The congested winter period often proves decisive in the Premier League, with so many games crammed into so few days. The teams who are expected to struggle like to start the campaign well but it’s not uncommon for newly promoted sides to hit the ground running and then falter once their squad becomes stretched by injuries and fatigue. The experience of the three sides promoted to the Premier League this season is proving to be no different.
Things looked very rosy for Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton before the last international break, in early November, after 11 rounds of fixtures. Brighton were eighth in the table after their 1-0 away win at Swansea; Huddersfield had just beaten West Brom to join Brighton in the top half of the table; and Newcastle were just one point further back. It looked as if all three might stay up – something that has only happened twice in 25 seasons of the Premier League.
They may still stay up – all three remain above of the relegation zone, in 14th, 15th and 16th – but their current form suggests they could all go back down just as easily – something that has only happened once in Premier League history, when Barnsley, Bolton and Crystal Palace were promoted and then relegated together 20 years ago. The three sides have played 15 games between them since Christmas and won just one of them – Newcastle’s 1-0 win against Stoke City on New Year’s Day, which proved to be Mark Hughes’s last league game in charge. Chris Hughton, Rafa Benítez and David Wagner must be looking worriedly over their shoulders.
Huddersfield may look relatively safe in 14th but they have lost their last three games, are without a win in six and have only scored three goals in the league since they beat Watford on 16 December. They are just four points above bottom-club Swansea – who are enjoying a mini-resurgence under new manager Carlos Carvalhal – and their next two matches are against Liverpool and Manchester United.
Their trajectory this season is a familiar one. They enjoyed an excellent start in the Championship last season before fading away from an automatic promotion place and ending the campaign with a negative goal difference. They eventually earned promotion through the play-offs, even though none of their players scored in their three matches; they reached the final courtesy of an own goal and a penalty shootout and then beat Reading at Wembley thanks to a goalless draw and another victorious penalty shootout.
The Terriers have seen plenty of the ball this season – 47.8% possession is enough to rank 10th in the league – but they have not done a great deal with it, with their average of 9.1 shots per game down in 19th. Alex Pritchard has been signed this month to add some spark but he, like the majority of the squad, is unproven in the Premier League, despite having impressed in the Championship with Brentford and Norwich.
Huddersfield have not scored many goals this season – 19 in 24 matches – but they have been surprisingly organised in defence. They have faced fewer shots this season (11.3 per game) than Manchester United (11.7), however, tellingly, they have conceding 25 goals more than United due to individual mistakes. They have committed twice as many errors that have led directly to goals (six) as Newcastle (three), while Brighton players have only committed just two.
The hope for Huddersfield is that, following their game with Liverpool this week, they have a kind run of home fixtures: Bournemouth, Swansea, Crystal Palace, Watford and Everton. They have lost just four of their 12 home matches this season, so will feel confident of picking up enough points to stay up. Wagner and his squad have already defied the odds to make it this far.
Newcastle, who sit a point and a place below Huddersfield in 15th, look the most likely of the three promoted clubs to stay up. While the other two have been consistently poor in 2018, Newcastle have been merely inconsistent. After a run of eight defeats in nine, they have won two of their last – away at Stoke and away at West Ham – to give themselves some hope and momentum.
Their biggest problem this season has been converting chances, so their failure to sign a proven goalscorer could cost them. They may live to regret Daniel Sturridge’s decision to join West Brom on loan. Only the breakaway top six have mustered more shots on target than Newcastle (4.1 per game) this season, but only five sides have scored fewer goals than their total of 22 in 24 games.
Among those five clubs, unsurprisingly, are both Huddersfield (19) and Brighton (17). At least the Seagulls are trying to rectify that issue with the signings of Jürgen Locadia and Leonardo Ulloa. Chris Hughton desperately needed reinforcements. His team has picked up just one win in 13 league games, while scoring just six times in that run and picking up the fewest points (eight). Only Swansea have hit fewer shots on target this season (2.8 per game), so the pressure is on the new arrivals to make a real impact.
Ulloa enjoyed a decent spell with Brighton before he moved to Leicester in 2014 but his tally of 18 goals in 86 Premier League games for Leicester doesn’t inspire great enthusiasm. Locadia, who has signed for a club-record fee of £14m, is probably the more exciting prospect. He has scored nine times in 15 league appearances for PSV this season and is capable of playing across the attack. The 24-year-old will need to make the step up from the Eredivisie to the Premier League quickly to revive Brighton’s campaign.