Given the riches on offer for simply remaining in the Premier League season in, season out, the goal of reaching 40 points, almost always enough to guarantee survival, extends well beyond the promoted clubs. Newcastle United may have ended the season in the relatively comfortable position of 13th, but with no manager at the time of writing and with key players Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez having departed the club, many pundits are tipping the club to be in the thick of the relegation battle next season. So, are such concerns valid?
The short answer is yes. There is plenty of precedent in terms of clubs finishing 13th or higher in the Premier League and being relegated the following season. In fact, this has occurred on 19 occasions since the league switched to 20 teams in the 1995/96 season. That season, Queens Park Rangers were relegated having finished 8th the previous season, and we have seen clubs finish as high as 5th and relegated the following season (Ipswich Town in 2001/02 having finished 5th in 2000/01). The most recent examples were in the 2017/18 season, when West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City were both relegated having finished 10th and 13th respectively the previous season.
|Season||Club||Position||Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals For||Goals Against||Goal Difference||Points|
|1994/95||Queens Park Rangers||8th||38||17||9||16||61||59||+2||60|
|1995/96||Queens Park Rangers||19th||38||9||6||23||38||57||-19||33|
|1996/97||Middlesbrough||19th||38||10||12||16||51||60||-9||39 (3 points deducted)|
|2001/02||West Ham United||7th||38||15||8||15||48||57||-9||53|
|2002/03||West Ham United||18th||38||10||12||16||42||59||-17||42|
|2016/17||West Bromwich Albion||10th||38||12||9||17||43||51||-8||45|
|2017/18||West Bromwich Albion||20th||38||6||13||19||31||56||-25||31|
Newcastle fans looking for reasons to feel optimistic should look towards the club’s excellent defensive record last season. Rafa Benitez is known for his defensive organisational skills, and the club had the joint 7th best defensive record in the Premier League last season, conceding a relatively paltry 48 goals. Examples of clubs being relegated the season after such a strong defensive record are relatively scarce, with just 6 of the 19 clubs relegated one year after recording a position of 13th or better conceding fewer than 48 goals.
More worrying for the fans would be the trend of low scoring teams mid-table teams being relegated the following year. Scoring 50 goals is very much possible for a mid-table team, with 12 clubs achieving that feat last season, including 14th placed Bournemouth. Yet 13 of the 19 examples we are looking at failed to reach this mark, with 8 of those examples scoring fewer than Newcastle’s total of 42 last season, which was the 5th poorest in the league.
Looking in greater detail at those 19 examples, the average goals scored one season prior to relegation was 45.6 goals and the average goals conceded was 52.1 goals. During the respective relegation seasons, goals scored dropped by 9 goals to 36.6 goals, whilst goals conceded increased by 9.5 goals to 61.6 goals. Therefore if you were looking for a common narrative to explain the dramatic drop from one season to the next, in many cases it would be fair to say that clubs with relatively poor attacking output were able to achieve good league positions largely thanks to a relatively solid defence. The following season however, their attacking output declined further, and the additional pressure this put on the defence led to the team also shipping more goals, a combination which unsurprisingly led to relegation.
Returning to Newcastle, it is imperative that replacements for Rondon and Perez are not only identified quickly, but that those replacements hit the ground running. Rondon and Perez scored 23 goals between them last season, 55% of Newcastle’s total, and successfully replacing that many goals is an incredibly difficult task.
I am reminded of the relegation of my own club, Coventry City, in 2001. The 1999/00 season had been a relatively successful one, finishing in 14th without ever being dragged into a relegation battle. However, that Summer Gary McAllister and Robbie Keane both left the club, having scored 23 of City’s 47 goals that season. Replacements were recruited in the form of Jay Bothroyd, Craig Bellamy and David Thompson, three talented but young players with little to no previous Premier League experience. More experienced recruits followed in the form of Lee Carsley in December and John Hartson in February, but much of the damage had already been done. Goals scored fell by 11 to 36, goals conceded increased by 9 to 63 and the club’s 34 year stay in the top-flight came to an end. Will Newcastle suffer the same fate next May?