The strangest season in the history of the English Premier League has come to an end, and for three teams, the battle against relegation came down to the final day.
As the final round of fixtures kicked off, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, and Watford were aware that two out of the three of them would be confirmed as relegated by the end of the day. All of them hoped that they would be the club to pull off the great escape. As we now know, that lucky club was Aston Villa.
A nail-biting 1-1 draw away at West Ham United was enough to keep them up. Bournemouth won away at Everton, but it wasn’t enough. Watford went down fighting with a 3-2 defeat away at Arsenal. Both of them will now join Norwich in the Championship next term.
Right now, all three clubs will be licking their wounds and resenting the mistakes that led them here. Soon, though, their attention will turn toward next season, and attempting to return to the promised land of the Premier League at the first opportunity. That won’t be an easy task. The Championship is one of the most competitive leagues in Europe, and teams that come down from above don’t always make it back quickly. It’s taken Leeds United sixteen years to return to the top-flight, and former Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers are still absent after being relegated in 2012.
There are three ways to get promoted to the Premier League. You can either win the Championship, come second, or try your luck in the lottery of the playoffs. Considering their random nature and the financial benefits on offer, you could compare the playoffs to the biggest football-themed game on any online slots website.
We’ve seen the playoffs throw up random results many times before; Blackpool’s promotion to the top flight in 2010 was more unlikely than any jackpot win on any online slots website you could name. As exciting and (occasionally) rewarding as online slots are, you wouldn’t ever rely on them to provide you with an income, and nor would any club rely on them as a means of promotion. Watford, Bournemouth, and Norwich will all be hoping to finish in the top two next year – but are any of them likely to? Let’s take a look.
It seems like a very long time ago now, but early on this season, Norwich looked like an exciting, attacking team, and Finnish striker Teemu Pukki was hailed as a goalscoring sensation. It took less than ten games for Norwich’s tactics to be found out and Pukki’s goals to dry up, and manager Daniel Farke was unable to find a working “plan B” to turn their fortunes around. Surprisingly, it appears that Farke will be given an opportunity to get Norwich out of this mess next season.
It’s less likely that he’ll be able to count on Pukki to assist him; rumor has it that he’s set to depart Carrow Road for newly-promoted Leeds. Like West Bromwich Albion, Norwich has developed a reputation for bouncing back and forth between the Championship and the Premier League, seemingly too good for the former but never quite good enough to survive in the latter. Their biggest problem next season might be that losing can become a habit if you do it often enough, and Norwich has been losing games consistently for most of the season. Past experience tells us they’ll be around the top 6, but winning the title might be a step too far.
Nobody expected Bournemouth to survive in the Premier League for as long as they did. Having won the Championship in 2015, they lasted for five years and played some attractive football during the time they were there. They lacked the resources to compete with the bigger clubs, though, and with the sides around them cherry-picking their best players, it was inevitable that they would lose their battle against gravity eventually.
Sadly for the club, the players, and their likable manager Eddie Howe, that battle has now come to an end. Bournemouth’s prospects next season will probably depend on what Howe decides to do next. The ambitious coach has proven that he can work with a budget, but seems to have become frustrated with what he perceives as the board’s lack of ambition, and has refused to commit himself to the club for next season. A decision on his future needs to be made urgently. With Howe in the dugout and some sensible purchases, Bournemouth has every chance of making it back into the top flight at the first time of asking. Without him, they could go into free fall.
Watford will spend big money in the quest to return to the Premier League. Their owners have already confirmed that, and in all honesty, they have never been shy about spending on the playing staff. What’s cost them their Premier League status is their inexplicable habit of sacking managers at illogical times.
The Hornets went through four managers in the 2019/2020 season and fired Nigel Pearson after the combative coach had led them from the bottom of the table into a position where their fate was in their own hands with only two games to go. Without Pearson, Watford lost both games and went down. No matter how much money Watford’s owners are willing to spend, a question has to be asked about what kind of self-respecting coach would go there in the knowledge that they could be sacked at any moment for any or no reason? The Watford manager’s job isn’t secure or desirable, and without a steady coach, they’ll likely struggle to generate steady form.
The 2020/2021 season will be a nerve-wracking one for fans of all three sides, but our prediction is that Norwich fans are likely to be the happiest when it’s over. They have more experience of getting out of the Championship than the other two clubs, and less uncertainty hanging over their immediate future. If Howe stays at Bournemouth, they have every chance of coming back as well, but without him, we suspect they may be gone for a while. For Watford, however, it’s hard to see how the story ends happily with the club’s current owners in situ.