- Leicester City, Leeds United and Southampton have all been relegated from the Premier League
- It’s going to be a summer of change for all three clubs in terms of transfers
- They’re all among the favourites for promotion from the Championship next season
Most years, at least one of the newly-promoted Premier League teams will get relegated right back down to the Championship. And after Nottingham Forest signed about three starting XIs worth of players, Bournemouth sacked Scott Parker and lost 9-0 to Liverpool, and Fulham seemed set to continue their recent yo-yo pattern, it looked as though 2022-23 would be another one of those years.
But all three teams defied early predictions to stay up with relative ease. Instead, Southampton went down without barely a whimper, and Leicester City and Leeds United both went down on the final day. Leeds were soundly beaten by Tottenham Hotspur at home, while Leicester beat West Ham United at home but it wasn’t enough as Everton beat Bournemouth too.
Southampton and Leicester in particular have both been Premier League staples for a few years, both upsetting the ‘Big Six’ in the 2010s, while Leeds’ three-year Premier League stay has come to an end. But, which of the three has the best chance of going back up to the Premier League in a year’s time?
Disappointing campaigns and players moving on
We’ll start with Southampton, who were so disappointing this season. Considered a model club a few short years ago due to shrewd recruitment and good managers in Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, they’ve gradually fallen from being one of the ‘best of the rest’ to flirting with relegation over the last few seasons.
Last year, they gambled. A squad overhaul saw long-serving players like Oriol Romeu, Nathan Redmond, Shane Long and Fraser Forster depart, and Jack Stephens went out on loan. In came young Manchester City quartet Gavin Bazunu, Romeo Lavia, Samuel Edozie and Juan Larios, and German defender Armel Bella-Kotchap, among others.
It didn’t work, but if Southampton keep most of their team together, they could have a decent chance of doing well next season. Their young players will be a year older and have had another year of playing together. The worry is that the likes of Lavia, Bella-Kotchap, and of course captain James Ward-Prowse, arguably at his peak and certainly above Championship quality, will move on and disrupt the team.
Likewise, Leicester know that there’s going to be some huge changes, with a number of big players moving on. Caglar Soyuncu, Youri Tielemans, Jonny Evans, and Ayoze Perez, who has been on loan at Real Betis this season, are set to leave on free transfers. Jamie Vardy is 36 now and it looks as if age might finally be catching up with him.
James Maddison will leave. Harvey Barnes looks likely to go. And there will be question marks over the futures of players like Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfried Ndidi, and Wout Faes.
And then there’s Leeds. A historically big club but not one with the recent Premier League success of Southampton or certainly Leicester. There’s going to be interest in players like Crysencio Summerville and Jack Harrison, while American duo Brendan Aaronson and Tyler Adams are likely to leave. They could, and probably should, still fight for the title, but as we’ve seen, it can be difficult to get out of the second tier.
The managerial hotseat
What about managers? Dean Smith at Leicester certainly divides opinion, but the former Aston Villa and Norwich City manager knows the Championship well, and if he stays is a decent option at that level. It looks as though Russell Martin is going to swap Swansea City for Southampton imminently, once conflict over compensation is ironed out. He’s a good young manager who, like Smith, knows the Championship.
Sam Allardyce has left Leeds after their relegation, and at the time of writing his replacement has not been announced. Steven Gerrard is the favourite, with odds as short as 3/1 with some bookmakers, but other names mooted have included ex-Leeds man Lee Bowyer, Brendan Rodgers, and Carlos Corberan.
Fighting for promotion?
The Championship is going to be a tough league next year. Alongside the three relegated teams are the likes of Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Norwich and West Bromwich Albion. On paper, Leicester have a team that should walk the league, but there could be plenty of change for the Foxes over the next couple of months. While many bigger teams have struggled after relegation in recent years (Aston Villa spent three years in the Championship, while Sunderland went down to League One) they should have enough to challenge for the top two.
Southampton are an interesting one. Keep the majority of that young team together, perhaps adding a sprinkle of grizzled second-tier experience and they could do well. This is particularly the case under Martin’s tutelage.
And as for Leeds, it’s hard to say. It depends on who stays and who goes, and of course the manager they’re able to get in.
Overall, it is probably Leicester with the best chance of bouncing back up. Their relegation was a shock to the system, and shows that even if you can mix it with the big boys, there’s no guarantee of a Premier League place. But they should be back in the top flight soon. It would be no surprise to see Southampton and Leeds also occupying automatic promotion or play-off places, either.
But the Championship is one of the most unpredictable leagues around, and it’s hard to know for sure how things will turn out over the course of the next 12 months. After all, who thought Luton Town would be promoted to the Premier League?
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