Huddersfield Town, who defeated Reading in a penalty shoot-out to get promotion to EPL, will make a return to the big stage after 45 years. As David Wagner will become only the second American manager to take charge of an English club in EPL, the pressure will be on him to do better than former Swansea City manager Bob Bradley, who was literally booed off by home fans.
In 19 months, Wagner has shifted the fortunes of the club, giving faith to the fans in his abilities. He saved Huddersfield from relegation in Championship in 2015-16 and a year later, his side went on to defeat Reading and Sheffield Wednesday in play-offs to book a trip to the big league.
Now for Huddersfield, it is all about survival. The side broke its club transfer record twice this season to sign Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy from Manchester City for reported £8 million and Montpellier’s Steve Mounie for £12m, along with a quality defender in Mathias Jorgensen from FC Copenhagen.
Under Wagner, who earlier worked as an assistant to Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, the side may offer a surprising touch. But the manager’s future remains in question for offers might be on the way from other potentially bigger clubs. Wagner has signed a contract till 2019 but if the club does not perform well, they might not be able to retain the American. The best result for Huddersfield will be to avoid relegation this season.
Brighton: Joining Huddersfield will be Brighton, who almost saw them losing their football league status after being relegated from fourth-tier in 1996-97 season. Brighton will return to Premier League after 34 years. Even though manager Chris Hughton’s side celebrated a historic rise this year, losing the Championship title to Newcastle United on the last day would have hurt the morale.
For Hughton, who had earlier managed Newcastle United and Norwich City in EPL, challenges at top level may prove tougher. The side’s summer market has looked promising, with the club grabbing headlines for signing PSV midfielder Davy Propper for a club record breaking fee of £10 million.
Other than Propper, the Seagulls have invested in some young talent which includes Chelsea’s Izzy Brown, who will Join Brighton on loan. While the 20-year old winger appears to be a future star, Brighton’s newly bought goalkeeper from Valencia, Mathew Ryan, has all the experience of playing against Spanish giants. But his weak performance against Atletico Madrid in a friendly, in which he dropped a routine save from a Nicolas Gaitan shot, puts a question mark on him.
The side may suffer when attacking with their star striker 33-year old Glen Murray. He scored majority of goals last season but has slowed down with age. Hughton has retained majority of former squad and has not really invested in strikers, which may hurt his campaign.
For Brighton, the name of the game should be survival. The side won most of their games at home last season at Championship, and look to do the same. They may be able to save their position in Premiere League this way, just like Burnley did last season.
Newcastle United: When Newcastle United sacked manager Steve Mclaren in March 2016, the job was handed over to ousted Real Madrid manager Rafael Benitez. The first challenge for the Champions League winning manager was to save his side from relegation. Unfortunately, it was a too-little-too-late for Magpies and their side ended up being relegated.
But after a year-long hiatus, a pumped-up Newcastle, that lifted the Championship Trophy, is keen to perform at the highest level. In Benitez, the fans have found a figure in which they could unite behind, while players have found a manger they could trust. The Spanish manager, in a recent interview, stated he is committed to the club and the fans but also hinted his frustration over the club’s inability to get some of their summer transfer targets.
The fans will hope former Crystal Palace striker Dwight Gayle, who last year scored 23-goals in 32 Champions games for Newcastle, can re-establish himself in the Premier League. He is among the key players for the Magpies along with Aleksander Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez. The club recently signed Chelsea’s loaned midfielder Christian Atsu on a permanent deal, and he will play an important role along with Jonjo Shelvey this season.
The club should look to challenge the established middle order of the table this season, with Benitez at the helm. But lack of promising summer business and challenging oppositions could shatter their hopes. Newcastle should not give out too many points in the first half of the season, and challenge struggling lower order teams such as Swansea, Crystal Palace and even Leicester City. The side needs to regain their confidence and put the middle-order on notice. If one person can do it, it’s Rafa Benitez.