The ‘magical 40-point mark’. It’s not immediately obvious where that mythical total for ensuring Premier League survival first arose, but managers from Sam Allardyce to Tony Pulis have regularly used it as the benchmark of success even though it is not strictly true. The optimum number is actually 43. No team has ever reached that mark and failed to stay up.
As the new season is gets underway, the conversation surrounding the newly promoted teams is quite different. Rarely has such optimism prevailed with Wolves, Fulham and Cardiff harbouring aspirations for the ensuing nine months. The former two have even been tipped to not only survive but potentially finish in the top ten – a far cry from nail-biting points hunts in May.
Wolves have provided much of the intrigue in English football over the past few years and look set to do so again. The club were purchased by Chinese conglomerate Fosun International in 2016 following China’s president Xi Jinping’s call to expand the country’s football power. The ownership immediately set their sights on the Premier League and partnered with long-term business associate Jorge Mendes – agent to such luminaries as Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho – to oversee transfers.
In his de facto director of football role, Mendes facilitated eye-opening deals for Portuguese duo Helder Costa and Ivan Carvaleiro during the 2016/17 season. Mendes’ first ever client Nuno Espirito Santo was brought to the club as head coach and Wolves continued their impressive recruitment drive, signing another six Portuguese players including the much-feted Porto youngster Ruben Neves. Promotion was secured in emphatic style as they almost broke the 100-point barrier.
“We’re looking at doing more than surviving,” Wolves’ managing director, Laurie Dalrymple, said in June. “I think the strategy we’ve had has been about building a squad and a structure we think is going to be viable to take us further, beyond promotion.”
This summer, Wolves have bolstered a squad that was already Premier League standard, signing European championship winners Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho and breaking their previous transfer record for Middlesbrough’s Adama Traore. They began their return to the top flight with a 2-2 draw against Marco Silva’s Everton in an entertaining affair. The standout performer on the day was Neves, who looked a Champions League calibre player in the Championship. He possesses unerring confidence and when he was shadowing a free-kick at Molineux, there was little doubt he would score, such is his technique from a dead ball. Over the weekend they suffered a setback, losing 2-0 away to ten-man Leicester City, but it’s clear this is a club going places.
Fulham return to the Premier League after a six year absence a different, more vibrant club. Propelled by an academy with one of the most impressive production lines in the country, they earned promotion in nerve-shredding fashion through the play-offs. The Cottagers had perhaps the standout transfer window of any club in the division, signing Jean Michael Serri, Alfie Mawson, Sergio Rico, Luciano Vietto and Andre Schurrle as well as making Aleksander Mitrovic’s loan from Newcastle permanent.
Despite losing their first two matches to Crystal Palace and Tottenham, Fulham supporters should remain excited about the months ahead. They have the precociously talented Ryan Sessegnon and in Slavisa Jokanovic, a coach who won’t deviate from his principles. “We are not going to change the style. We are not going to hit balls or park the bus. It would not be a good plan. The Premier League is very demanding, we need to change things. But we’re not going to give up our style.”
Cardiff manager Neil Warnock is another man who won’t veer too far away from his idea of how the game should be played. The Bluebirds earned promotion with the joint-best defensive record in the Championship last year and Warnock has always prioritised the basics over any grandiose notions. “We will enjoy it, because we shouldn’t really be here. Instead of fearing it, we’ve got to enjoy every minute.”
Warnock’s club largely appear to agree and have approached their survival mission in a more frugal manner than they mustered during their previous stint in the 2013/14 season. Cardiff’s entire transfer outlay of roughly £28 million is comparable to what Bournemouth spent on Colombian international Jefferson Lima, but Josh Murphy should add speed and creativity out wide. They opened with 2-0 defeat to Eddie Howe’s side and followed it up with a gritty 0-0 against Newcastle. Goals may prove an issue, yet solidity at the back ensures they’ve every chance of beating the drop.
Last season all three promoted teams avoided relegation, only the second time that has happened in 15 years. This trio are as well equipped as any to repeat the trick and, given the long-term strategy employed by all three, it wouldn’t even be that big a surprise.
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