Relegated Ballers: Premier League

Relegated Ballers: English Premier League 2023/24

As the 2023/24 season draws to a close, the transfer window is fast approaching. Clubs around the world will be looking to strengthen their squads in preparation for the next campaign, and as far as getting good deals is concerned, there are few better places to look than relegated clubs. Using smarterscout’s league benchmarking models and advanced metrics, we will pick out some such players in this series.

The English Premier League is undoubtedly one of the strongest leagues in the world if not the strongest. As a result, though, it is incredibly difficult for clubs joining it to survive. Since the league’s inception, there have only been four seasons where all three promoted teams stayed up. The opposite happened this season as all three promoted teams went right back down, well adrift of the rest of the lower table sides too.

Even so, each of those teams had some very talented players who could prove great additions to some of the other teams in the division or even star in one of the other top European leagues.

Ross Barkley (CM, 1993, Luton Town)

Of the three newly-promoted sides, Luton Town were perhaps the least likely to stay up as they came through the play-offs and yet they put up the toughest fight. Their shrewd transfer business last summer was a big reason behind that.

Their best signing surely was Ross Barkley. He joined the Hatters after a rather disappointing season in France with Nice, having moved there following the end of his contract at Chelsea. His career certainly was on a downward trajectory as he returned to England, but it has been revitalised now after a brilliant campaign.

The former Everton man was an imposing presence in Luton’s two-player midfield throughout the season, thriving in an all-action role in which he did his defensive duties just as diligently as he went forward. His excellent ball progression in the form of passing and especially press-breaking carrying stood out, while he also posed a threat in the final third with his vision and long shooting threat.

Barkley is reportedly very likely to move to Aston Villa when the transfer window opens for a transfer fee said to be just a fraction of his €8 million Transfermarkt valuation. If he maintains the level of performance he showed this season, the Villains should be delighted to get a Champions League-caliber player for such a cheap price.

Anel Ahmedhodžić (CB, 1999, Sheffield United)

By all metrics, Sheffield United had a dismal season. With just three wins to their name, they finished so far adrift at the bottom of the standings that even doubling their points tally would not be enough to pull them out of the relegation. Their defense was particularly poor as they set an unwanted record for the most goals conceded in a Premier League season with a three-digit tally at an average of 2.74 per game.

So, suggesting one of their center-backs as a player other teams should look to sign does not seem too sensible. However, our model is quite bullish in that belief, even suggesting that Anel Ahmedhodžić has been one of the best defenders in the league this season.

Upon closer inspection, this argument starts to make a lot more sense. Since his Malmö days, the Bosnian international has been performing at a level that would translate very well to the English top-flight – but obviously not without support from his teammates.

Our model considers him an excellent defender both in terms of the quality and quantity of his work. The 25-year-old defender is quite handy on the ball too, offering a great deal of progression through passing and carrying. All in all, he could prove to be a bargain buy for a smart club who should easily get him for a transfer fee of well under €20m.

Elijah Adebayo (ST, 1998, Luton Town)

With a match-winning hat-trick against Brighton & Hove Albion, Elijah Adebayo became the first Luton Town player to earn a Premier League match ball.

His journey to that achievement had been quite something, having started his senior career in the seventh and eighth tiers of English football after coming through Fulham’s academy. He eventually made a name for himself in League Two and joined the Hatters in 2021, continuing his upward trajectory by winning promotion in his first full season with the club.

Of course, life in the top-flight was going to be very tough for the striker of a relegation-battling club, but Adebayo knew to make the most of his opportunities. He reached double digits in terms of goals despite often being starved of service and only registering 31 shots.

More than his output, though, his suitors should be impressed by his incredible consistency in terms of getting on the end of high-quality chances; his xG/shot average has been fantastic season upon season since his Walsall days for good reason.

Clubs looking for a line-leading striker with a great presence in the box should be all over this potential signing. The likes of Everton and Leicester City have been linked with Adebayo so far, and as long as they give him some service, the buyers are sure to be the winners in this deal.

Alfie Doughty (LWB, 1999, Luton Town)

Much like Adebayo, the Alfie Doughty has been on quite a journey in his footballing career. His breakout season in senior football came on loan in the Isthmian League (the seventh tier of English football), after which he moved up to the National League with another loan before becoming a regular starter in the Championship for parent club Charlton Athletic.

A couple of transfers later, he made his way to Luton Town in 2022 and won promotion to the Premier League in his very first season. In his debut season in the big time, Doughty attempted a league-high 340 crosses (over 100 more than anyone else!) and returned with eight assists – twice as many as any of his teammates managed. Clearly, he had a great time going forward from his left wing-back position.

The 24-year-old Englishman is also supremely strong in aerial duels, but our model was not entirely convinced by his defensive work this term. So, it would probably be best for him to join a club looking for a very attack-minded wing-back who can help progress the ball and consistently threaten with crosses.

James Trafford (GK, 2002, Burnley)

Of the three relegated clubs this season, Burnley conceded the fewest goals. That will not be much consolation for James Trafford who still let in 60 shots himself and did not have the best of seasons by all accounts, getting dropped in its last months.

Even so, our model believes his overall record – starting from his days on loan at Bolton Wanderers – is enough for the country’s best teams to keep an eye on him. Gareth Southgate certainly seems to share that belief in the 21-year-old’s potential, as he included him in England’s provisional squad ahead of the Euros.

As a shot-stopper, he is quite good against non-headers in open play but could improve when facing crosses and set-pieces. The Manchester City academy graduate is a capable ball-player too.

Trafford only joined Burnley last summer for a club-record transfer fee of over €20 million altogether, so he will likely not come cheap unless he has a relegation release clause in his contract.


By Neel Shelat

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