We’re coming to the end of the English Premier League season, with only two or three games left to play for the twenty clubs involved. This is usually the most exciting part of the whole season, with the title to be decided, Champions League places to play for, and teams battling it out at the foot of the table to avoid the dreaded drop into the Championship. That’s not the case this time around.
The title has already been decided. It’s gone to Manchester City. Both they and Manchester United already have Champions League football sewn up for next season, with Chelsea and Leicester looking likely to join them. Everything’s already settled at the bottom of the league, too. Even with up to nine points still to play for, Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion, and Fulham have already seen their fate sealed. They’ll be rejoining the Championship for 2021/2022.
We say “rejoining” because all three of them have been there very recently. For Fulham and West Brom, this was their first season back in the top flight after fighting hard to return to it. Sheffield United came up the season before and excelled themselves, but everything went to pieces this time around. It’s always disappointing to lose two of the “new” teams no sooner than they’ve arrived, and the prospect of the three times who replace them being the same three teams who went down at the end of the 2019/2020 season makes the Premier League feel a little stale. We’re not here to talk about the promoted teams, though. We’re talking about the ones who’ve taken the fall. What went wrong for them? Let’s see if we can work a few things out.
Sheffield United was most people’s pick to finish bottom of the table during their inaugural season back in the Premier League. The fact that they didn’t was to the credit of manager Chris Wilder, but what’s happened at Bramall Lane this season makes Wilder’s achievement look more fortuitous than deliberate. After finishing in the top half of the table, the onus was on the club to strengthen during the summer transfer window in the hope of hitting even greater heights this time around. They broke their transfer record to sign highly-rated young Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster and then confused everyone by not using him.
The amount of money spent on Brewster meant that the Blades couldn’t strengthen elsewhere on the field, and they started the season in disastrous fashion by failing to score a single point in their first ten games. Chris Wilder allegedly attempted to resign twice but asked for a multi-million-pound settlement fee to leave.
With an underperforming team, a star striker sat on the bench, and a manager who didn’t want to be there, it’s no surprise that the Blades are yet to reach twenty points for the campaign. It’s also a damning indictment of the board that the team still doesn’t have a permanent manager after Wilder eventually departed in mid-March. Disorganised both on and off the pitch, Sheffield United looked rudderless all season and paid the inevitable price for it.
West Bromwich Albion
There are questions about the ambition of West Brom’s board. It’s almost a requirement to spend money on strengthening when you get promoted into the Premier League, but West Brom barely spent any. Popular coach Slaven Bilic was fired very early in the campaign, and his replacement was the formerly retired Sam Allardyce. Allardyce’s calling card was that he’d never been relegated from the Premier League. When you’re using that justification to appoint a manager as early as December, there’s a problem.
Allardyce came in too late to have a significant say in the club’s January transfer activity, and so his impact on the look and shape of the team was limited. More importantly than that, his results at the helm were no better than Bilic’s. West Brom’s squad never looked likely to be good enough to survive in the Premier League, and so it proved to be the case. The high point of their season was a shocking 5-2 win away at Chelsea, but that was a brief moment of respite in a season of misery.
By this stage, we’ve all seen West Brom get promoted and relegated from the Premier League multiple times. They appear to be too good for the Championship but uninterested in trying to reach the next level by buying the players who would make them a force in the Premier League. That has to be frustrating for their fans, but also for fans of other teams who’d love to see their side take the Premier League spot that West Brom waste so routinely. Let’s hope they learn something from their nightmarish campaign this time.
We can’t say that Fulham owner Tony Khan isn’t ambitious. He might, however, have been both too distracted and too cautious with his handling of the club this season. As likeable as manager Scott Parker is, he never looked likely to be the right man to drag Fulham to safety. Khan should probably have gambled on replacing him, but he didn’t.
That’s ironic for a man who runs a pro wrestling company that uses a gambling theme and even has an online slots game styled after it. If anyone knows that a risk and a gamble sometimes pays off with online slots, it’s Khan. He didn’t seem interested in taking a metaphorical trip to nz.roseslots.com, though. He crossed his fingers and hoped his faith in his manager would pay off, but it didn’t. Apparently, his interest in online slots extends only to his wrestling company.
It’s the existence of the wrestling company that raises eyebrows for a few Fulham fans. Khan is a huge wrestling fan and has poured millions of dollars and hours of his time into running All Elite Wrestling. He hopes that it will one day rival WWE for fans and prestige. He’s within his rights to do that, but he can’t be in two places at the same time. Some Fulham fans think he’s taken his eye off the ball during the past twelve months. The fortunes of their team might suggest they’re right.
There are lessons to be learned by all three of these teams. Whether they’ll learn them or not is something we’ll only find out next season. In the case of Fulham and West Brom, they’ll have to do much better next time around. Sheffield United look to be in the worst state of the three clubs, though, and we fear that things might get worse before they get better for fans of the Blades.