Promotion to the Premier League is the goal of any club slugging it out in the subterranean chambers of English football. The cold truth of the matter however, is that reaching the top flight is the easy part – maintaining your status amongst the heavy hitters is the real challenge. Some clubs try to stave off the executioner with expensive summer investment, others by sticking with the crew that achieved promotion success in the first place. In the current fledgling season, the key men of the promoted trio are all familiar faces.
Robbie Brady, Hull City:
Back in the top flight for the first time since 2010, regrettably without Phil Brown’s blue-tooth, the Tigers are setting the pace for this year’s freshman class. Steve Bruce’s side has only suffered away defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea and find themselves comfortably perched in 7th place. While Bruce made some wise recruitments over the summer, including Tom Huddlestone and Ahmed Elmohamady, the star man thus far has been Irishman Robbie Brady.
The left winger has been Hull’s prime offensive threat, leading the club with three goals scored (although just one strike came from open play). Besides scoring half his club’s goals, Brady has menaced opposing full backs with seven successful dribbles out of 11 attempts and 10 fouls suffered. Impressively, while the Manchester United academy product has created five chances from open pla,y he is far from being cavalier in possession – completing 82% of his passes and 26% of his crosses.
Brady has also increasingly shown himself to be a dead-ball specialist. On top of the two penalties notched, he has created two chances from set plays in each of his last two matches – one of which his teammates obliged to convert.
Unfortunately for Hull, they’ll be without their star for the next several weeks as a groin injury has required surgery. If Bruce’s side can grab some points against the likes of Villa, Everton, and Spurs without Brady, the Tigers will be sitting pretty come the hectic winter fixture schedule.
Peter Whittingham, Cardiff City:
Cardiff spent the most of the promoted sides, though few can fault the Bluebirds’ exuberant spending in the club’s first season in the top flight. Indeed, the shopping spree brought in crucial players such as Sevilla pit-bull Gary Medel and Tottenham center-back Steven Caulker. Malky Mackay’s club will be content with its current 11th place standing, even more so the stunning 3-2 win registered over Manchester City. While the new men have certainly played big parts, the club has still found itself as dependent as ever on the consistent play of midfielder Peter Whittingham.
Beginning his 8th season with Cardiff, Whittingham played every minute of every Premier League match so far this season. The 29 year old has been tasked with connecting midfield to attack from his station on the left of midfield and has done an excellent job thus far. A 75% pass completion rate seems pedestrian at first glance, but the Englishman is sending an impressive 37% of his passes forward and is completing final third passes at a 71% clip. The Villa product has created five chances from open play and, much like Brady, has provided a cutting edge from dead-ball situations with two assists from set-plays.
Though he has been a rock-solid contributor thus far, an area upon which Whittingham could further improve is his goal threat. He’s notched a lone goal thus far, converting a clear-cut chance in the process, but has only hit the target on three out of 14 attempted shot attempts.
Cardiff will be looking to build upon a 2-1 away win against Fulham with Saturday’s visit from Alan Pardew’s enigmatic Newcastle United. Both clubs will like their chances of getting a win, and the Bluebirds will need a big performance from Whittingham if they want a crucial three points.
Mile Jedinak, Crystal Palace:
With just a lone win amongst five losses, Ian Holloway’s side look the team most likely to go straight back down. Hope however, comes in the form of Australian midfielder Mile Jedinak who has been one of the league’s best holding midfielders in his maiden season in the top flight.
Defensively, Jedinak has been an absolute monster in the centre of the park for Palace. With an 83% tackle success rate, 64% ground duel win rate, and impressive 84% aerial duel success rate, Jedinak has been winning a challenge every 6.5 minutes. Far from just a dimwitted bruiser, he has already recorded 15 interceptions and is averaging just a single foul per contest.
Passing wise, the Socceroos’ stalwart has been both efficient and positive in possession. Completing passes at a 76% clip, he is playing 44% of his passes forward and 46% lateral – meaning he is sending only a small fraction (10%) towards his own net. Despite playing a holding role, Jedinak has already created six chances from open play – if only club-record signing Dwight Gayle would start finishing, Holloway’s crew could shoot up the standings.
Like Whittingham, Jedinak’s importance to his side is emphasised by the fact he’s played every Premier League minute for Palace. He’ll need to be at his absolute best over the next few fixtures with a trip to Anfield and a visit from high-flying Arsenal sandwiching a home encounter against Fulham that Palace will be desperate to win.
Coming into the Premier League is not only exciting but a fearful prospect too. Having said that, these three players have shown initiative and quality to rival players in teams that have spent many a year riding the mid, and sometimes even the top, table of the Premier League. It is indeed too early to tell where they shall finish in the league, but one thing is imminent; they will be watched very, very carefully by prying eyes from now on.