, won their first two matches in the 2018-2019 season, albeit in a less flashy way than Villa has been able to. Two relatively low scoring results are worth the same number of points as two high scoring results, though, and the point totals matter, when all is said and done.
What is striking about Swansea’s early season performance is that they haven’t received a satisfactory performance from their transfers yet. Graham Potter has made a point to implore supporters to give his new players a chance to get accustomed to playing with the team before judging their overall ability. But the fact that those players aren’t fully worked into the team yet and that Swansea continue to win matches is impressive in its own right.
Swansea will have to contend with more difficult teams as the season goes on, taking on the other recent dropouts from Premier League competition. Those will be the games that truly test the mettle of a squad looking to make a quick down and up. But regardless of the tests on the horizon, it has been an encouraging start for the Welsh side.
One of the hardest things about dropping from the Premier League to a lower division is the increased difficulty of defending. Going from a Premier League budget to a Championship one impacts the entire team, but with attacking players coming with an altogether more expensive price tag than defenders, the backline budget can really take a hit in the drop down.
So far, Middlesbrough has done a very good job in defence in spite of those financial realities, which could be enough to carry them through their season and back up to the Premier League. The team has kept multiple clean sheets in their first month of Championship football. Rather than just the effort of a backline committed to holding things down for a midfield to rush forward and ruthlessly attack, their defence has been a team effort.
That defensive philosophy is aided by having experienced players like Stewart Downing in the squad, who have experience playing the game at a high level. Having played for elite top-flight teams, Downing can speak to the importance of everyone sacrificing to make the defensive plays necessary to win, which has gone well for the team so far this season.
For Boro to continue their run of success, though, they will want to see more from their attacking players. Martin Braithwaite has been on the score sheet this season as an attacking player, but the team hasn’t been overly impressive up front. When it gets to the later portions of the Championship campaign, having players who are able to break through with a moment of individual brilliance can be the difference between promotion and staying put. That’s a concern worth keeping an eye on over the course of this season.
Fortunately for Boro, there may be some hope for continued improvement, as they are in the hunt to snag elite Real Madrid prospect Martin Odegaard. For a team off to a good start, a move like that could really push things over the top.
Consistency from game to game is another challenge teams face when they drop to the Championship. Early in their first season in the Championship, West Brom have dealt with that concern from time to time, which could again cost teams their passage back into the highest level of English football.
West Brom scored just one goal in a couple of their early matches this season but followed those two opening games with a four-goal outburst against Norwich City. While it’s great to get four goals, it’s only valuable if you’re able to score goals enough to consistently earn three points at a time. Otherwise, qualifying for the promotion playoff rounds looks unlikely, let alone finishing in the top two spots to avoid them entirely.
That lack of consistency was again on display when the Baggies followed up a seven-goal performance against Queens Park Rangers with a scoreless defeat at Middlesbrough. At some point, it has to be maddening for West Brom supporters to see their team can swing from scoring half a dozen goals in a match to zero in the next. The worst part for West Brom is that even they don’t seem to know, as they come out on the pitch, which of those outcomes is the most likely.
When a club has had a taste of Premier League football (and the cash that comes with it), they want to do anything they can to get back to those highs. If they fail, it could do irreparable harm to the club on a long-term basis. But with these teams off to a good start this Championship season, hope is springing eternal that a return to one of the world’s best leagues is around the corner.