Last season clubs in the Championship might have been forgiven for thinking that the Premier League wasn’t all that, as they saw the promoted sides from the year before all stay in the division. Norwich and Swansea both comfortably avoided relegation, finishing level on points in 11th and 12th, and QPR ensured their safety with a string of impressive victories at home towards the end of the season.
This season looks a different matter however, as only West Ham, who were promoted through the play offs, look comfortable at the higher level. Even though Southampton and Reading achieved automatic promotion ahead of Sam Allardyce’s side, most would have expected the Hammers to be the most comfortable in the Premier League due to their extensive recent experience of the top flight. However perhaps few would have expected West Ham to start so well in the league.
Allardyce has instilled the expected tenacity in his side over the season in the Championship, and then added quality like Andy Carroll and Mohamed Diame over the summer to bolster their chances in the Premier League. The Hammers have picked up fourteen points from their opening 8 games, exactly the same as Tottenham Hotspur and two more than Arsenal. The criticism that occasionally surfaced in the Championship, that Allardyce wasn’t playing enough attacking football, is minimised in the face of superior opposition. Allardyce knows how he wants to deal with the club’s campaign, and his team have settled quickly into the style as a result.
This hasn’t been the case for Southampton and Reading. Indeed, the disparity between how the three promoted sides have adjusted was drawn into sharp focus as West Ham thumped Southampton 4-1 at Upton Park on Saturday. The experience of players like Mark Noble, who scored twice against Southampton, stands in contrast to some of the Southampton players, who were so recently playing in League One.
Reading surged into the Premier League on the back of an extraordinary run where they picked up 17 wins in 23 games, something they simply won’t be able to do in the Premiership. No matter how well you’re playing, sooner or later you’ll play a team like Chelsea or Manchester City where the budget disparity between the clubs makes the idea of a level playing field laughable. To succeed in the Premiership you need to bounce back from these inevitable defeats quickly. Allardyce knows this all too well, and West Ham’s win over Southampton that followed the disappointing 3-1 home defeat to Arsenal shows how it’s done.
Last year was a tremendous season, and the surprise success of Swansea and Norwich added to that. This year Reading and Southampton look like they’ll struggle to adjust to top flight life, they would do well to take a leaf out of West Ham’s book, despite finishing ahead of the Hammers last year.
image: © Ben Sutherland