Premier League and Championship swap-shop? Luton and Ipswich our great hopes

Rob Edwards, Chris Wilder and Vincent Kompany all face relegation
Rob Edwards, Chris Wilder and Vincent Kompany all face relegation

As the business end of the season fast approaches, there is a real sense of déjà vu surrounding Premier League relegation and promotion, with a near-role-reversal taking place from last May.

The three promoted sides or three relegated sides from last season could drop right back down or instantly bounce back. Or both. If ever anything summed up the ever-expanding financial disparity in English football.

There are, of course, other major factors that will come into play here, with the ongoing Profit and Sustainability Rules cases for both Everton and Nottingham Forest, as well as the inevitable appeals, bound to have a major impact on relegation this season, and chiefly Luton’s chances of arguably the greatest of great escapes.

When will that all be cleared up? It could, and almost certainly will, go past the May 19 final day of the season and into the summer months, which will only further asterisk the so-called ‘best league in the world’.

The Toffees have already seen an initial 10-point deduction reduced by four this week, which suddenly sees them sitting pretty in 15th place and five points above Luton in 18th.

It is already a minor miracle that the Hatters are in a position where survival is a genuine ambition given the obvious gulf in financial might. Rob Edwards had only £22 million worth of talent ‘pumped’ into his squad this summer.

This was by far the lowest of any side in the top flight, albeit Everton did report a negative net spend as they scrambled to a) meet PSR loss targets and b) demonstrate to the Premier League that they were toeing the line.

READ: Five-year Premier League net spend table

Sheffield United were doomed before a ball was kicked as they sold key players Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge, the latter to fellow promoted side Burnley. The uncertainty around their ownership played into this scenario and is a clear factor in their instant return to the second tier.

The Clarets are the clear outlier here, spenders of close to £95million last summer off the back of running away with the Championship title last season. Now they are set to battle the Blades for bottom spot in the Premier League in the coming months.

There are serious questions about their transfer policy, their naïve tactical approach and Vincent Kompany’s current suitability for life in the top flight. They have stuck with him so far, perhaps hoping to become the newest yo-yo club and bounce back up again in 12 months’ time.

Parachute payments will be part of the plan and is one of the reasons the Clarets could spend more than Luton and Sheffield United last summer.

It is intended to safeguard clubs dropping down from the Premier League. softening the fall in reduced income, chiefly from broadcasting deals. But it gives those teams a huge advantage.

Three of the top four in the Championship are the relegated sides from last season: Leicester, Leeds and Southampton. Perhaps it was not entirely predictable given the volatile nature of the second tier and the clubs’ individual situations, but it is not a major surprise.

Leicester’s relegation came as a shock, given it was seven years since their once-in-a-lifetime title win, and only two after they were battling for Champions League qualification. Missteps were taken but they should never have gone down, and that has been recognised and rectified since.

Even after losing James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Youri Tielemans amongst others, the Foxes still had a squad that was stronger than anyone else in the Championship. It has been topped up by the signings of Harry Winks, Callum Doyle and Stephy Mavididi.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall has been a level above in the league, while Enzo Maresca can still call on Jamie Vardy for goalscoring and sh*thousing when and where he sees fit.

Maresca’s appointment has been a breath of fresh air at the King Power Stadium, with Pep Guardiola’s former assistant hugely impressing despite having limited experience as a manager.

The appointments of Daniel Farke and Russell Martin at Leeds and Southampton have also been the necessary shot in the arm needed, particularly with both clubs in more precarious positions than the current Championship leaders.

Leeds did not even have EFL approval for 49ers Enterprises’ takeover when Farke pitched up at Elland Road, which was just one day before the first pre-season training session. No signings had been made, while Willy Gnonto was trying his best to leave the club.

Things settled down after the transfer window closed. Luis Sinisterra’s deadline day move to Bournemouth was a blow, but it was offset by the arrivals of proven Championship talent in Joel Piroe, Ethan Ampadu and Joe Rodon, as well as Glen Kamara and the returning Sam Byram.

Farke has done an incredible job but being able to call on the likes of Georginio Rutter (a £30 million signing a year ago), Gnonto, Crystencio Summerville, Dan James and Patrick Bamford is not a luxury afforded to many (any) other managers in the league.

READ: Championship XI of the season includes Liverpool target and former Spurs flop

The same can be said for Russell Martin at Southampton, who needed the market to close before he knew what players he would be working with until at least January.

The club extracted big fees for players such as Romeo Lavia, James Ward-Prowse and Tino Livramento, which meant they both eased financial fair play concern and could keep some of their other star players.

Like with Leicester and Leeds, Saints have players like Kyle-Walker Peters and Che Adams who should be in the Premier League, as well as a proven Championship goalscorer in Adam Armstrong and others in their squad.

Once the post-relegation storm calmed, plans for an immediate return could be made, albeit one that has come with a complete transformation in playing style.

Under Martin, Saints have become the most possession-dominant side, although after a 22-game unbeaten streak, they have lost three of their last four games. Manchester United’s alleged targeting of Director of Football, Jason Wilcox, is also an unwelcome side story.

The fourth side in the promotion race, Ipswich, are a complete contrast to the recent Premier League big boys, having only been promoted to the Championship this season. It is a testament to the coaching of Kieran McKenna, who has not been heavily backed in the market, that the Tractor Boys could be on the cusp of top-flight football for the first time in 22 years.

If they achieve back-to-back promotions to the Premier League, they will become only the fourth side to do so in the post-1992 era, following Watford 1997-99, Norwich 2009-11 and Southampton 2010-12.

Saints were the only one of those clubs to consolidate their position, and the gap has only grown between the different levels in English football since.

Regardless of the struggles they will likely face, it would be a far healthier and happier outcome if Ipswich were promoted this season, either automatically or through the play-offs – the historic unpredictability here could catch out Leicester, Leeds or Southampton.

That Premier League struggle has only been amplified this year. As stands, this would only be the second time all three sides have gone straight back down, after the 1997/98 season.

Luton’s best hopes of ending that may lie in the spreadsheets and in the court rooms, and the same might have to be the case for a possible Ipswich survival next season as the Premier League becomes increasingly ring-fenced.