With the final series of matches now played, the 2019/2020 Premier League season has drawn to a close with Liverpool crowned Champions for the first time in 30 years. They beat out Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea for the trophy and join the trio in the Champions League next season whilst Leicester and Tottenham will take part in the Europa league following their respective 5th and 6th place finishes. At the other end of the table, a 1-1 draw with West Ham on the final day of the season gave Aston Villa the point they needed to secure survival but in turn it condemned Bournemouth and Watford to relegation places, joining Norwich City in the drop. In what was a gruelling season for all three clubs for a variety of reasons, we ask what is next for the relegated trio?
All three face similar challenges as they prepare for life in the Championship next season. Priority will be to manage the wage budget and adjust it for life post Premier League. Those players deemed too expensive or luxurious will need to be jettisoned whilst at the same time maintaining a strong core that will provide the stability needed to rebound. Contracts will need to be reviewed in line with this new look wage budget, assessing which players need revised terms to encourage them to stay whilst negotiating adjustments to those who are nearing the end of their careers but yet could still serve a purpose even for a single season in the Championship. Finally reviewing a transfer budget and a list of gaps to fill in order to get your new look squad ready for the trials and tribulations that a 48 game Championship season throws up.
Of the three that did drop, Norwich have had slightly longer to prepare given that relegation for them was confirmed back in early July following a 4-0 hammering by West Ham. In truth, Norwich have probably been mentally preparing for the drop for a few months now having spent the majority of the campaign down near the bottom. With only five wins all season and a sleuth of problems from being unable to come back from a losing position (0 points taken all season), a lack of goal scorers (26 in total in 38 games) and a suspect defence (75 goals shipped all season), its not surprising that they didn’t survive. Manager Daniel Farke’s decision to stick with the young inexperienced squad that won promotion had backfired but credit where it is due that Norwich did push hard to be an attacking team from day one. In the end though, their lack of experienced heads or players with that extra bit of quality was the difference.
Next season Norwich will look very different as you can expect the current squad to be decimated. The positives from this current season is Norwich managed to showcase several of their talented youth products who all will now have significant sell on values. The club is bracing itself for bids for defenders Max Aarons, with Bayern and several Premier League clubs interested and Jamal Lewis who might have Leicester and Liverpool fighting over him. The talented Todd Cantwell is also likely to be in high demand with Liverpool favourites to sign him. Elsewhere Emi Buendia is expected to leave as could Ben Godfrey who has been one of the shining stars of the Norwich team in a disappointing season.
Joining Norwich in the Championship is Watford who have had a season to forget. The headline of Watford sacks manager has sadly been used on too many occasions during this campaign with no less than three managers departing over the course of 38 games. First to go was Javi Garcia who left in September after a dreadful start to the new campaign. His replacement was the returning Quique Sanchez Flores who had himself been sacked by the owners at the end of the 2015/2016 season despite leading the Hornets to a comfortable mid table position and a FA Cup semi final. A glutton for punishment, Flores lasted only 85 days on his second stint before receiving his marching orders and was replaced by Nigel Pearson who installed the fear of death into the squad from day one. It appeared to work as Watford rallied with impressive wins over Manchester United, Wolves and Liverpool just before the COVID pandemic hit. After the restart, Watford failed to show up winning only 2 of the next seven games which lead to Pearson’s sacking with two games left. The true nature of why he left is uncertain with rumours of half time fisticuffs and handbags played down by the players and club alike. Either way, Watford lost both of their remaining games and as a result drop out of the Premier League for the first time in five years.
The rebuild at Watford will be more severe than at Norwich simply because of the make up of the existing squad. Unbalanced, overly stacked in certain areas and under resourced in others, the Watford squad is like a hoarders house with the real question of where to start. First to go will be the high earners and there are a few. Strikers Andre Gray and captain Troy Deeney will need to go to shift their £3m+ yearly salaries from the wage bill. Similarily the club will look to cash in on Abdoulaye Doucouré and Roberto Pereyra as well as potentially letting Daryl Janmaat, Gerard Deulofeu and Danny Welbeck leave if suitors can be found. The club will look to retain some of their older professionals like Ben Foster, Craig Dawson and Craig Cathcart whilst handing Will Hughes a more pivotal figure, and potentially captain in their new look line up. There may be interest from abroad for Ismaila Sarr who had a good first season at the club but price will play a factor on whether he stays or goes.
Finally, Bournemouth’s relegation was confirmed on the final day despite an impressive win over Everton. Eddie Howe’s men had rallied in the final few weeks of the season but the damaged sustained throughout the rest of the campaign was already too severe to recover from. To be fair, Bournemouth have over achieved in recent years and it’s mainly down to Howe. But this last season was one filled with ebbs and flows with Bournemouth never really finding the rhythm that it had done in previous campaigns. Uncertainty now awaits Bournemouth who drop into the Championship for the first time in five years.
They will do it however without Eddie Howe after both parties mutually agreeing to part ways. It’s a crushing blow for Bournemouth given the significance of the role Howe played at the club, not only as its manager but as an integral component in its machine. Replacing Howe will not be an easy task but that must take priority over any player sales. Several key players will take their leave too including Nathan Ake who has agreed to join Manchester City for £40m and Ryan Fraser who is expected to join Tottenham in the next few weeks. Strikers Callum Wilson and Josh King will surely depart as well with Newcastle and Manchester United likely destinations for the duo. Regardless of the manager, the club will try to retain a core nucleus of players they believe will help them bounce back from relegation. Players like Aaron Ramsdale who has had a great season despite the final outcome. Same can be said about Harry Wilson and Jack Stacey who have both made strides in their developments this season.
The road back to the Premier League is a treacherous one that if you’re not prepared for can send a club spinning out of control and further down the leagues (Sunderland being a prime example). The rebuilding job at all three clubs has already begun and there will be more developments as the days and weeks roll on towards the start of the new season on September 12th. At this stage it is hard to predict if any of the three clubs will bounce straight back up especially given the competitive nature of the championship and the unpredictability that comes with playing in that league. There are no easy games and no easy teams in that division and little to no time to prepare given the late finish of the current season. Planning and strategy will be key along with the right recruitment and the right management but you also need a little bit of luck, something that all three clubs lacked this season. Hopefully thats about to change.