Like “there always must be a Stark in Winterfell,” there has been at least one Welsh club in the English Premier League since 2012, when Swansea City joined the league for the first time in 2011-12. There was even one season – 2013-14 – that featured two Welsh clubs, when Cardiff City joined the party for a brief one season stay. The clubs than swapped places after the 2017-18 season, with the Swans heading down to the Championship and the Bluebirds returning for some Premier League fun after a second-place finish in the Championship last season.
Alas, like the sacking of Winterfell by Theon Greyjoy and the Ironborn in Game of Thrones removed the Starks from power (when Bran and Rickon fled), the 2019-20 Premier League season will be the first season since that 2011-12 season not to feature a Welsh club. The Swans finished 10th after their relegation, but more importantly, the Bluebirds had yet another one season stop in the top flight of English football, clinching relegation after a loss in the penultimate game of the season and finishing 18th in the league.
Here’s a quick look at how the Bluebirds ended up in this position:
What Went Wrong
Unlike Huddersfield Town and Fulham, the other two clubs relegated from the Premier League (with more than a month to go in the season), Cardiff City entered May with a chance to save themselves. But they wouldn’t have been on the cusp at that point in the season had they had a stronger start to the season, failing to win until a 20 October match versus Fulham. The 0-6-2 start to the season – with a -13 goal differential – dropped the club to 20th at that early point in the season, a hole from which they struggled to recover.
Granted, the club wasn’t expected to compete for a spot in Europe, or even a spot mid-table. We thought they were going to finish last in the league, so at least they exceeded our expectations. But if not for the dreadful seasons from the clubs below them, they probably would have secured relegation as early in the season as they both did.
The Bluebirds tied Fulham with the second-fewest goals scored (34), and surrendered twice as many goals (69). Their slate is littered with three- and four-goal losses, and even an ugly 5-0 loss at home to Manchester City. Their longest winless stretch of the season was that eight game start to the season, but their last eight games (2-0-6) wasn’t much better, especially because the meaningless victory against Manchester United on the final day of the season couldn’t save their season because of the poor play leading up to it.
What Went Right
Four of their ten victories came against clubs that finished higher in the top ten. They had wins against the eventual 6th-place club (the aforementioned Manchester United), 7th-place (Wolverhampton Wanderers), 9th-place (Leicester City), and 10th-place (West Ham United)… which were all offset by losses in the other match against those clubs.
Throw in a win against Fulham (part of a 1-0-1 season series) and a win against Bournemouth, and that accounts for two more wins. (Two scoreless draws against Huddersfield Town were missed opportunities). They also had four wins against the two clubs directly above them in the standings – Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion – but it was not enough to save the club from relegation.
Recent English Football League History
Cardiff City has only two Premier League seasons in their history – a last place finish in 2013-14 and this 18th-place finish – and they return to the Championship where they have had some level of success over the past 14 seasons since their initial promotion from what is now League One back in 2003. Among those 14 seasons is a Championship title after the 2012-13 season, last season’s second place finish, and three other playoff appearances (2010, 2011, and 2012).
Recent 18th-place finishers have had mixed success over the past five seasons, including two clubs that have been up and down over the course of those five seasons. Norwich City, which finished 18th during the 2013-14 season, bounced back the following season, only to finish 19th in 2015-16. They will be back in the Premier League (again) next season after winning the Championship this year.
Newcastle United also did the same thing after their 18th-place finish in 2015-16, and will be playing in their third straight Premier League season next year since returning after a Championship title of their own in 2016-17. Joining the Bluebirds in the Championship next season will be their countrymen Swansea City (18th in 2017-18) and Hull City (18th in 2016-17 & 2014-15). A mixed bag to be sure.
Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?
The leading scorer for the Bluebirds was Víctor Camarasa, a player on loan from Spanish club Real Betis. He led the club with five goals over 32 appearances, but he is likely not going to return to the squad as they head to the Championship. Another loanee – Harry Arter (AFC Bournemouth) couldn’t quite find steady play with the club, appearing in only 25 matches. Arter does have a lengthy history with Bournemouth, and may have proven himself enough in his limited action, but another return on loan is likely out of the question.
There are also six players at the end of their current contracts, but only two players made appearances in over half the matches this season. Bruno Ecuele Manga
Chances of a Quick Return?
Until next time…